[Sca-cooks] OOP: NY Times article on State Fair food competitions

Huette von Ahrens ahrenshav at yahoo.com
Wed Aug 16 16:42:22 PDT 2006

I have read this article three times and can't find any mantion of this.  I did find
a statement about how all the women who really know how to can are all gone.  I find
this to be somewhat true, but not entirely.  My mother learned how to can from her
mother and I learned how to can from my mother.  I haven't done it lately, since my
mother's stroke, because canning is a lot of work. To can and to take care of an
invalid mother is too much for me.  But as I grew up, I have very vivid memories of
Mom canning apricots, peaches, plums, pears, cherries, nectarines and apples.  She
would do the brunt of the labor, but I, as a child, would be her helper.  As I got
older, the labor got shared.  But as the price of fruit got higher, what we canned
became more selective.  Eventually, we only canned what we grew, which was apricots
and peaches.  As Mom got older, the brunt of the labor shifted to me, with Mom being
the helper and advisor.  The last batch we did together, we started after dinner, as I
was working full time.  We would can about 14 quarts in one evening.  During the
growing season, we would can eventually 56 to 70 quarts.  The fruits that were too
soft for canning would either get used for jams or pies.  

While I think that canning as a skill is dying out, there are still people who know
how to do so.  I recall there being several others on this list who can can.

As for pickled peaches, I know how to pickle peaches and apricots.  They are a delicate
fruit and you shouldn't boil their flesh in the pickling mixture on the stove.  What I do 
is clean the fruit and get them into the containers.  I then boil up my pickling mixture 
and pore it over the fruit, letting the hot pickle cook the fruit and pickle it at the 
same time.  I don't can them, because double boiling will mush the fruit up.  Also, my
pickled fruit is so popular, they get eaten up so fast that it isn't worth canning them.


--- "Phil Troy / G. Tacitus Adamantius" <adamantius.magister at verizon.net> wrote:

> I was intrigued by the statement that the people that have first-hand  
> knowledge on how to pickle a peach are all dying off...
> Adamantius
> > August 16, 2006
> >
> > Pickles, Pies and Blue-Ribbon Biscotti
> >
> > THE corn dogs are coming. From Clackamas County in Oregon to the  
> > Iowa State Fair, already in full swing, to the Champlain Valley in  
> > Vermont, hundreds of state and county fairs will take place between  
> > now and Labor Day. Fairgoers will plan their days around lemonade,  
> > funnel cakes and pork chops on a stick.
> >
> > But they may not find the jars of apple butter and the pickled  
> > peaches that their grandparents admired.
> >
> > Cooking competitions still thrive on the nation’s fairgrounds  
> > despite declining overall attendance at fairs. New contestants of  
> > all ages and more men are venturing into the fray, and cash prizes  
> > are bigger than ever. But some traditional skills, like canning  
> > vegetables and preserving meat, are falling away.
> >
> > Taking their place are ambitious new categories, like ones for  
> > bagels and biscotti, that would have surprised fairgoers a  
> > generation ago. Summoning skills they did not need before, judges  
> > in Iowa are critiquing ostrich entrees this week alongside the  
> > apple pies and the pork barbecue they have long encountered.
> >
> > “Cooking and gardening are almost hobbies now, not necessary for  
> > survival as they were when the fairs began,” said Diane Roupe, a  
> > longtime judge at the Iowa fair. “But the spirit is just as  
> > competitive as it always has been.”
> >
> > Eileen Gannon, a senior financial consultant for Smith Barney in  
> > Des Moines, has won more than 140 ribbons over the last 20 years at  
> > the Iowa fair, including last Thursday’s victory for honey from her  
> > beehives. She said new competitors flock to the fair now that  
> > cooking has lost its stigma as women’s work, a reputation it had in  
> > the early years of the feminist movement.
> >
> > “Fifteen years ago I felt like I had to hide my fair work from the  
> > office because it would compromise my professional image, but now I  
> > send the extra cakes to my clients,” she said. “There is so much  
> > more respect for these domestic arts than there was 15 years ago.”
> >
> > To draw men into the fray, many fairs have opened men-only baking  
> > divisions.
> >
> > “We learned that men wanted to enter in baking but were intimidated  
> > by the skills of the regular competitors,” said Lyn Jarvis,  
> > culinary supervisor of the Champlain Valley Fair in Vermont, which  
> > offered its first men-only contest in 1990. “Now they are winning  
> > best in show ribbons.” (The Champlain Valley Fair will be held in  
> > Essex Junction, Vt., Aug. 26 through Sept. 4.)
> >
> > Guy-friendly cooking contests have also begun padding the  
> > entertainment schedule at many fairs. Formal judging of canned and  
> > baked goods often takes place out of the spotlight, or before a  
> > fair begins, but chicken wing cook-offs and barbecue contests have  
> > been accepted as spectator sports.
> >
> > Next weekend the Dutchess County Fair, which begins on Tuesday and  
> > ends on Aug. 27 in Rhinebeck, N.Y., will pit local firefighters  
> > against the county sheriff’s department in a hugely popular “Iron  
> > Chef”-style cooking contest. (The secret ingredient is locally  
> > grown, like apples or corn.)
> >
> > And sponsors like King Arthur Flour, Hershey’s cocoa and Vlasic  
> > pickles are adopting bigger chunks of the competition, pushing up  
> > the prize money: last week Tone Brothers, the spice producer in  
> > Ankeny, Iowa, awarded $3,000 for the best cinnamon roll at the Iowa  
> > State Fair to Marianne Carlson of Jefferson, Iowa. This year’s  
> > overall prize money in the food division is $55,000, the most it  
> > has ever been.
> >
> > The Iowa fair’s food competition is the biggest one in the country.  
> > But the changes are playing out at smaller fairs as well.
> >
> > Anne Murray has won three best in show ribbons at the Dutchess  
> > County Fair in New York. She has a Ph.D. in engineering and works  
> > long hours at I.B.M. in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. Having won her first  
> > time out with an apricot-filled yeast bread, she said she found the  
> > ribbons “addictive” and now competes every year. Ms. Murray grew up  
> > in the suburbs of Philadelphia, without much connection to farming.  
> > “But my mother made her own jam, and once you taste that you can’t  
> > go back,” she said. “A lot of people don’t get that experience  
> > anymore.”
> >
> > Many of the serious competitors are only a generation or two  
> > removed from working farms. Sue Silkworth, a teacher in  
> > Poughkeepsie, in Dutchess County, grows much of the fruit for her  
> > winning preserves, like her blueberry basil and five-spice rhubarb  
> > jams, in a huge kitchen garden rimmed with grapevines that has been  
> > in her family for generations. And Jay Trapp, an architect and  
> > repeat winner for breads at the same fair, grew up in farm country  
> > in South Carolina, “shelling butter beans in front of the  
> > television every night,” he said. “That food was made with care — I  
> > won’t say love because it sounds too schmaltzy — and it did taste  
> > different.”
> >
> > Herb Eckhouse, another Iowa native, also sees the fair as a part of  
> > a bigger picture: the regeneration of American respect for flavor.  
> > “Before Iowa had all this artisanal goat cheese and fancy grass-fed  
> > beef and organic dairy, these fairs were already about the bounty  
> > of the land and about craftsmanship,” he said.
> >
> > Mr. Eckhouse returned to the state in 2004 after spending three  
> > years in Parma, Italy, learning to cure prosciutto and pancetta.  
> > His company, La Quercia, is sponsoring a contest at the fair. First  
> > prize is half a prosciutto, he said. “As hard as McDonald’s tries  
> > to push us out of the kitchen, and although this country produces  
> > ever greater quantities of undistinguished food, people are waking  
> > up to the fact that a lot of our food just doesn’t taste good,” he  
> > said.
> >
> > The competitors themselves, wherever they stand on American  
> > agricultural policy, are in it for the ribbons. “Competing at the  
> > fair is like cooking for a dinner party,” Ms. Gannon said. “It’s  
> > nice to cook for yourself, but isn’t it more fun to show people  
> > what you can do?”
> >
> > Having fun is easy; winning is hard. Serious competitors spend  
> > hours poring over the exhibitors’ handbooks, creating elaborate  
> > strategies and second-guessing their rivals and the judges. “You  
> > want to look for categories that the regulars might not enter,”  
> > said Terry Jannuzzo, whose chocolate-apricot truffles won a best in  
> > class ribbon for candy at Dutchess. “I’m afraid I’ll never win best  
> > in show because my pie crusts aren’t good enough, and it’s almost  
> > always a pie that wins,” she said, sighing. “The judges love pie.”
> >
> > In the more rigorous programs, judges are still home economics  
> > teachers or food science faculty members; elsewhere, local  
> > television hosts or restaurant owners fill in. Although some fairs  
> > have relaxed their standards in the face of declining entries, many  
> > judges see themselves as the standard-bearers for all-natural, top- 
> > quality, handmade food in America. “These fairs began as education  
> > for farmers and farm wives, and we try to honor what they did,”  
> > said Ms. Roupe, who has been Iowa’s head canning judge since 2004.  
> > (She won 99 ribbons as a competitor before she began judging.)
> >
> > Most exhibitors’ handbooks still prohibit shortcuts like graham  
> > cracker pie crusts, cake mixes and bread machines, and the Missouri  
> > State Fair provides specific written standards that competitors  
> > should aspire to. Cakes “should be light, with fine, even texture,  
> > moist and velvety but not sticky.” For yeast breads, “flavor should  
> > be pleasant with bland nutlike flavor.”
> >
> > Cathy Poluzzi, co-chairwoman of the food competition at the  
> > Dutchess fair, sees herself as a gatekeeper and a den mother,  
> > fielding calls from frantic bakers and novice canners throughout  
> > the year. “Canning is the hardest thing to learn from a book, and  
> > the women who really knew how to do it are all gone,” she said.  
> > “The new ones don’t even know how to choose a peach that won’t turn  
> > to mush, poor things.”
> >
> > On Saturday this year’s competitors will drop off their entries and  
> > leave them to the tender mercies of the judges, who will deliberate  
> > behind closed doors. Ms. Poluzzi’s judges are held to a high  
> > standard: instead of awarding ribbons, they must give a written  
> > critique of each entry that will help competitors correct their  
> > mistakes. Overbeating is a common problem, she said, and “check  
> > your oven temperature” is the most common critique.
> >
> > Ms. Poluzzi, according to those who compete under her, is tough but  
> > impartial, and unswayed by frills. Her rules prohibit decorative  
> > hats on jars of canned food, cookies more than three inches in  
> > diameter and all postbaking toppings, like frostings, glazes and  
> > even a dusting of confectioners’ sugar.
> >
> > “Oh, yes,” she said. “People try to hide a multitude of sins with  
> > icing.”
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