In summer kitchens, contest hopefuls turn up the heat Fair Game

August 24, 1994|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,Sun Staff Writer

In a high-tech world of PCs and PCBs, MRIs and CD-ROMs, it's nice to know that some things remain down home. What could be more enduring, more comforting, than the Maryland State Fair? It's 10 days of life just like it was when you were a kid -- champion cows, farm machines, Ferris wheel and Tilt-A-Whirl rides, 4-H projects, luscious fruits and vegetables, beautiful quilts and clothing, prize-winning pies and cakes and cookies and jams and jellies.

When the fair opens at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, Anna Troyer will be there, as she has been pretty much every year since she was a 10-year-old 4-H-er some decades ago. Although the look of the fair has changed somewhat -- "I remember big old trees and lovely old buildings," she says -- Mrs. Troyer says the fair is "still a family thing. Families still do the fair."

As home arts chairman of the fair, Mrs. Troyer, a retired teacher, oversees a wide range of activities, from flower shows to quilt displays to weaving and spinning to fruit and vegetable exhibits to cooking contests.

"I've seen a resurgence in the food-preservation area, and that's very interesting," she says. It's an area that was very strong in the '70s, then waned somewhat in the '80s, but now it's back. Last year the category had 954 entries. "People really take great pride in canning all sorts of things," Mrs. Troyer says, from tomato juice to crab soup to home- grown fruits and vegetables to pickles and preserves.

Cooking contests still attract lots of fans. This year, besides the usual fair categories for food competitions -- there are more than 250 categories in the food division, more than 1,030 categories in all of the home arts areas -- there'll be local precursors to national cooking contests from Spam, Land O' Lakes and Fleischman's yeast. "People are interested in those," Mrs. Troyer says. "They have those nice prizes." (This year the local contests offer first prizes of $100. Winners of regular contests win ribbons and small cash prizes of $3-$10.)

Another exhibit that attracts a lot of entries is the baking show, Mrs. Troyer says. Among categories are cakes, brownies, oatmeal cookies, chocolate chip cookies, yeast breads and quick breads. This year there's a peach pie contest.

"We also have the Governor's Cake class," Mrs. Troyer says, a competition for the most beautifully decorated cake. The type of cake doesn't matter, but all the decorations must be edible. Cakes are judged and then, on Governor's Day (next Wednesday this year), the blue-ribbon winner has a chance to come to the fair and present his or her cake to the governor.

Spam-men

"His or her" is appropriate because there are always men entering the cooking contests, Mrs. Troyer says. She hasn't tallied the entries yet this year, she says, but "I have a good number of men entered in the Spam contest." How do people cook with Spam? Well, there are Spam fritters, Spam stir fries, and baked Spam, for starters.

In addition to the contests, commodity groups from throughout the state feature Maryland products at the Maryland Foods Pavilion. Each day a new product is highlighted. Some of this year's starring commodities are pork (this Saturday), seafood (next Tuesday), dairy (next Thursday) and fruits and vegetables (next Friday). There will be cooking demonstrations, food samples, and recipes given away at the pavilion.

There are some small ways in which the food exhibits have changed, Mrs. Troyer says. "We do not have people bring in an entire cake and leave it." Instead, people are asked to bring half the cake, or whatever the item is. "So half is left for the family to eat," she says. "We realize it gets pretty expensive if you bake all these things for the fair," especially if there's a lot of recipe testing involved, or the person is entering in multiple categories. The fair doesn't keep statistics on how many people have multiple entries, but Mrs. Troyer believes there's wide variety. "Some people enter once every two years, with some beautiful hooked rug they're been working on all that time, and some enter 25 categories every year," she says.

After judging, half of the food entries are given to local charities. "We do try to be part of the community," she says.

Veteran fair competitor Carolyn E. Jendrek says she first became interested in the fair in 1976, when there was a great deal of attention because of the Bicentennial celebration. Her son encouraged her to enter, she says, "and I did enter, and I did win some things. And I was hooked, I've been entering ever since."

Mrs. Jendrek, 72, has entered in home-arts categories as diverse as plants and flowers, jellies and preserves, pickles, canned vegetables and canned fruit. She even entered her daughter's wedding dress, which she made. Her peach marmalade won a blue ribbon in the early '80s.

"I love the fair," she says. "It's just so much fun."

Creative challenge

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