The Contestant

September 01, 1997|By Carl Schoettler

Dolores Mason is warm, pleasant, motherly, and as fiercely competitive about baking and canning as the jockeys pushing their horses around the half-mile track across the Maryland State Fair Grounds.

"I appreciate and enjoy good food," Mason says, stoutly. "I enjoy the pleasure of growing it and storing it and eating it."

And she enjoys winning blue ribbons. At 64, she's been competing at the fair for 40 years or so, and she's got a boxful of ribbons at home to show for it.

So far this year she's won firsts in food preservation for her home-canned pie cherries, her black raspberries, her cut green beans, her sauerkraut, her squash, her mustard pickle chunks, her spiced peaches -- and lots more. Her prizes take up about four pages of the official log book.

Her sweet dark cherries also received the special award denoting exceptional excellence.

"This is a real treat," says Mason, savoring the purple ribbon. "This is the greatest honor you can get. That's your reward. When it's special, it's special!"

Mason's strategy for winning follows the Stormin' Norman Schwarzkopf doctrine: massive assault. She attacked with 60 jars in the canned goods category, and she's just moved in a battalion of baked goods -- 29 varieties from wheat bread to blueberry muffins to dinner rolls.

"I baked all day yesterday," she says. She's already won blue ribbons for her peanut butter cookies and ginger snaps. Her holiday bread took a third in the Fleischmann's Yeast competition, a $25 prize, which pleased her immensely. A big prize here is $5.

All that baking takes three or four days. She cans as things come into season, which means just about all summer.

A sort of a Renaissance homemaker, Mason's also entered a few flowers for judging, and one of her cross-stitch designs won an honorable mention. But she isn't satisfied with anything less than first.

"I don't always agree with the judges," she says, dryly. "It's hard to know what they like. It's like gambling."

Cooking now in Stewartstown, Pa., Mason grew up in the country near Frederick, where her grandmother had a farm. "I guess I followed in my mother's and grandmother's footsteps," she says.

She's cut down on the 500 or so jars a year she put up when her three sons and three daughters were at home. They were appreciative eaters. "Oh, yeah," she says, "they think I'm a great cook."

And yes, Mason says, she does can her food in Mason jars.

Pub Date: 9/01/97

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