All's fair in cakes, cattle

Conservation: The drought leads officials at the Howard festival to curb livestock baths and use melted ice on plants.

August 08, 1999|By Nancy A. Youssef | Nancy A. Youssef,SUN STAFF

For Diane Brown and her daughter, Alison, the challenge on the opening day of the 54th Howard County Fair yesterday was to get their vegetables and preserves from the car to exhibit halls without damaging them.

"I overheard a woman say to her daughter, `Look. You just smushed your sister's angel food cake,' " said Brown, 54, of Highland.

"Of course, no matter how good it tastes, it can't win a first-place ribbon" because judges consider appearance.

They also consider flavor and inside appearance in passing out first-, second-, third- and fourth-place ribbons.

Up to 150,000 visitors are expected at the fairgrounds in West Friendship this week, fair officials said.

The weeklong fair has a midway, 4-H exhibits, livestock sales, a parade, a pie-eating contest and a baby-judging contest.

Because of the drought, fair organizers are changing some procedures, said H. Mitchell Day, Howard County Fair Association president. Food vendors have been asked to recycle melted ice so fair officials can water plants. Livestock contest participants may wash their animals once a day, Day said.

"For some kids, this is it. They have spent time with these animals since they were babies," said Rick McCauley, a fair association member.

"It's a shame they are going to have to present dirty animals."

For Brown and others who submitted entries in the household category -- pies, cakes, needlework, vegetables, preserves and paintings -- the suspense comes today as they wait for the judges' decisions.

"It's very strange to be done," said Alison Brown, 20, after entering a basket of crafts she spent months working on.

One hundred sixty judges, most of them former 4-H participants, are reviewing 1,500 entries in 30 major categories, fair association officials said.

Miriam Mahowald, 59, of Ellicott City has judged vegetables for more than 10 years.

She said she breaks the "ties" between the three other judges: "It's not always majority rule. It's got to meet my standard."

She also counsels those who don't win ribbons, telling them what they can do to improve their chances next year.

Walking along a table of tomatoes, pumpkins, peppers, carrots and beets, she observes that the number -- and quality -- of entries is down this year because of the drought.

A vegetable submission consists of one to a half-dozen vegetables. Exhibitors' entries are judged on the uniformity of their quality and showmanship.

"We don't have very good carrot displays. Someone has cleaned off these too much," she said, pointing to an entry.

Green peppers are looking pretty good, she said. Tomatoes are better.

Next door, Virginia Brewer of Sykesville has been assigned to judge 4-H projects, including baby-sitting kits, children's books, pillows and table settings.

"You have to have the appropriate setup for the kind of meal you're serving. If salad is on the menu, you have to have a salad fork," Brewer said, explained, reviewing a place setting for a two- year wedding anniversary dinner. "Salmon, baked potatoes and peas. Wouldn't that be very appealing" to look at?

Centerpieces, place settings and color choices count, too, chimed in judge Diane Tollick of Columbia. In one hour, the two reviewed 10 submissions. They -- with other judges -- had 140 other entries to consider.

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