Going to the fair, preserving a tradition

Profile: Betsy Hedeman, winner of past competitions in Timonium, looks to this year's event, and has even agreed to be a food judge.

August 25, 1999|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,Sun Food Editor

The fruits of her labor are in jars now. So are the vegetables.

And, once again, as she has for the past 42 years, Betsy Hedeman of Relay is taking her canned produce and preserves to the Maryland State Fair in Timonium, which starts Friday. She has been a perennial prize winner in various categories for years, although the coveted first-place blue for bread-and-butter pickles has eluded her.

"I can't win. I don't know why," the 75-year-old Hedeman says.

She's hopeful that will change. She loves her pickle recipe, Catherine Baldwin's Pickles, named after a friend. "It's delicious," Hedeman says, matter-of-factly -- as if there could be any doubt.

The effusive gardener, gourmet and grandmother has been active in other culinary contests, too -- from seafood to cookie competitions. She's pocketed money, ribbons and plaques for her efforts. Now, one of her state-fair-winning recipes -- Pickled Simmling Squash -- has caught the attention of cookbook publishers.

It will be featured in the "Smith & Hawken Gardeners' Community Cookbook" (Workman, $19.95), compiled by Victoria Wise and due out in October. The 576-page book will feature 400 recipes from more than 350 contributors across the country. Two percent of the royalties from the sale of the book will benefit Second Harvest, a hunger-relief organization.

"Her recipe is good," says Wise, who tested the recipes over a two-year period. "I really liked what she had to say. When someone had something really fun or interesting to say, that caught my eye."

On the entry form required of contributors, Hedeman described her life in Baltimore, her garden, and called the squash "darling."

The personable Hedeman also is making an impression on promoters, who are planning a book signing in Baltimore this fall. "Betsy is fast becoming one of my favorite people in the state of Maryland," says Jim Eber, publicist at Workman Publishing.

Hedeman's pattypan-squash recipe -- which she doesn't want to disclose until the cookbook is released -- is one of 14 recipes from Marylanders in the book.

This year, Hedeman also will have another role at the state fair. She will be a food judge, relying on years of cooking experience in her bright-yellow-and-white kitchen to put her seal of approval on entries in the yeast-breads and Spam contests.

When officials asked her to participate in the 118th fair, Hedeman was thrilled. "I said, 'I'd be delighted,' " says the spunky dynamo, who delayed a tour bus in Provence, France, a few years ago because she had to check out a market with unusually tiny pattypan squash. They turned out to be the inspiration for her cookbook entry.

Is she apprehensive or worried about the judging duties? She laughs at the idea: "At 75, you don't get nervous anymore."

Hedeman is well-known in the fair's home-arts division. "She is a delightful person," says Phyllis Osborn, supervisor of food preservation.

Although Hedeman didn't start cooking until she married her husband, Bill, 48 years ago, the Lynchburg, Va., native learned kitchen skills from her mother.

Cooking is part of Hedeman's heritage, she says. "I'm a Southerner. Southerners are cooks."

She can't resist describing the difference between Northern biscuits ("big and heavy") and Southern biscuits ("light and flaky"). Maryland clearly is included in the North in her geography.

Her gracious upbringing is apparent at her 2 1/2 -acre Baltimore County home on a recent sweltering day. She serves guests brewed iced tea with lemon and fresh mint, and includes antique silver stirrers. Colorful zinnias and marigolds from her huge flower-and-vegetable garden -- about the size of a tennis court -- fill various containers.

"I just like to cook," says Hedeman, sitting at her kitchen table. "A lot of my recipes are creations. I add a little bit of this, a little bit of that. You have to be adventurous."

The spacious kitchen reflects her cooking interests, from the lower counter top for rolling out pie crusts to the breadbox-size Plexiglas container with dozens of recipes.

"If the house catches on fire, that's the first to go," Hedeman says of the collection. She also has compiled a book for her two granddaughters, ages 19 and 22. Called "Granny's Grub," it keeps her recipes intact.

Hedeman's good-natured husband, who is 78, usually doesn't cook. But, for the first time, he has put up produce -- pickles made from miniature crookneck squash -- to enter at the fair alongside his wife's offerings.

"I packed them myself," says Bill Hedeman, proudly, adding with a chuckle, "I can't let her have all the fame."

Catherine Baldwin's Pickles

Makes about 6 pints

2 cups water

1/2 cup kosher salt (not iodized)

9 long cucumbers, sliced in thin or thick chips

5 medium onions, sliced

3 cups vinegar

2 1/4 cups sugar

3 teaspoons mustard seed

3 teaspoons celery seed

3/4 teaspoon Tabasco sauce

Mix together water and salt until salt is completely dissolved. Pour brine over cucumbers and onions that have been layered in a 1-gallon bowl or crock. After 3 hours, drain liquid off but do not rinse the vegetables.

Mix vinegar and sugar in a large pan and bring to boil. Add mustard seed, celery seed, cucumbers and onions to liquid. Return to boil, stirring often so vegetables are coated and under the liquid from time to time. Boil 5 minutes. Turn off stove burner and add Tabasco sauce. Immediately pack into hot, sterilized jars and seal with lids that also have been sterilized. Process in boiling-water bath for 20 minutes.

-- From Betsy Hedeman

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