There can be only one champion in the junior division of the baked goods category at the Talbot County Fair, and it comes down to this: an 8-year-old boy vs. a 10-year-old girl. His yellow butter cake vs. her white cake.
The decision is in the judges' hands (pinched off in bite-sized morsels because the 4-H volunteers couldn't find any forks).
Holding one piece is Glenn Burgess, a 64-year-old retired carpenter whose culinary credentials include marrying a cook, fathering two chefs and developing a potbelly.
Across the table, with cake between her thumb and forefinger, is Esther Hoffman. She's 77, a retired elementary school secretary and a 10-year veteran judge who can discern when an angel food cake may have been made from a box instead of from scratch.
One table over, judges examine a stalk of gladiolus. One aisle over, a judge docks a jar of beets because they were canned in too little water.
Here at baked goods, three women sample oatmeal cookies and lemon bars while two others pause between berry muffins and fruit loaf. On the end nearest the electrical and woodworking projects, the time has come for Hoffman and Burgess to review their score cards.
The decision they face is no piece of cake.
Behind them are discarded wedges of carrot cake, applesauce, sponge and pound. They were too dry, too doughy, too crunchy, too crumbly, too dark.
But not the two on the table. The boy's cake scored a near-perfect 99; the girl's, a 98.
In Outside Appearance, the boy garnered 29 of 30 points, and the judges wrote "free of cracks." He scored 40 of 40 in Inside Appearance for "moist crumb, good grain." In Eating Quality, he nabbed a perfect 30 of 30. The judges comment: "Excellent."
The girl won similarly high marks: 29 of 30 for "uniform color"; 39 of 40 for "tender, fine grain"; 30 of 30 for "very good taste."
In the end, there was just something - Colored icing? No air pockets? - that nudged one cake in front of the other and across the finish line. Hoffman and Burgess cleansed their palates with a swig of Pepsi, raked the table of crumbs, and moved on to the intermediate division.
Later that day, after the judges had gone home and the pavilion filled with fair-goers, only then did a 10-year-old girl discover a shining purple ribbon that said she and her cake had won.