July 11, 2008

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Sweating it out in July at the county fair

Cynthia DewesWhen the Putnam County Fair rolls around every year, it is panic time in this household. That’s because Extension Homemaker Club members, of whom I am one, are expected to submit entries to fair competitions in as many categories as possible.

This sounds reasonable, there being umpteen categories to select from, including food preservation, photography, cut flowers, and so on and on. Many of my crafty friends around here enter things they have sewn, constructed, grown or otherwise created from their imagination and skill. Sounds like a plan, doesn’t it?

Well, not in my case. As I’ve mentioned before, I suffer from Black Thumb in the gardening department. While I adore flowers, plants, trees and shrubs, there is more kill than skill displayed in my growing of them. Thus, entering the plant show is out.

But wait. Reading the fair catalogue closely, I found an entry called “hosta leaf.” Now, there is something I can produce, thanks mainly to one of my college roommates who is a horticulturist. She has given me many lovely plants, and it is a credit to her skill that they are not only still alive, but thriving in my yard.

Last year, I got a second prize for my leaf so I promptly took a photo of it and sent it to my roommate to prove that I haven’t killed the plant yet. She was so proud of me. In fact, it was such a kick that I plan to do the same thing this year.

The only other category I could possibly enter is “foods.” This means baking because they don’t offer “creative leftovers” or “what is available in the frig and pantry until pay day.” I’ve entered this category two or three times before.

Once, I received a second-place ribbon for my Julekage, a Norwegian Christmas bread unknown to most Hoosiers. I was feeling pretty good about myself until my oldest son reminded me that, if this had been the Minnesota State Fair, I would probably not have won, there being so many other Scandinavians entering the same thing there.

Another time, I entered a Danish Puff, a kind of poor relation to the famed pastry of the same name. This is something which is delicious if it is eaten immediately after cooling, but it doesn’t hold well over time. Its icing weeps and its crust goes limp.

You can imagine my chagrin when I found my Puff after the judging, hidden away in a corner of the display shelf. It was not only deteriorating and un-ribboned, but also the victim of confused categorization, not being an instantly recognizable cake, cookie or pie. That will teach me.

It beats me what the judges want to reward. Despite following the instructions, producing a decent product and entering on time, I never win. Maybe fair judging is just more subjective than I thought. Maybe I’m being too picky about the perfection of my entries.

After all, it is God, not even my roommate, who is responsible for the prize-winning hosta leaf. I can’t take any credit for that so maybe making a great food entry is as much out of my hands as making a great leaf.

Maybe that is what we are supposed to discover from entering things in a fair competition. Aside from serving our competitive needs, maybe the real reward is just having fun and enjoying a look around to see what others come up with at the same time. The moral is “don’t sweat it.”

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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