Let her be the judge - of food

August 04, 2004|LIZ MAPLES

She knows if flour in a biscuit is old or butter in a cookie is rancid.

The best jam cakes, brownies and sourdough breads in the area have passed through her lips. We've protected her identity for her own safety, and in exchange for advice on how to take a blue ribbon home.

For 19 years she has judged the food division of county and state fairs, and she was a homemaker and extension agent for more than 30 years.

This lady knows her stuff.

The most important thing? Love to cook and have fun entering baked goods at the fair.

Smell, appearance and taste

Through her years as an extension agent she received training about how to judge. It comes down to three important factors: smell, appearance and taste.


First, she smells the entry. She can smell whether the ingredients are fresh. Always check the expiration dates on packages, and try to use the freshest ingredients available.

"Smelling is a way of testing the ingredients," she said.

Then there's appearance. She can tell if a biscuit has been baked to perfection by taking a gander at it. Golden brown is the target here.

One biscuit entry at the recent Boyle County Fair was a bit doughy.

Biscuits and rolls are usually hard categories to judge because they are best hot, but at the fair they are cold. Cakes, on the other hand, are good at room temperature.

Cakes are hard to judge on appearance because entries are usually just a quarte-wedge of the whole thing.

Nowadays, because of health regulations, all entries have to be put in plastic bags. It's safe, but it does make it harder to judge appearance, she said.

After taking a whiff and looking at it, this judge takes a taste, just a pinch.

She said a good judge will put her own tastes aside. She isn't a chocolate lover, but said she knows a good chocolate cake when she tastes it.

At this judge's first contest .she was given water and vinegar to cleanse her palate between entries.

"I thought, 'How am I going to do this?' I sipped the vinegar because she insisted, but I was sick when I left."

She also has judged with people who will chew the food and spit it out.

That is not this judge's cup of tea. She prefers to pinch and taste.

The biggest challenge

What's the biggest challenge? Usually, it's picking a winner from all the excellent entries.

"It's hard sometimes because you'll have six entries in a category and they're all good," she said. "Usually, if someone is going to bring something to the fair, they will work on it."

But only one entry can be blue-ribbon.

Some tips from the expert judge:

* Make it from scratch. If you use a mix, alter the recipe.

* Test it in the kitchen first.

* Use fresh ingredients.

* Practice.

* Experiment.

* Have fun.

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