I’ve been honored to have been asked to help judge the State Fair’s Home & Craft Department’s Baked Goods contest for the past three years. This year I thought it might be fun for you to take a peek behind the scenes as I talk to some fellow judges about the process.
To begin, about 36 of us from all walks of life assembled Monday afternoon at the Moore Building, waiting to get paired into teams and begin the Herculean task of selecting the ribbon-worthy entries from hundreds of submissions in the Baked Goods contest. The process can literally take hours to complete, what with 188 separate food classifications within the overall division (for example, there are 16 classifications of bread made with yeast, 12 classifications of pie and each classification has multiple entries). I’ve learned to skip lunch on judging day and to drink lots of water afterward. Green salads work great, too, when trying to counteract the overabundance of sugar in the system.
After being assigned a partner and a classification, we head over to our specified table and a supervisor begins bringing over plates of baked goodies. Unless you specify a choice, you can be assigned anything: biscuits, candy, cookies, breads or pies.
Our job: judge according to the criteria of appearance, texture, and above all, taste.
It sounds easy enough and sometimes the judging IS easy and there’s a clear winner. Sometimes we will go back and forth on the taste or texture or if the sample is under- or over-baked. We try to be fair. First- and second-place ribbons are handed out according to mutual decision. In between samples, we cleanse our palate with saltines and water.
Around the two-hour mark I’m glad that I’ve worn my stretchy pants because even though we’re only taking a bite (or two) of each entry, those bites add up fast.
One thing you must keep in mind, these are blind tastings: there are no names attached to the samples, and we never know who has submitted the entry. The identities of the winners are kept secret from the judges until the Fair opens.
For the past three years, she has been organizing the contests for her department that includes food (baked goods, canning and special baking contests) and crafts (miniature displays, hobbies, woodworking, quilting, ceramics, etc.) as well as 4-H and senior (older than age 70) and youth (younger than age 18) divisions. She herself has been a judge for 25 years (her favorite category is yeast breads).