Things I Learned at the Grange Fair

These cows know things are about to get jiggy at the Grange Fair.

These cows know things are about to get jiggy at the Grange Fair.

I took a little trip to the 65th Annual Middletown Grange Fair in Wrightstown, PA. I’ve never been to a Grange Fair, but I figured it was probably a little like a County Fair, and I love a County Fair so I was sold. Plus, there was an article in the newspaper’s weekly food section about the baking contests at the fair, so naturally I was curious.

The baking entries were all lined up on tables and already under plastic covers.  They are kind of hard to see that way so it wasn’t super interesting at first — I was just kind of looking at the blue ribbons to see what won. Then I noticed that some of the entry cards had handwritten comments on them, so I started looking at them more closely. And then I just started laughing.

Now I had to read them all (as best as I could through the glare of that crazy plastic).

The handwritten comments — written in tidy print and cursive like a postcard from your Great-Aunt Agnes — were criticisms! The judges were taking shots at the competitors! Here’s the first one I noticed:

Ouch!  But, you need to know, right?

Ouch! But, you need to know, right?

Yikes. That’s embarrassing.  But, you need to know, right? I guess you also need to know that your bread was undercooked, your jams were under-filled and had a bad seal, and — one of my favorites — the cryptic and ominous, “Something went wrong in cooking.” (Click on photos for larger versions.)

By now I was incredulous, and laughing to myself regardless of who was around.  It was like watching tiny little baking train wrecks happen one by one and I was the prurient rubbernecker. Granted, the critiques all seemed valid; it was the baldness of the publicity that had me cracking up. You think being judged in person by your chef in culinary school is nerve-wracking? Try competing at the Grange Fair. You will need to have nerves of steel. Keep in mind that these entries had people’s names and hometowns printed on them (which I erased or otherwise obscured for this part). So, not only did they not win, but they had the pleasure of receiving their constructive feedback directly on their entry card for all their happy fair-going neighbors to see.

I was mesmerized. Let’s see some more! (Click on photos for larger versions.)

I was jolly well enjoying myself but the next few entries sent me over the edge. I actually thought for a second I might be being punked. Why on earth would people submit burned or under-baked goods for competition? Either bake another batch, or throw in the towel and wait for next year’s Grange to roll around.

I'm pretty sure the dill isn't the first thing I would notice about this entry.

I’m pretty sure the dill isn’t the first thing I would notice about this entry.

I know this photo, below, has a lot of glare on it and isn’t easy to read, but might the judges be sounding a bit exasperated at this point?

A brownie you can barely cut through? Now that's a serious burn.

A brownie you can barely cut through? Now that’s a serious burn.

But it’s the next photo that really, ahem, takes the cake. This one, below, was my favorite comment of the night.

Oh, snap. But pretty funny, right??

Oh, snap. But pretty funny, right??

When I saw this one I knew I was done because it couldn’t get any better than this — such wit! Such audacity! Scratch that — there is one thing that could make it better: if the judges’ notes were in the forms of a limericks.  But, that wasn’t likely to happen so I left the baking section and moved on to other exhibits — things like afghans, and sheared wool, and vegetables. Here are some of the best (click for slideshow):

What I learned at the Grange Fair is that beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder.  I also learned that if you want to compete at the Grange Fair, you need to be prepared to take your lumps. I applaud everyone for entering regardless of the outcome but I admit to being flummoxed by some of what I saw. Perhaps I need some of their moxie.

And the judges. Oh, the judges! To be a fly on the wall of that sampling circuit!  Perhaps I need more of THAT moxie! I thank them heartily for providing me much merriment as I made my way down the exhibit hall.

Oh, wait, there is one more photo: a picture of a winning cupcake. After all this hoopla you’re thinking it must be pretty special, right? Well, the judges certainly thought so. This time you be the judge.

This cupcake won a blue ribbon for its taste and appearance. Appearance? Really?

This cupcake won a blue ribbon for its taste and appearance. I’m sure it tastes divine but I confess I was a little surprised by the high marks for appearance.

4 responses

  1. These criticisms made my day. Some other witty quips for the gluten free cookie:

    “flavor free”
    “originality free”
    “wouldn’t even be worth it if it were free”

    Good idea to obscure the addresses, otherwise these “chefs” would come home to their houses being covered with post-its stating that their paint is chipping, or their sidewalk is cracked.

  2. You rhetorically ask, why would someone enter under baked or burnt items. Because they worked hard & were proud! I know a few kids who put a lot of effort into their entries. What we teach in 4-H is to be proud of your efforts and do your best; everyone is a winner no matter what color ribbon they receive.

    • You are right! One should be proud of any craft or skill, amateur or professional. At the Grange Fair, I was more stunned at the boldness of the criticisms — the judging criteria seemed quite high for amateur bakers! I would have been crushed to see such public feedback on my entry and would consider it quite a future hurdle.

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