The lure of the food beauty pageant

tamrawilson Uncategorized

PumpkinThere was a 489-pound pumpkin at the Catawba County Fairgrounds this year. There it sat like a manatee in plant form, next to prize barley and canned goods and needle craft projects in the exhibit hall.

The blue ribbon didn’t reveal the winner’s name, but it was one honey of a fruit. In case you missed it, here’s the photo.

I know. Most attend the county fair to see the farm animals or the cotton candy or the motorcycle show or the Tilt a Whirl. I go to see the canned goods and exhibits, and this pumpkin was a humdinger. At 1 ½ pounds per pie, this gargantuan fruit could fill 325 shells, and at eight pieces each, that’s enough to serve every resident of Claremont and Sherrills Ford, NC with pie left over.

There’s something about the site of home-grown foods preserved in a glass jar that piques my interest. I have to look. I think of them as glass jewels— emerald gherkins, garnet-colored beets, golden spiced peaches, ruby-colored salsa, pearl onions. Science meets art. Everything that can be preserved is there on the shelf—salsas, jams, beans, pickles, even slices of livermush.

In a land of plenty with a supermarket in every neighborhood it’s odd to be intrigued by canned goods. Why would anyone go to the trouble to can quart of green beans when you can buy a family size can for $2.29?

Maybe it’s a genetic memory of pioneer roots, preserving a time of scarcity. Maybe it’s appreciation for all the hard work it takes to walk that tightrope between science and practicality. I’ve done some canning myself, and I know how hard it is to pick and prepare perishable foods, much less pack them prettily.

Home canners choose to enter a steamy kitchen on a hot July evening to pressure can seven quarts of green beans that might take three hours, not considering the time it takes to pick, wash and string the beans in the first place. There’s the warm-up of the canner, the pressure-building phase, placing the petcock on the steam valve, carefully timed processing, watching the gauge hover at 11 pounds of pressure for 25 minutes. Then comes the cooling-down phase, removal of the jars from the canner. You can get a scald if you’re not careful.

In case you missed the local canned goods exposition, the state fair in Raleigh is  Oct. 15-25. Judges take the science as seriously as the product. At the state fair color and appearance take the lion’s share of points. The rest of the credit goes to liquid, pack, appropriate size and something called “jar fill”—that is, the product is at the level of standard recommendations for the jar used.

I have never had the nerve to enter a food beauty pageant but I admire those who have. It’s putting one’s best efforts forward to see how they measure up.  Visit the home canning display and think of the effort that goes into it. Think of the bragging rights for the blue-ribbon winners. You’ll be happy to silently cheer them on, along with the big pumpkin.