Judging Summer’s Bounty
The Horticultural Building on the Ayer’s Cliff fairgrounds was a flurry of activity Friday morning. Although organizers began receiving the jars of preserves, maple products, houseplants and other kinds of entries that have a shelf life on
Thursday, the more perishable items, like the freshly picked and arranged flower bouquets and fresh baked bread arrive Friday morning, all before the deadline of 10:00.
This is a serious contest with big trophies, bragging rights and hard cash on the line and the competition is fierce.
The lengthy judging process begins around 11:00 am with the judges and their helpers all heading to their respective departments. With so many entries and so many different categories, it takes careful recording by the helpers to keep the judges’ evaluations straight. The task is made even more difficult because the judges can’t know who entered the exhibits. A numbered exhibit tag, filled out carefully by the Stanstead County Horticultural Society’s secretary-treasurer, Debbie Smith, accompanies each exhibit.
Charlene Johann, being helped by Hazel Markwell, was tasting preserved pears when I asked her for some ribbon-winning tips. “I judge the preserves on taste, colour and the packaging, like using new rings on the jars, especially in the gift baskets,” she said, adding: “I hate to judge the baking; it puts on too much weight!”
Neil McComb was helping Therese Menard Theroux, an award-winning maple syrup producer from the Cookshire area, as she judged the maple products. “The judge checks the density, colour and flavour of the syrup,” said Neil.
Kelly Belanger, who was judging the baked goods, looked intent as she tasted a tiny piece of a baking pow- der biscuit. “I have so many things to taste that I have to take really small pieces. I’m checking the taste, texture, feel and the look,” she said. Vye Danforth and Sue Fletcher recorded Kelly’s comments. “When the judges get here at 10:00, they see numbers on the exhibit tags but no names,” explained Vye. “We have to be really quiet while the judging is going on; we’re not even allowed to chit chat!” whispered Sue.
One of the cake entries was a stand-out: a chocolate cake decorated as a miniature vegetable garden, complete with over a dozen varieties of vegetables on the top. Sarah Roy, from Ogden, took first place with that original creation. “I used crushed cookies on top of icing for the dirt and I made each vegetable out of fondant. It took hours to make all the vegetables and I had to put it all together just before the fair so it would look perfect,” said Sarah, adding: “I’m going to put the cake up for sale here and then donate the money for the upkeep of the Horticultural Building.”
Lucie Choquette, who teaches at the CRIFA in Coaticook, was judging fruit entries of apples, cherries and blueberries. “I’m looking at the size of the fruit, the colour and I’m looking for disease,” said Lucie as she carefully examined a ‘peach’ apple, a rare variety.
Wendy Mason was taking the notes while judge Mike MacDonald inspected the vegetable exhibits. “What I go by is what I would like to eat,” commented Mike as he picked up an aluminium pie plate holding a neat row of purple beans. “I look at the maturity of the bean, the uniformity of the beans, and look at the care this exhibitor took in the presentation, lining up the beans neatly with all the stems at one end!” he said, obviously impressed. “The vegetables should also be true to type,” he added, pointing to a squash that didn’t look exactly like the buttercup variety it was supposed to be. “The vegetable judge wields a large stick!” joked Mr. MacDonald.
Judging the flowers is a daunting task that takes about four hours. The flower categories seem endless with almost twenty categories for gladiolas alone and specialty categories like the “Fairy Breakfast in an egg cup” – a miniature flower arrangement made in an egg cup. “And we make it extra hard for the judge; after she’s judged all the bouquets she has to pick out the best single rose, dahlia, gladiola and geranium,” commented Louise Baldwin who was helping flower judge MarieTrees Jetton along with Phyllis Dustin. “With the houseplants, I’m looking at the general appearance, the health of the plant, if it’s been cleaned and groomed, or if it’s being used in an unusual way,” said the judge. “And there can’t be any earwigs,” added Louise.
The field crops: potatoes, pumpkins, sunflowers, oats, corn, soy beans, alfalfa, clover and, of course, hay, were being judged by another teacher from Coaticook’s agricultural school, Chantal Kilsdonk, aided by two long time Horticultural Society members, Melvin Dustin and Ghislaine Viens. “In grain corn, I’m looking for uniformity of ears, full cobs and a healthy plant,” said Chantal enthusiastically. I was surprised to learn that potatoes should have “nice eyes”. Alfalfa and clover need to be disease-free and to have been harvested at the right stage of bloom, when the nutritional level of the plant is at its highest. When asked how long he’d been volunteering at the Ayer’s Cliff Fair, Melvin Dustin replied: “About fifty years. I don’t know how to say no!”
“We’re always looking for new volunteers to become members of the Horticultural Society or just to volunteer during fair week,” mentioned Debbie Smith. “Yes, it would be terrific to have new volunteers or members,” added Tricia McDaid, the president of the Society. For more information about volunteering or to become a member of the Society, call Tricia at 819 838 1833.
Hazel Markwell and Charlene Johann with the preserves.
Chantal Kilsdonk (left) was judging corn with help from Melvin Dustin and Ghislaine Viens.
Vegetable judge Mike MacDonald was impressed with these purple beans.
Judge Marie-Trees Jetton was having a hard time deciding which dahlia deserved a ribbon.