The perfect shape, a velvety texture, an elegant appearance and just simply delicious are the secrets behind a winning baked-good at The Great Frederick Fair.
Unfortunately, there are plenty of cakes, cookies and pies that fail to meet those requirements, according to Brenda Bell, superintendent of the fair’s household building, and a judge for 15 years.
Some entries cause judges to wrinkle their noses and gulp down a cup of water to wash away the taste, Bell said. As judges eat their way through multiple pies, cakes and cookies, not all will taste or look good.
“You can get a bad cake that is not done yet in the middle or it could be burnt, and they try to cover it up with frosting,” Bell said. “I remember a really sour cherry pie that was just too bitter.”
At the 150th Great Frederick Fair, which starts tonight and ends Sept. 22, cakes, cookies, muffins, breads, pies, candies and cookies baked by some of Frederick County’s amateur chefs will be on display in the household building.
Many of them will be adorned with blue (first place), red (second), yellow (third), pink (fourth), and green (fifth) ribbons after having passed the judge’s strict criteria.
Bell, who is not a judge this year, said one of the best tasting baked goods she has judged — and a regular winner at the fair — is coconut cake.
“It’s delicious,” she said.
Potato candy, made with a peanut butter middle, also has become a popular entry during the past few years, she said.
Bell, who judges at fairs throughout the state, said she attends a one-day class held in the spring and fall to brush up on her judging techniques.
For instance, the texture of cake is light and cannot be too dry. A cookie cannot be oddly shaped or break apart. Judges learn that the perfect cookie must have the right shape and fullness.
“It teaches you what to look for, and how things should taste,” she said.
Over time, the judges are accredited.
At the fair’s farm and garden building, the entries are different, but the judging is as strict as at the household building.
The appearance and display of vegetables, honey, wines, beers, nuts and flowers take center stage.
Connie Palmer, the building’s superintendent and a certified judge, said appearance is an important aspect.
For example, holding a plastic foam plate of three Kennebec potatoes, Palmer pointed out their lovely appearance.
“They’re pretty similar, and free and clear of any blemishes,” she said. “They’re also similar in size and color. They’re good.”
Palmer, who judges at the state fair, as well as fairs in Carroll, Howard, Montgomery and Washington counties, said she loves working with fruits and vegetables.
“I was raised on a small farm in the Middletown Valley, and my father planted a large garden, and this is just a part of my heritage,” she said.
Palmer, who also serves as a judge in the fair’s 4-H building, ranking crafts, cakes and pies, said she remembers one time refusing to taste a cake.
“You cut into, and you knew right away it wouldn’t taste good,” she said. “You just know.”