Preserving fruits and vegetables is a time-honored tradition, and so is winning a blue-ribbon at the State Fair of Virginia. But only one entry can be judged best in its class each year.
“Sometimes it really is close, so then we go back and re-taste certain ones we felt really hit it on the head,” said Sheryl Lam of Henrico County, one of the fair’s judges for jams, jellies, conserves and chutney. “We discuss which ones had the best texture, the best taste. Maybe one was a little soupier than the other one.”
Several teams of two judges work together the day before the fair opens, Lam said, evaluating the entries on both technical standards and flavor.
Canning foods peaked during World War I and again during World War II as food supplies became scarce. That form of preservation is still celebrated at fairs across the nation. One State Fair competitor said her family takes pride in continuing the tradition.
“We can for several reasons,” said Elizabeth Lipsford of Goochland County. “In the middle of winter when you open a jar, it smells like summer and tastes like it. It’s almost as good as fresh. We have a large garden, and we have three children at home and one way to eat what we grow is to can.”
In the past decade the Lipsfords have won several awards at the fair for their canned entries. She said it’s been a great family project.
“We have done pretty well. Our grape jam got a blue ribbon one year, and we have gotten second and third for salsa. Maybe this is the year!”
In 2014 almost 450 canned goods were entered into the State Fair preserved foods competition.