Friday, July 28, 2017

Jammin at the California State Fair

It was that wonderful feeling that can only come when you think your plum jam was disqualified from the California State Fair Canning Competition, and then you find out it actually was put in the First Place category. 

Whew, what a relief. After that all the smells, sights, sounds, more smells, stickiness and sweatiness were that much sweeter. While we don't eat the vast majority of fair food, a nice cold frozen juice and some hot off the grill corn on the cob, along with the food they let us smuggle in, kept us going as we walked to see our favorite spots. 

The standouts this year? An adorable animal show for kids with a goat and a pig and a donkey and a llama and a miniature horse. Hokey and cute, we enjoyed it immensely as we sat on hay bales eating sliced watermelon. The fair at its best, as the little kids (and adults) giggled with delight. 

The other new feature we loved was making quilt blocks for kids in the hospital. In the building with the crafts and quilts, the Sacramento Quilters Guild had a stall set up with volunteers and sewing machines. There were piles of fabric squares on a table, and they were asking people to make up coordinating sets of nine squares. Of course I over-thought the whole process, and wasn't that pleased with my result, while my color blind, ahem, challenged husband put together two amazing patterns. Hey, who's the quilt expert in this family?

Fairly relieved.

Go plum jelly, go!

Fairly disappointed,

Hiding in the back with the other 3rd placers.
At least not the dreaded disqualified.
Next year, there is always next year.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

My marmalade is in a jam

It's that time of year again! The California State Fair 2017 began to a blistering heat wave this weekend. Our trip there tomorrow is supposed to be "only" in the high 90's, which will feel positively cool compared to what's going on outside at this moment.

Most loyal fair attenders have their favorite venues that must be checked out. The past three years I've entered jelly and marmalade into the canning competition, and now I almost race from the front gates to the "jam building" to see how my entries did. The hard working folks in the Jam and Jelly Competition promise to get the rankings online 48 hours after the results are known. It doesn't happen, I need human eyes to check in person to see how my entries did.

The only thing you can really win in this competition is to get the Best in Division, or Best in Category. All the other jams that didn't get disqualified (my worst nightmare!) are put in classes called 1st Place, 2nd Place, and 3rd Place. Multiple people can share one ranking.

Two years ago my only entry got a red 2nd Place ribbon and I was THA-RILLLLLED! Last year I put in four entries and got blue 1st Place ribbons for all of them. More dances of joy at the fair. So this year I had nowhere to go but up! Or down.

A friend sent me a photo of my sad little Orange Marmalade with its white 3rd Place ribbon. A fruit crushing blow, as I felt it was the best marmalade I'd made to date. No word on the plum jelly, Meghan might not have known to look for my other entry. 

So, the race from the front gates to the Jam Building will be a bit slower this year, because seeing only my Orange Marmalade with it's white 3rd Place ribbon will mean that my plum jelly got the dreaded disqualified. And that would be the pits.

We live at 30' elevation.
The fair people want to know.
This information makes me feel extra short.

The mess only marmalade can make.

Hmm, bubbles are not a good sign.

I gave them their required 10 minute water bath.

If they get disqualified, I'm blaming El Nino.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Year of the Watermelon

Did you know that July is National Watermelon month?
And that August 3rd is National Watermelon Day?
OK, that makes no sense whatsoever, so let's just make 2017 The Year of the Watermelon.

This is a tasty year for the fruit that was made for summer. Or was summer made for watermelon? It's cheap, it's easy, most everyone likes it, you don't have to cook it, or hardly give it one little thought when it's so hot outside that thinking is a luxury.

Recently I was at a catered event. There were ribs, there were salads, both green and potato, there were beans, both bacon flavored and vegan, and there was corn. And then there were those plastic tubs of prechopped fruit. You know the ones - one compartment has under-ripe, tasteless and crunchy honeydew melon, the other has under-ripe, tasteless and crunchy cantaloupe, there's a compartment for mushy watermelon and the middle has a cluster of grapes that comes up in one big batch that makes you look like a fruit hog in the food line.

Why the bad melon when we're having one of the best watermelon years in living memory? The melons of 2017 are juicy and crunchy and sweet and it seems hard to pick a bad one. Here are some tips from the National Watermelon Association on how to look like an expert as you stand in front of the giant vats of watermelon in the produce aisle.

It's as easy as 1, 2, 3.
  1. Look the watermelon over.
    You are looking for a firm, symmetrical watermelon that is free from bruises, cuts or dents.
  2. Lift it up.
    The watermelon should be heavy for its size. Watermelon is 92% water, most of the weight is water.
  3. Turn it over.
    The underside of the watermelon should have a creamy yellow spot from where it sat on the ground and ripened in the sun.
Imagine that, no thumping or tapping or thwonking that poor melon to find a good one, we just have to pick it up and look at its little melon bottom. Of course, if it makes you feel better and you're frustrated at how your summer's going so far, it won't hurt one bit to give it a good kerplunk with an open palm. If you do it with enough confidence and say "Here's a good one" to no one in particular, fellow shoppers will pick up your thwonking technique as if you're some kind of watermelon guru. 

Some more fun watermelon facts:

The US is 5th in world watermelon production. 
The biggest watermelon ever grown weighed 350 pounds.
Seedless watermelon is not a GMO product, it's a natural hybrid.
They have more lycopene than tomatoes.
They need to be washed.
Watermelons need four things: sun, bees, water and 60 days to grow.

Let's ditch the precut up mushy stuff and buy the melons that come in their own compostable covers. They can sit around for a few weeks unrefrigerated, if they last that long. There are some cute ways to cut them and serve them to a crowd, but typically not much skill is involved. No one ever left a picnic or bar-b-que and said "Wow, that watermelon was cut very badly." 

We're planning on eating as much as we can, because when you have a great watermelon year, it must be celebrated!

It's Lycopene Palooza season.

Fruit with its own handles.

Pickled Watermelon Rinds!