Jannine’s entry for the 2014 Challenge was such a feat that it was hard to beat:
“Triple Crown Baker”
“My very best baking moment is also my proudest baking moment … the day I learned that my baking entries had won the “Triple Crown” of ribbons at my state fair’s “Cooking with Honey Contest”.
On the evening of October 2, 2009, I answered my telephone to hear a very excited friend of mine shouting, “You did it! You did it! You won the Triple Crown!” My friend, Susan was calling from inside the Beekeeping Department Building at the Topsfield Fair, which is Massachusetts’ state fair and the oldest state fair in the country. Susan had gone to opening night at the Fair and knew that I had several entries in the “Cooking with Honey” contest sponsored by the Beekeeping Department at the Fair. Her first stop at the Fair was to see my entries and find out how many ribbons I had won.
Contest entries must be dropped off for judging two days before opening day. The food items are judged, displayed and the ribbons are revealed on opening night of the Fair. That year there were 32 categories offered, ranging from cakes, cookies and brownies to pies, cheesecake, muffins and so much more. There were also several categories that focused on condiments such as barbecue sauce, ketchup and salad dressing as well as jam and jelly. The rules state that for each entry at least 25% of the total sweetener in the recipe must come from honey. Everything must be made from scratch and bakers must be amateurs … no professionals allowed.
All recipes had to be your own and could not have been previously submitted. The rules were strict and the competition was fierce. Honey can be tricky to bake with, due to its high natural sugar content. Adjustments must be made in the recipe for both bake temperature and acidity. I had entered the Coooking with Honey contests in previous years, but I had never submitted as many entries in one year as I did in 2009. This time, I entered all 32 categories, which meant I began my cooking and baking nearly a week ahead of the delivery day. I took the week before the Fair as a vacation week from work, stocked up on fresh ingredients and got into the kitchen.
Some of the items could be made ahead, such as the condiments, candy and fudge, but other items such as cakes, pies, breads and muffins have a much shorter shelf life so they had to be made as close to delivery time as possible, to ensure freshness. That meant baking for almost 24 hours straight on the day before delivery! I knew it was going to be a challenge but I was up for the task. I had all of my recipes typed to submit with my entries, my display containers ready and a timeline checklist that I had made to make sure I stayed on track. When I got to the last item on my list, I was exhausted but very pleased with how all of my items had turned out.
I packaged everything in containers for transport, loaded them all in the back of my SUV and headed for the Fairgrounds. I was proud of my entries and hopeful that I would come home with at least a few blue ribbons. I never imagined that every one of my entries would earn a ribbon that year! The Fair awards ribbons for first, second and third place for each of the categories. These ribbons also come with a point value. At the end of the judging, all of the ribbons for each entrant are gathered and the points are tallied. The entrant with the highest number of points wins the “Harold S. Livingston Memorial Award”, which is the highest honor in the Beekeeping Department.
The Department also offers two other special awards. The first is for a contest called the “Challenge Recipe”, in which the recipe is supplied by the Fair and every entrant bakes the same recipe. The best “Challenge Recipe” entry wins the “Franklin T. Ellis Award” which is judged on adherence to the recipe, presentation, texture and taste. The other major award is the “Ronald and Esther Perley Award” which is given to the item deemed “Best of Show”, chosen from all entries in all 32 categories. When my friend called me that night to tell me the results, I could hardly believe my ears. I had not only won 32 ribbons for my entries (more than half of them blue ribbons for first place!) but I had also won all three of the Special Awards. The “Triple Crown” of Baking! She jokingly called me the “Bee Queen” and the nickname has stuck. I knew my plan to prepare 32 entries was very ambitious and as tired as I was, it was completely worth it. I had won the three most prestigious cooking awards at the Fair, along with 32 ribbons and bragging rights for a lifetime. It was definitely my very best baking moment!”