- Author: Sarah A Spitz
This story originally appeared in LAist.com and is reprinted with permission.
By Sarah Spitz (LA County MFP)/ Special to LAist
The March winds roared in like the proverbial lion this weekend, propelling us through the 90-mile journey to the 4-H Antelope Valley Food and Fashion Revue in Rosamond, California.
We were three: I am a newly-minted University of California Cooperative Extension Los Angeles County Master Food Preserver, judging a competition for the very first time in my MFPLA capacity. I was joined by two adventurous friends and expert bakers, who found the opportunity to judge a youth competition—featuring baked goods, preserves and decorated cakes—irresistible.
I promised those who expressed concern on the MFPLA Facebook page about first-timers judging that we would hew strictly to the criteria set out for that judging, and not let other factors interfere.
This turned out to be a surprisingly difficult promise and involved an intense process. A disproportionate amount of evaluation time, argumentation and much checking back with the event organizers took place, resulting in a complex decision not to award a Best in Show in the Decorated Cakes “Themed Cake” division.
Don’t scream! We gave two first, two second and one third place award to the five young people who submitted entries in this category.
I’m still a bit tortured by this decision. I’ll come back to that shortly.
You should know that 4-H clubs are dedicated to teaching young people to “learn by doing,” practicing positive life skills and fostering poise and self-confidence in service to their community. Their salute reads: “I pledge my head to clear thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service and my heart to better living, for my club, my community, my country and my world.”
The three age groups we were judging are: beginners, ages 9 to 11; intermediate, ages 12 and 13, and seniors from 14-19. And the “Danish System” of judging used in the competition means everyone is rewarded with recognition for their efforts, which becomes part of their service record. It’s a win-win for everyone involved, judges included—minus the sugar rush we experienced, which fortunately, dissipated in a few hours!
Here’s what you’re judging the entrants on: their presentation—their personal appearance as well as their product’s—how they plated their foods (using their own utensils and wearing gloves, which fit pretty loosely on some of the younger hands); their ability to talk about their project, including inspirations for the recipe they chose, ingredients and of course, various qualities of the taste, from crust to interior moisture, from frosting and blending to appropriateness of size.
It was pretty much hands-down for Best in Show for each of the three age groups in the baked goods and preserves division.
When I tasted these cranberry scones I was dumbfounded that they came from a 4-H beginner. These could’ve been baked by a pro. Her presentation was a little shaky, trying to slice the butter, then spread it while holding plate in one hand and knife in the other, but there was no doubt: these cranberry scones were of superior quality and were as good, and I might say tasted even better than some I’ve bought in a bakery.
The intermediate category winner was truly outstanding: Last year this 4-H'er won Best in Show in all categories here and later won at the Antelope Valley Fair with his recipe for applesauce cake for diabetics. This year, his dad can continue to enjoy his tremendous baking talents: He made a diabetic pumpkin chiffon cake that was perfectly shaped, perfectly spiced and light as air. Diabetic or not, this was a delicious dessert.
And it was clear from her quiet but confident manner, as she graciously presented and served her truly refined mini-cupcakes with meringue frosting topped with candied rosemary orange peels, that this senior 4-H'er knew she had a winner. The swirled application of the frosting, the silver mini-baking tins the cupcakes sat in, the cupcakes themselves not overwhelmingly sweet, the candied peel just the right visual and flavor accent on top - these were works of baked art. So much effort and a product worthy of it.
Now back to the decorated cakes. There were only five. Three were made by beginners, one by an intermediate and one by a senior.
Three were “themed” cakes—the only category we were asked to consider for a Best in Show award—and two of those were by beginners. In this category, there’s no interaction with the entrants. Decisions must be made based only on the decoration.
One round layer cake demonstrated so much creative ingenuity that we fell in love at first sight, and thought we were going to stop right there and give it a best ribbon. The theme “our desert home” was depicted not in words but in frosting: A turquoise blue sky, the black silhouette of the mountains, and in the foreground, blooming saguaro cactuses against a desert-brown ground. It was like a Van Gogh - and it was by a beginner! Ultimately, though, we had to acknowledge it was inspired but a bit rough around the edges.
Then there was the sheet cake featuring poppies, California’s state flower, to remind us of the wildflowers in bloom all around us; white frosting, delicately decorated red poppies on graceful green stems in proportionate sizes with a skilled shirred base surrounding the sheet cake, that read in a steady and proficient script, “Our desert home.”
And finally, a nice effort by one of the more outgoing entrants from the baked goods division- a very dynamic young woman, who’s learned well from her 4-H acting group how to present herself in a winning manner. In the baked goods judging room earlier she told us that she plans to become an engineer, because there are so few women in the field… We could tell her heart was in this cake, but she wasn’t quite up to the engineering skills needed for this category—not yet, anyway. I’m sure she’ll get there.
So, tell me: How were we to choose a best in show, especially as there were two other cakes with excellently executed floral designs?
My friend Marja tried to sum up why: “I would say the most intense debate was that we really wanted to award for creativity and style, but there were elements on the form that restricted us. And we didn't award a best because there were so few and we really thought it should be an award not just based on technique but also the intangibles of style.”
So on the judging sheets, we offered positive constructive comments and following the dictates of the percentage scoring system provided on the judge’s checklist, we totaled up the scores, allowing for a little disappointment but an honest decision.
In the end, that’s what I’d promised. I think we delivered. And we loved every minute of it.
Sarah Spitz is a UCCE LA County Certified Master Gardener and Master Food Preserver, and the Co-founder of the Seed Library of Los Angeles (SLOLA). Her writing appears in the Santa Monica Daily Press and on LAOpeningNights.com.
- Author: jennie cook
The exciting part is taking advantage of seasonal abundance. Who can resist a case of anything at $10? Especially when it's these crazy kiwis from Soledad Farms at the Hollywood Farmer's Market.
I set the timer according to the directions and the next day I had amazingly tangy kiwi candy. It's addictive and intriguing with it's thin, translucent appearance and dynamic black seeds.
Today, I'm drying some organic orange peel to grind into powder to use instead of fresh zest in one of our vegan cookie recipes...
I'll keep you posted.
- Author: Sarah A Spitz
I just received this USDA blog post via email. As a Master Gardener and Master Food Preserver certified by LA County, I find myself having to explain that yes, we are administered by UC ANR but that the USDA is the umbrella under which all states' county extension agents operate, and under whose guidance our Food Safety Advisor recommendations are made, when we go out and teach methods of food preservation in the community.
I found this post to be a helpful primer on what your County Extension Agent does and why so I wanted to share it with all of you.
I hope you'll find it helpful and informative.
Here's the opening paragraph: read the complete story at the link...
As USDA celebrates 150 years of serving American agriculture and rural communities, it is important to remember the enormous contribution of the Cooperative Extension Service, a three-way partnership between USDA and our state and county partners that forms a nationwide network of expertise. These experts work with Americans on issues that relate to a wide range of topics including: agriculture, natural resource management, nutrition, youth development, community empowerment, household and family budgeting, and disaster assistance, among others.
- Author: jennie cook
It's that time of year when all the Master Food Preservers get marmalade fever. It is a banner year for citrus here in Southern California and getting sweeter every week.
(Sweet oranges make cloudy marmalade)
- Posted By: Sarah A Spitz
- Written by: Sarah Spitz
Our Silent Auction is indebted to the contributions made by the manufacturer of the All-American Pressure Canner (21.5 QT), a donated item of great value which launched a bidding frenzy; and the Thermoworks Thermapen and 2 Pocket Thermometers fetched higher-than-retail bids.
The donations also came from classmates, including a two hour Indian food class, lovely gift bags from SQIRL and Santa Monica Farmers Markets, an amazing lamb cake mold, delicious preserved jams, butters and jellies, exquisite cheeses paired with wines, books and more. We had a demonstration of antique mason jars as well, and what a beautiful sight they were!
PS: that cake (not preserved!) was baked by Chef Ernest Miller, of Hollywood Farmers Kitchen, without whom the program would not have been revived. We also thank UCCE's Dr. Rachel Surls for providing the means to make its revival a reality.
Now it's up to us, the graduates, to grow it and share it with our community. I have just graduated with a class of remarkable people -- we'll make it happen!