This year we decided to enter our canned goods into our two county fairs. We are very pleased with our entries and thought we would take this opportunity to explain our county fair judging results. County fairs do such a good job supporting our kids and encouraging self-reliance and a continuation of the lost arts that we wanted to help support them. One of the funding parameters that they have to meet is to have a certain number of canned goods submitted. In addition, this can be a great place to meet with other avid canners and get ideas to improve and diversify your canning pantry. It is also a good outside source of quality control. The judges are very candid and will let you know what you can do better.
Fair results 2021
We brought 45 different canned goods. 39 of our canned items received first place selections with 9 being considered for best of class/show and 4 being chosen. We did have 4 that received second place and 2 that were placed in third. After looking at our results we felt it would be beneficial to do a post on fair judging, as canning for consumption and canning for being entered into a show are two entirely different things.
We assessed the scorecards and talked with some judges and canning area superintendents at our fairs to help shine some light on just what the judges are looking for.
What the County Fair Judges are Looking For
The first thing they will assess is the safety factors. They want to be sure that your processing method is appropriate for the acidity of what you are canning. For instance that low acid foods (vegetables, meats, etc.) are pressure canned. They also want to be sure that you processed for the appropriate time and pressure. One of the really big areas that people get dinged in is not increasing pressure/time for their elevation level. If any of these areas are not met it is an instant disqualification.
The next thing they are going to look at is your containers. They want to be sure they are in approved jars and lids, that they have sealed properly, and are in the right size jar for the item being canned. They want the band removed so they can see that you have the proper headspace. It is a good idea to remove these at home so if there is any food residue you can remove it before you get to the fair. You will get point reductions for any stickiness or rust on the threads.
For your fruit spreads, they are looking for good color, consistency, and texture with no foam or unintended sediment. Jellies should be translucent and bright with a firm texture. Jams should have uniform pieces, no layers, and be firm but spreadable. Preserves should show uniform-sized fruit suspended in clear jelly with no layering. Conserves need to be well blended with uniform-sized chunks and rich color. Marmalades should be similar with uniform, appropriately sized pieces, and no layering. Butters should be smooth with evenly mixed spices.
Juice should have a nice color with no debris.
Fruits and vegetables should be uniform sizes with clear liquid surrounding them. There should be a good solid-to-liquid ratio. They want the fruit/vegetables to be mixed well in the liquid with little to no floating. The color should be good with no blemishes.
For pickles, the expectation is similar in that they be uniform sizes with clear covering liquid, a good solid-to-liquid ratio, and nice color. They also want them to appear plump with attractive spices.
For vinegar, it should be full strength, in an attractive resealable bottle. It should be clear with no excess sediment and a nice (natural) color.
Marie and Emmaline with 2021 fair results
We really enjoyed sharing our things at the fair and felt like we learned some things as well. We hope you will take the opportunity to support your local county fairs too.