Prize-winning tips?

jbregnard(Z6 MA)August 30, 2008

Hi: Does anyone have any links or information on what agricultural fair judges are looking for in prize-winning canned fruits and veggies? Every year I say I'm going to take the plunge and enter a few items, but I realized this year that I really don't know what qualifies as a winner! I know I need to just enter and start somewhere, but I'd like a little more info before I do that. Thanks so much for whatever info you're willing to share! :)

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
valereee(6a SW Ohio)

There's a book called Blue Ribbon Preserves by Linda Amendt that might be helpful.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2008 at 11:50AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I have many Blue ribbons from my County Fair. Ball sponsors our preserving department. Unfortunately they don't taste the products. I can't blame them. I do know you must use approved jars, preferably Ball as they are giving out the prizes. I'm sure they wouldn't avoid a beautiful quart of canned peaches in a Kerr jar though. They check for head-space, packing, clarity of jellies and textures of jams. You must have the proper head-space. You also must have rings with no rust. Labels must be placed on the bottom of the jar. Do not put your name on it. Start now for next summers fair. All products must be canned within the past year. Our fair is in early August and our tomatoes don't get ripe until late August so I can start now for next years fair. I'd suggest you make your specially packed jars and store them in a cool dark place until next summer. Strawberry jam I'll make next May.
Also, they like the unusual. Mincemeat won my a prize as no one else entered. Seems they give a prize in every category listed. Prizes include Ball canning jars and always the latest Blue Book and you get your name up in lights as well as the local newspaper.

    Bookmark   August 30, 2008 at 2:36PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
vall3fam(9 CentralCA)

I entered my first jams in the county fair this year and got one first, two seconds, and a third. The competitors handbook from your local fair will give you some guidelines as far as the size of jar, headspace expected, etc.

I also used the Blue Ribbon Preserves by Linda Amendt and she had many good suggestions and tips for what judges are looking for. For example, washing the jars in soapy water and wiping down with a vinegar rinse to make them clean and shiny. My jars were the shiniest ones there!

I really had fun competing and look forward to doing it again next year!


    Bookmark   August 30, 2008 at 8:43PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

don't know how much help it'll be, but there's a lot of info for JUDGES at

    Bookmark   August 30, 2008 at 9:21PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
melva02(z7 VA)

When I look at the cover of the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, the jars look like they're packed so tight the liquid might not safely penetrate all the pieces. I packed my dilly beans as tightly as I felt was safe and they're still floating with room to twist. I might try entering the fair this year (our state fair deadline is this Friday), but I'm not sure anything I have looks good enough to be competitive. Plus, if they're not even going to taste it, it just seems like a waste of food that I could eat myself.

Thanks for the tips though! I just might go for it.


    Bookmark   August 30, 2008 at 10:15PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

After the fair is over you pick up your entries. So you do get to eat it yourself. I'm doing dilly beans at this moment. I like to can early in the morning. Pack the beans as tight as you can. They are going to shrink some in the process. I measure the beans to 3/4 inch from the lid before packing.
I understand why the judges don't taste. Some people still can like their Grandma did.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2008 at 5:54AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
melva02(z7 VA)

Shirley, don't they pop the lids when they judge them? I thought I noticed unsealed lids when I was looking at the jars at the Virginia state fair last year.

This weekend the public radio show A Prairie Home Companion was broadcast from the Minnesota State Fair. They had a prize-winning canner on there, giving the host tastes of her best products. I was wondering whether the judges in MN taste the entries.

It's really too bad that the extension office doesn't partner with the state fair to promote modern safe canning methods. They could put the guidelines on the entry form or something.


    Bookmark   August 31, 2008 at 6:52PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I'm sure some Fairs taste but ours does not. Our County fair was the 2ND largest in the country years ago. I don't know where it stands now. Our fair is now run by the Agriculture Society. We call it "America's County Fair". Seems our mismanaged county government fired a lot of folks at our Cooperative extension office. We have had Master gardener courses here every spring until 3 years age. The county cut the budget and the qualified teachers were let go. The co-op still has connections with Cornell University. I don't know how our State Fair in Albany works the judging of the canned goods.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2008 at 9:59PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

How about information on prize-winning tips for entering flowers, plants, and vegies at fairs? Anyone out there enter in THESE categories? What are YOUR experiences?

    Bookmark   August 11, 2009 at 9:38PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Prize winning tips on flowers and plants would most likely be found on those relevant forums. I know the rose forum has lots of info on the rose competitions, same for the dahlia forums.

For the canned fruits and vegetables as OP asked, we watched the canned jellies and jams judging (wife's favorites) at the Empire Fair in Springfield, MO last weekend and they only tasted the final 4. Some jars of the frequently done things only seemed to get a quick glance but anything that was brightly or unusually colored or in anyway unusual seemed to get the focus. Some had their jars sitting on small trays with garnish and flowers, some had decorative labels, etc.

ie: in the strawberry jams category it was the fruit combo jams that got the judge attention rather than the plain strawberry jam. Don't know if this helps or not becuase I assume the rules for entries and the categories differ from fair to fair.


    Bookmark   August 11, 2009 at 10:21PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
busylizzy(z5 PA)

Gee, I am not sure where to start, lol. I started entering fairs in 7th grade in the Home Ec class, I am now 48.

First, and foremost, get a Premium Book from the fair you are entering, if it is over this year you may be able to get an extra one to study in preparation for next year. Some, are available online.

Secondly, as I understand it, the Land Grant College of Mass is the University of Mass in Amherst. The land grant colleges of the United States are the Universities who have been granted Cooperative Extension Services. There you will find alot of information about agricultural and fair competition. The 4-H department has phamplets for this purpose for the different clubs to educate the youngsters.

When entering last year I felt sorry for some newbies who didn't read up and were not allowed to enter do to incorrect jar size, glued on top covers, travelling distances only to find out that fair required bands on the canned goods. Unlike the fair Shirley enters there is no rule for label placement for me, although I place mine on the bottom for single competition and place on the side for display competition (the ones on trays/baskets like Dave mentioned). The 5 pickled competition is tough for tray size 15 inches max. That is exactly 5 pint jars lined up.
I won blue last year, the colors were awesome I must admit, sweet gerkins, garlic dills, pickled cauliflower, 3 bean salad and pickled red cabbage. The Ball writing on the lids were perfectly aligned with the embossing of the Vintage clear jars I used. That's another tip, only clear/shiny clean jars is the standard. I use either vinegar or Borax to wipe down.
Food coloring is usually not allowed. I may chance it with the Lavendar jelly this year to get a nicer violet color.
Other standards are correct head space for the product canned, following USDA Guidelines, no floating fruit or veggies, good seal. Last year was the first year the jam/jelly judge opened lids for correct jell set on the jams and jellies, but did not taste product.

I can sympathize with that after being a judge years ago for an apple/pumpkin baking contest. Went home and pucked for hours, to this day can't stand cream cheese frosting.

Fresh veggies, you would surely be wise to get the 4-H information on the cut stem sizes for peppers, beets, pumpkins, eggplants, etc....
All specimens should be of the same uniform size, free of insects, insect or mechanical damage (ie: bruising when transported).Some veggies you shine, others you don't. Many fairs have weird /odd, giant veggie categories. New Jersey gives Trophies for the largest weight maters.

Baked goods is another category for the Ag Department if you bake. Zucchini bread and Blueberry muffins are the toughest categories here.

Hort Department, I have to agree about the other forums. Although, that is how I started entering, have a zillion blue ribbons for my floral specimens and can pick a blue ribbon zinna in the dark, that would make this post too lengthy.

Lastly, HAVE FUN!

    Bookmark   August 12, 2009 at 11:28AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

My fair doesn't have a rule for label placement either, but they do have rules about names on jars, using Ball/Kerr products, etc. A copy of the rules can be obtained from the Fair Board and you should get a copy and read it before entering.

Here they do not taste the products either, and like Shirley, I don't blame them. I also agree that they like "unusual" products, my great-nephew Dylan won a blue ribbon and a lot of attention for his Root Beer Jelly.

My daughter Amanda also won a Best of Show ribbon for a rhubarb pie, that's another category where they look for something a little different. A dozen apple pies sitting there and her rhubarb pie with the cut out autumn leaves from pie dough in place of a top crust drew the attention it deserved. Grandma's recipe probably didn't hurt, but they didn't taste the pie either. I did see that some cookies had bites out of them, so maybe they only taste things where there's a close competition.

Oh, and don't forget to have fun!

Happy canning.


    Bookmark   August 12, 2009 at 12:37PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
busylizzy(z5 PA)

Baked goods, they taste here. Heck the Hershey Chocolate Cake has to be tasted, blues get to go to the competition in January for a $500.00 state prize.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2009 at 11:36PM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
Roasted Tomato Garlic Soup
I had about 20 - 1 gallon bags filled with tomatoes...
Citric acid - powder or crystal form
I have been making simple jams for years but have been...
habanero gold question?
All the directions for habanero gold jelly call for...
Roasting previously frozen peppers
Has anyone had any experience either oven roasting...
New low fat way to make "creamy soup" !!!!!!
I got this from "Cooking Light" Most recipes...
Sponsored Products
Super Chill Wine Cooler
$64.95 | FRONTGATE
Izzy Pendant
Key Short Module - Maple - Housefish
$494.00 | HORNE
Artemide | Tolomeo Off Center Suspension Light
$830.00 | YLighting
Tacoma Pine 3-ft Artificial Christmas Tree
Glove Wool Ottoman in Orange
$299.00 | LexMod
People viewed this after searching for:
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™