In Which I Will Attempt to Win All the Things
I am taking February off from writing. Instead I will be spending this month preparing for the local A&P (Agricultural and Pastoral ) show where I will attempt to win everything.
Okay, that’s an exaggeration. Next year will be domination.
For those wondering A&P shows are a bit like county fairs. There are random things for sale, food booths, livestock competitions and also section called ‘home crafts’. Growing up my family would enter our local county fair all the time, usually in jams, jellies, preserves, and baking, though my father also took some awards in the gardening section. This has continued since my sister and I moved out and it’s gotten to the point where my parents were politely asked to maybe not enter for a year, give someone else a chance.
My family (read mother) is highly competitive. She’s even competitive with her own children and we’re competitive right back. When we were entering the kids sections she would help us with our jams and jellies, making sure we didn’t scald ourselves too badly. As soon as we were in the adult sections with her it was game on. I lost. I always lost. We could use the exact same recipe and she would get first and I would get second. My poor diabetic father did not enjoy the time of year when jams were being made. My mother and I would shove spoon fulls of the stuff at him and demand he tell us which was better. He got very good at giving positive, balanced, and non-committal feedback. At some point I will write a blog post about my family and mental health and I will discuss the year of the seven angel food cakes. When my mother sets out to win she sets out to win.
I haven’t entered any kind of contest in about a decade due to living in a little apartment, working weird shifts, and the fact that the central Auckland shows don’t really do any home crafts. Then I moved to the suburbs, and into a house with a proper kitchen. The thing you need to know about living in the suburbs of New Zealand’s largest city is that you are always a twenty minute or less drive from farm land. I pass by a small alpaca farm, a couple of sheep, and some wild chickens on my ten minute drive to the mall.
I got the schedule back in November and worked out that I have the skills to enter about sixty different categories.
I Will Win All The Things And Not Have To Compete With My Mother!
Okay, no. I have a toddler who is not compatible with scalding hot jam and my two days a week off is taken up with trying to have a writing career. I also have no idea what the competition will be like. There might be little old ladies who have won every year since 1840 and will cut anyone who gets in their way. There might be hardcore hipsters who are rocking cam sành marmalade (actually that sounds good). I need to just dip my toes in, scout out the competition and gage the tastes of the judges. Are they hardcore traditionalists or would they be up for some chili flakes in the mango jam?
I’ve already crossed off all of the knitting sections which I just haven’t had the time or detailed focus for. I’ve also dropped all the canned and pickled vegetables since I’ve only done those once before and I think I need more practice. That leaves the old standbys of jam, jelly, marmalade, and baking.
I’ve already knocked out a merlot jelly and a cherry jelly. Jelly isn’t really a thing in New Zealand. You can’t buy it in the stores. If you ask for jelly you get pointed to what Americans would call Jell-O or gelatine. I was actually a bit surprised to see it on the schedule.
After that an apricot jam, plum jam, lemon ginger marmalade, regular lemon marmalade, possibly the mandarin marmalade I made before Christmas. I’ll have to take a look at it and crack one open for a taste.
I have run into a couple of problems. One is that it’s really hard to find seal and ring canning jars and when you do they are fucking expensive. I mean 6 bucks a jar, though you can buy replacement tops and rings in the grocery store for dirt cheap. Makes no sense. I ended up finding a place that sells wholesale jars and bottles. This means I will be using one piece lids which I’ve never used before and are in fact against the rules at my old county fairs. Also New Zealand pectin is crap. Unbelievable crap. I can get nothing to set up with it. I got my mother to send me Sure-Jell and imperial measuring cups over Christmas. (Mom can be very supportive as long as we’re not in direct competition.) Do I have any New Zealand readers? Does anyone know where I can get good pectin? That Chelsea jam sugar is okay but not what I really need and that stuff you get at Pak n’ Save just doesn’t fucking work.
I’m also taking on the baking section. I’ve dropped myself down from every baking option to just 10. Sponge cake, chocolate chip cookies, peanut brownies, shortbread, raspberry brownies, banana cake, chocolate cake, fruit cake (1.5kg minimum weight), sponge sandwich with jam filling, and loaf of bread. I’ll probably do my rosemary bread and my challah bread. And before you all say I’m nuts you should see my Christmas baking. I’ll post pictures of the baking next week.
I’ll be doing all the baking on the 26th, drop off on 27th, and comp on 28th.
I’ll end this post now because I’ve got jam to make but I’ll post pictures next week of me winning all the things or perhaps losing painfully and getting obsessed with romping through next year.
UPDATE: Just finished the apricot jam. Too sweet. Too much sugar, not enough flavour in the fruit. I’ll enter in anyway but not betting on my odds. Hopefully the plumb will turn out better.