Saints Preserve Us!

2012’s quest for blue ribbons begins

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September 11, 2012

Alex rest their souls and comfort their families

I changed the picture!  Those are my 2012 Minnesota State Fair entries.  It was a very good year; I came home with 15 ribbons, scoresheets reflecting 17 placings, and a plaque that says I was better at canning at the 2012 Minnesota State Fair than anyone else.  It is my fifth such award and I am pleased as Punch to have earned it.  It did not come easily.

When I picked up my opened and judged jars (a couple days after they were entered and a few days before the Fair opened), I could not decide if I had done well or had done not so well.  It seems that one indicator of success is a fair amount of product removed from the jar for tasting.  With that in mind, I thought I might have done well with my apricot butter, blackberry jam, Boozy Floozy© peach amaretto jam, strawberry jelly and blackberry jelly.  I held no high expectation for my peach jam or raspberry jelly.  It was difficult to tell about the Pickled Boiled Dirt Chunks, the watermelon pickles, tomato juice or stewed tomatoes — no discernible amount was removed and it would be difficult to be able to discern an amount just because of the nature of the products.  No biggie.  It would be a kick to get another ribbon for those disgusting beet pickles, though.

My kids like to tease me about my competitive spirit as far as the State Fair goes.  While it's true that I love to win, I don't take it all that seriously.  All bets are off.  I don't know who the judges are and they don't know whose product they are tasting.  Someone suggested to me once many years ago that my labels might provide a clue.  Huh?  The labels must include the entry number, name of the product, the lot number, and the processing method.  I don't think my labels look much different than most.

On opening day of the Fair, I eagerly awaited the results to be posted on the Fair's web site.  I love technology.  Gone are the days when Chris and I would be on the first bus to the fairgrounds in order to be at the Creative Activities building office when they put The Lists out for perusal.  The List is the official accounting of the competition.  Now The List is posted online at about 8:00 a.m. and I am able to inspect it while still in my nightie, coffee cup in my shaky hand, pounding that 'refresh' button on my web browser, waiting for the results to have been posted. 

I was pleased to see that my first entry, blackberry jelly, won a blue ribbon!  Perhaps it was a sign of good things to follow.  And my crab apple jelly won first place, too!  Wow!  It is so beautiful — Dolgo crab apples from Grand Marais were the source of the juice.  Plum jelly was second and raspberry jelly was second.  Awesome!  The plum jelly is what began all this foolishness 32 years ago.  I was thrilled with the raspberry jelly — barely a 1/4 teaspoon had been removed from the judged jar.  I am giddy with the results for my strawberry jelly; it was softer than it should have been and the scoresheet reflected that, but it scored 33 of 35 points for flavor.  Good enough!

Blackberry jam was third.  I don't pick blackberries.  I buy them from the supermarket and berries from Cub have won several blackberry jam and jelly blue ribbons over the years.  Third place made me happy enough. 

Continuing through The List, I was a bit bummed that my cherry jam received fourth place — it was so good!  First, second, and third, must have been killers, though.  Nectarine jam was third and I was tickled to send a small jar to Chris Wagner, in charge of finding the best vendors for fruits and vegetables for Cub—the nectarines were juicy and delicious this summer and mine ribbon-winning nectarines were from My Man Steve The Produce Guy at my local Cub foods.  The jam was on the soft side, even for jam, and it received the maximum number of points for flavor, but was off two for texture and consistency.  Phooey!  Peach jam was first place again!  Mom waited for Colorado peaches for canning and I do the same.  They did not disappoint, though I nearly gagged on the $28 ticket for a box of them.  Dang, they were good, though.  Juicy and sweet, no mealiness.  Tribute again, I think, to the smart folks at Cub choosing the best produce growers. 

The last lot in the jams is a miscellaneous category — it is the one lot where creativity is acknowledged.  My Boozy Floozy© Peach Amaretto Jam was first!  I was stunned.  That is the largest lot in all the canning competition —66 jars were entered!— and the judges decided mine was better than the other 65.  Wow!  Adding liqueur is a fun thing to do with jams.  I just stir in about 1/4 cup of spirits after the jam has boiled and has been removed from the heat.  It really is that simple.   My apricot butter was rated third.  It has received many blue ribbons and is totally delicious.  I would love to know what the first and second place winners' flavors were.  I love fruit butters!

And then came the dumb beets.  First place!!  For the third consecutive year!  I have never tasted them.  Hand to heart.  I hate beets.  I started entering the beet pickle lot about 7 years ago for laughs—and I have had lots of laughs.  I use a different recipe than I did then and remember the words of a judge who said to stick with a winner.  Okey dokey.  Really, they're disgusting.  People ask how I know if they're good.  I rely on the judges.  And we have a good friend who has given his take on what makes a good one.  Yeah, I always give him a jar.  I'm thinking of selling the brine as a DIY thang.  Blech.  Someone else can cook, skin, slice, and pack them.  I think they're a pain in the keester to make — and now I won't be able to enter them (or make them!! thank you very much) for two years.  It's a Fair rule that three consecutive blues in a lot bar you from competing in that lot for two years.  Yippee!!

Watermelon pickles won another blue ribbon, as did stewed tomatoes and tomato juice.  A net acquaintance asked about a recipe for my tomato juice.  Recipe?  Cook the tomatoes and juice them.  A little salt, citric acid for safe waterbath processing, and that's it.  Well, that's mostly it.  The blue ribbon here is about technique.  Stewed tomatoes?  I use the recipe on the University of Minnesota Extension division web site. 

June Cleaver lives!!

And this is as good a time and place as any to post my favorite resources.  I supplied this information to Pat Evans at KARE-11 and I hope it will be posted there, too:


National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP):  These folks did a lot of the most recent canning research for the USDA and it is my go-to resource.  The site is well-organized and comprehensive.  

University of Minnesota Extension Division:  I use the U's recipe for its Minnesota Tomato Mixture for my blue ribbon stewed tomatoes.  Follow the measures to the letter for safe waterbath processing.

Jarden site:  Jarden is the company that manufactures Ball, Kerr, Golden Harvest, and Bernardin canning jars.  (Bernardin is marketed in Canada.)


"Ball Blue Book."  Available online or often where canning supplies are sold, this is often referred to as the "canners' bible."  Read the introductory chapters for a basic understanding of the canning process and do use the most recent edition

"So Easy to Preserve, Fifth Edition"   Written by the food scientists at the University of Georgia, this is my go-to printed text.  Available from the U of Georgia at

"Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving."  This book has 14 different recipes for home-canned salsa.  Often referred to as the big Ball Book — it's about 1-1/4" thick, compared to the 1/3" thick Ball Blue Book.  


The picture?  Those are my twenty entries into the Minnesota State Fair’s 2011 competitions for canning.  It was a very good year: I came away with seven first place ribbons, six second place ribbons, a third, two fourths, and the medallion that is awarded annually to the Fair’s winningest canner.  It is my fourth such medallion and I am proud of them.

It is May.  The rhubarb has been ready for a good three weeks, early this year, as is everything else in my yard.  It is time to start canning!  Saints preserve us!  I cannot promise recipes for everything I make (I can’t give away all my ribbon-winning recipes), but I will try to have pictures of the process of my quest for blue ribbons at the Great Minnesota Get-Together, the Minnesota State Fair—the best state fair in our state!  Stick around; the fun is just beginning.

My entries will assume a basic knowledge of waterbath-process canning procedures.

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