Friday, July 9, 2010

Judge Not

This is Allison, the Grand Champion 4-H Food winner at the 2010 Barton County Fair.

"Judge not, that ye be not judged."

I got that message from one of my Facebook friends after I posted my Wednesday activity this week.

I was a 4-H foods judge for the Barton County Fair.

My Facebook friend hit a little close to home with his observation. I have judged 4-H foods a few times. However, I've been asked to judge a whole lot more. I am usually reluctant to do it.

Judging at 4-H events is much different than when I was a 4-Her in Pratt County many years ago. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, we checked our food in at the exhibit building. Several hours later, we went back to the display area and discovered our fate.

The judge didn't have to look me in the eye when she persistently gave me a white ribbon on my yeast bread loaf.

Conference judging has changed this annual 4-H tradition. The 4-Her sits down with the judge, often accompanied by a parent. And the judge has to look said 4-Her in the eye and break their heart with a red ribbon.

On Wednesday, I judged Level 4 foods. This was the first time I had judged the older 4-Hers. I was nervous about it. I was afraid I wouldn't have enough tips to share or advice to give these 4-Hers who have been baking for several years now.

When county extension agents call, I have usually said I'd prefer to judge the younger 4-Hers. But this time, all the slots were full for the younger kids, so I reluctantly told her yes. (She hit me at a weak moment: She had just emailed me a refrigerator dough recipe from the 3i show, so I felt obligated to say yes to her judging plea.)

But, after Wednesday, I have discovered I prefer judging the older 4-Hers. By the time they are in Level 4, most of them have been in 4-H foods and nutrition for several years. There were a few novices, but most had been bringing foods to the fair for at least 5 years.

I found it much easier to give a red ribbon to them, if that's what they deserved.

When I look at the eager, enthusiastic eyes of a beginning 4-Her, it is much more difficult to hand them that red ribbon. I do not want to be that person who dashes their hopes and makes their exuberance fade.

However, there's a downside to handing out lots of purple ribbons. At the end of the judging, you have to wade through all those exhibits to pick out the champion and the reserve champion. It's a much bigger "weeding" project if the judge has given predominately first-place ribbons.

Don't get me wrong: As a 4-H parent and a 4-H volunteer, I am a big advocate of conference judging. Jill and I learned a lot listening to foods judges throughout her 4-H career.

In Great Bend on Wednesday, I enjoyed interacting with the 4-Hers. One theme I stressed during the day was that the 4-Hers should bake year 'round - not just in the pursuit of a purple ribbon at the fair.

That's something I discovered as an adult. Making bread once a year for the Pratt County Fair just doesn't do it. That old adage embroidered on samplers everywhere, "Practice makes perfect," is still alive and well today at county fairs everywhere.

And I also encouraged the 4-Hers to help with family meals. It's somewhat ironic that we ask 4-Hers to bring cakes, cookies and pies for judging. 4-H, like other youth organizations, is trying to focus on healthful living. It's a necessary shift in these days when obesity is on the rise.

But as a foods superintendent, I also know that most fairs don't have the capability of displaying perishable foods. Fair boards want exhibits. You can display a pie for several days. A salad in a 101-degree building is another story.

So, I told them - in front of mom - that they should help with family meals. They should be responsible for making supper a few times a month.

(And, back to my Facebook friend: I'm glad my efforts in the kitchen aren't getting judged. Everyday cooking is a little different from fair baking, thank goodness!)

I hope I shared a hint or two along the way as I visited with Barton County 4-Hers and their parents this week. If so, my nervous stomach was worth it.

I had a different kind of stomach after a day of sampling yeast breads, cakes, pies, cookies, muffins and quick breads. Let's just say I was ready for some protein after a sugar overload.

If you'd like to try Allison's winning recipe, here it is. I speak from experience in telling you that shaping the ring is the hardest step of this process. But this Great Bend 4-Her did a beautiful job.

Pistachio Ring
1 pkg. (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast
1 tbsp. plus 1/2 cup sugar, divided
1/4 cup warm water (110 to 115 degrees)
1 cup warm milk (110 to 115 degrees)
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 tsp. salt
3 to 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cup butter, melted
1 cup shelled salted pistachios, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten

In a large mixing bowl, dissolve yeast and 1 tablespoon sugar in warm water; let stand for 5 minutes. Add the milk, butter, salt, 2 cups flour and remaining sugar; beat until smooth. Stir in enough remaining flour to form soft dough. Turn onto a lightly floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes. Place in greased bowl, turning once to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.

Punch dough down. On a floured surface, roll into a 16-inch by 12-inch rectangle. Brush with melted butter. Sprinkle with pistachios and sugar. Roll up jelly-roll style, starting with a long side. Pinch seam to seal. Place seam side down on a greased baking sheet; inch ends together to form a ring. With scissors, cut from outside edge, 2/3 way toward center of ring at 3/4-inch intervals. Separate strips slightly; twist to allow filling to show, slightly overlapping with the previous piece. Cover and let rise in warm place for 30 minutes. Brush with egg. Bake at 375 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from pan to a wire rack to cool.

When cool, glaze lightly with powdered sugar icing and sprinkle with additional chopped pistachios.

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