Bakery bonanza

Who can resist a made-from-scratch muffin, cheesecake, pie, donut or cake? The cases in the Senior Fair building filled up Wednesday as local cooks dropped off all of these items, including candy and homemade noodles, for the baked goods competition at the Seneca County Fair.

Mary Kingseed has been head of the baked goods department for 25 years. She was on hand all day to check in the submissions, work with the judges and oversee an auction of the entries. Her daughters Jenny Russell, Kathy Russell and daughter-in-law Jenny Kingseed assisted Mary.

“Registration is done the first week in July. Then they bring it in 9 until noon. We get everything set up,” Mary said.

She and other volunteers sort the entries into the proper categories. Each entry bears a tag with the participant’s number on it and a description of the product. Ann Golden, Brandon Wise and Peg Carrick served as the judges.

“We judge everything. They taste everything. They cut the piece, they keep one piece and we put one piece on display. Then we auction everything off,” Mary said.

Cinda Jones and Sue Rainey served as recorders so the judges could tend to the task at hand, which usually takes about two hours. The judges consider appearance, aroma, texture and taste in selecting the winners for each category. They also compare the entries to determine the places. Kathy said the first couple years organizing the event were difficult for her mom.

“We walked into it without knowing anything. You have to keep track of the numbers. They come in with one tag, but to sell them, the tag stays with the plate we keep (with the sample). We have to keep track of the exhibitor numbers, because they get half of the money when we sell it at the bake sale,” Kathy Russell said.

Mary said she first got involved with the fair as a 4-H adviser and entered some of her canned goods for judging. Eventually, she was elected to the fair board and took charge of the baked goods department. Her daughters were teens at the time, and they now have children of their own, who also help at the event.

“I didn’t know anything about the Senior Fair, so it’s been a learning experience. I love it,” Mary said.

The other half of the auction proceeds go to the department. During Kingseed’s first year, Kathy said the judging lasted six hours, and the auction started at 7 p.m. Since then, the women have become more efficient and need less time to get the job done.

Each judge takes care of different categories to save time. The categories include men’s, youth division, bread, cookies, pies and miscellaneous. After each category is evaluated, Mary allows time for exhibitors to ask questions and get tips for next year from the judges.

A new category this year is “heritage recipes” that have been passed through families for 50 years or more. Lisa Swickard is sponsoring the contest in hopes of collecting recipes over multiple years. She hopes to publish a cookbook through her company, Virgin Alley Press. Seven entries were submitted this year.

“They have to bring the recipe in along with the item they baked.” Mary explained. “Two or three years down the line … people will be able to buy a cookbook.”

One entrant brought in a ham loaf. Mary said the heritage recipes will need to be divided into categories in future years to avoid confusion.

Once winners are determined, all the baked goods are placed on display for potential buyers to view. Sheriff Bill Eckelberry stopped by during the judging for a preview. Does he prefer something sweet or hearty?

“I like a little of both,” he said.

Usually, the auction takes about three hours, depending on the number of entries. The winning products are sold first. Mary said she mixes items from different categories rather than auctioning all the cookies or pies in one stretch. By the end of the evening, the cases are empty once again.

“It all comes in today and it all goes out today,” Kathy said.

Mary’s responsibilities have kept her from entering her own canned goods at the fair in recent years, but she hopes to get back into that now that she is retired. She is finishing a three-year term on the fair board. If Mary is re-elected, she will be back for another three years.