It crossed my mind, as I was re-reading my post “Jam Sessions” that I really should share my winning recipes from entries in the Los Angeles County Fair, submitted in the 80s and 90s.
I would have continued submitting entries into the annual fair but the logistics got the best of us. First you obtain the form and fill it out, indicating the entries you will be submitting to the fair (that was the easy part and could be done by mail). There was also a fee of about 50 cents per entry. Then on the date listed (just before the actual opening of the Fair which starts in early September) you took your entries – two of each – to the fairgrounds and turned them in. One of each jar was a tasting jar. If you wanted your jars back, you had to return to the fair grounds on the appointed day to pick up the tasting jars. If you submitted many items, these could add up to a lot of canning jars.
THEN we would go to the fair – and for the last five years or so that we attended, I would get us a room at the Sheraton Fairplex Hotel that is located right on the fair grounds. Hotel guests could get settled into their room and then go back and forth through a special entrance—it was less tiring this way. We’d spend a day, that night, and the following morning at the fair – and then head for home, usually detouring in Covina to visit our special friends Pat and Stan.
THEN after the fair closed, Bob would return to the fairgrounds to pick up our entries, any ribbons I had won, and our prize money. He was the one making the trip to submit the entries and then picking up the tasting jars. In all, for him it meant making four trips to Pomona. I was still working full time. It became just too much to do.
When we were at the Fair, and spending most of our time in Home Arts – I would buy the cookbooks from the previous year’s winning recipes. I fell in love with the cookbooks* and enjoyed having my recipes in some of them so we would buy a dozen or so cookbooks, for $10.00 each (it was such a bargain)—so I could give them to family and friends as Christmas presents.
Not just canned food recipes were in the cookbooks – there were also the first, second and third prize winners for cakes, cookies, pies, quick breads, cookies, confections as well. There were also the winning recipes for contests such as the Weber BBQ cook off and whatever other food contests were being held that year. In 1992, 13 different food contests were held at the fair, and the winning recipes are in the 1993 cookbook—there was everything from the Land O Lakes Quick Breads contest to the casserole or meatloaf contest. Fun!
*I then began collecting the L.A. County Fair for all of the earlier years, since they first began publishing the annual cookbooks in 1979. THAT led, in turn, to collecting fair cookbooks from other states and counties. The LA County cookbooks are amongst my favorite books, though.
I always thought if we just lived closer, it would have been fun to enter other things as well, such as the Christmas dollhouse we worked on for so many years. However Pomona was an hour’s drive from where we lived before—and now we are more than two hours away from the Pomona Fairgrounds. It was nice while it lasted.
All of this being said, I was going through one of my notebooks and thought maybe some readers would be interested in trying some of the prize winning recipes.
Before getting started, you need a large canner (black speckled – we bought our last one at Ace Hardware). You need canning jars and these are sold in hardware stores or at Walmart. (For Walmart, I discovered that, for California at least, it’s a seasonal item on their shelves). When canning supplies appear in the springtime on the store shelves, I stock up. I buy as much Ball low sugar powdered pectin as I can afford. I stock up on sugar and if I need jars, I buy new jars. If I have plenty of jars, I stock up on boxes of the lids and rings, which you can buy together or just the flat lids alone. When I know I am going to do some pickling or canning, the first thing I do is get out the jars and start washing them in hot soapy water.
Then I put them into the canner and fill I with water, to bring them to a boil. Let them boil about ten minutes so they are completely sterilized. If you find any chips or cracks, discard the jar.
You can also look for jars at yard sales & flea markets but don’t buy jars that are chipped and don’t buy any that really aren’t canning jars (It should have a Ball or Kerr logo on the jar). Years ago, at yard sales people would sell mayonnaise jars with canning jars (now mayonnaise comes in plastic containers) – but the old mayonnaise jars aren’t safe to use. Once, at my mother’s home I was canning blue berries and using old mayonnaise jars she had saved. Some of the jars cracked around the bottom in the boiling water bath and I can tell you, it was a huge mess to clean up, not to mention the loss of all those blueberries we had picked in Michigan. The worst thing about it is, I KNEW better and used them anyway.
BLUE RIBBON HOT HAWAIIAN PINEAPPLE PICKLES
1 whole fresh pineapple, peeled and cut into cubes, 6 cups*
2 cups white vinegar
1½ cups of granulated sugar
2 TBSP pickling spice
1 TBSP whole cloves
3 cinnamon sticks, broken
Small dried whole red peppers
Put spices in a cheesecloth bag and tie. Heat sugar and vinegar until sugar dissolves. Add spice bag and pineapple. Cook over low flame 1 hour. Pack pineapple in hot sterilized pint jars and add 1 red pepper to each jar (discard spices). Fill jar with liquid and seal. Process 10 minutes in a boiling water bath. Allow at least 2 weeks for the pineapple to “cure” before serving.
*I discovered a little trick after years of struggling with fresh pineapple. If you have a grocery warehouse nearby, go get one of the really large cans of pineapple chunks (restaurant size). Drain off the juice and use that for something else (or drink it). Then proceed with the recipe. When I am finally in the mood for Hot Hawaiian Pineapple Pickles or friends are asking for them, I double the recipe. One batch makes about 6 pints. These make a great holiday gift—we also discovered that the pickles are great on Shish-kabob skewers. I won 2 blue ribbons for this recipe – and then also won $100 from a Daily News holiday recipe contest as well.
BLUE RIBBON PICKLED CHERRIES
4 lbs large sweet Bing cherries—stemmed, do not pit.
2 cups apple cider vinegar
1 cup granulated sugar
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground mace
1/8 tsp ground cloves
Combine sugar, vinegar and spices in large pot; bring to a boil; add washed cherries. Simmer 1-2 minutes or until skins begin to crack. Pour into a 4 quart glass bowl; cover and let stand at room temperature 4 hours.
Drain cherries, reserving liquid. Pack cherries into 4 hot pint jars. Bring liquid to a boil and pour over cherries filling to ¼” of the top. Seal with lids that have been kept hot in a pan on the stove, and screw on bands. Process in a boiling water bath 15 minutes. Cool on wire racks.
BLUE RIBBON KUMQUAT CHUTNEY
At our old house, we had a dwarf kumquat tree that had been given to us. Kumquats may be an acquired taste but this chutney recipe won a blue ribbon at the fair.
1¼ lbs kumquats
1 TBSP baking soda
1 lb chopped dates
1 lb raisins
2 pounds brown sugar, packed
2 pounds granulated sugar
1/3 cup water
2 cups vinegar
2 onions, chopped
1 green (bell) pepper seeded and chopped
4 oz crystallized ginger, chopped
4 oz garlic, minced
¼ lb pecan halves
¼ cup mustard seeds
1 TBSP celery seeds
1 TBSP ground ginger
1 TBSP chili powder
2 TBSP salt
12 oz pineapple juice
1 tsp dried red pepper flakes
Cut an X ¼” deep at the end of each kumquat. Pick out the seeds. Sprinkle kumquats with baking soda. Cover with boiling water. Let stand 30 minutes. Drain.
Combine all remaining ingredients along with the kumquats. Bring to a boil. Simmer until thick, about 45 minutes. Put chutney in hot, sterilized jars; adjust lids. Seal. Process in boiling water bath 20 minutes for pint jars. Makes 7 pints.
BLUE RIBBON KUMQUAT MARMALADE
I have a theory about what does the best (1st or 2nd place ribbons) at the Fair. I think my best submissions were generally for something no one else had thought to make. But if you won first, second, or third place you were invited to submit the recipes for the next cookbook (available the following year) and if you submitted something really original and submitted the recipe, by the next year there were sure to be copycats. Of course, I could have declined to submit the recipes – but I don’t believe in “secret recipes”. I think everything should be shared. Anyway, Kumquat Marmalade won a blue ribbon in the 1990 Los Angeles County Fair.
To make kumquat marmalade
4 cups thinly sliced kumquats, seeds removed
Peel from 1 orange, shredded very thin
Peel from 1 lemon, shredded very thin
4 cups orange juice
1 cup lemon juice
2 cups water
4 cups sugar
1 box low sugar powdered pectin
¾ cup orange liqueur (i.e., something like Grand Marnier or Triple Sec*)
Begin by preparing the kumquats; wash them well and remove any stems. Us only nice plump kumquats.
Place the sliced kumquats, orange and lemon peel orange and lemon juices and water in a large bowl and let stand in a cool place overnight or for 12 hours.
Pour into a large stainless pot, add orange liqueur and bring to a boil. Boil 15 minutes. Add powdered pectin and return to a boil. Add sugar all at once and return to a boil. Boil 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove any foam. Stir a few minutes to evenly distribute the bits of fruit and peel. Pour the marmalade into sterilized half-pint jars, wipe rims, adjust lids. Seal. Process in a boiling water bath 10 minutes.
*You don’t need an expensive orange liqueur, like Triple Sec, to use in a recipe. I can usually find a fairly inexpensive orange liqueur at a store like Trader Joe’s.
BLUE RIBBON PICKLED CANTALOUPE
4 LARGE firm cantaloupe melons (under ripe are best)
½ cup coarse salt
2 quarts water
2 TBSP whole allspices
1 TBSP whole cloves
5 4” stick cinnamon
5 cups granulated sugar
2 cups white vinegar
2 cups water
Peel and seed cantaloupes. Cut into cubes or balls. Dissolve salt in 2 quarts water; add melon and let stand 2 hours. Drain and rinse.
Tie spices in cheesecloth bag; add to remaining ingredients in large pot. Bring to a boil and cook 5 minutes. Add melon; return to boil for 3 minutes. Remove from heat and cover. Let stand 8 hours. Next day, drain syrup from melons and discard spice bag. Return syrup to a boil and bring to a boil. Pack melon in hot sterilized pint jars; cover with boiling syrup. Process in a boiling water bath 15 minutes. Maks 4 pints.
BLUE RIBON DILLY BEANS
3 ½ CUPS water
3 ½ cups white vinegar
5 TBSP pickling salt
4 pounds green beans, washed and cut into pieces to fit jars
18-21 black peppercorns
6-7 dried red hot peppers
Fresh dill sprigs
Garlic cloves, peeled
Mix water, vinegar, & salt in a 3 quart pot; bring to a boil. Pack clean washed beans into hot sterilized jars. Add garlic clove, 1 peppercorn and 1 sprig of dill in each jar. Pour boiling water/liquid over all, leaving ½” headspace. Seal. Process in boiling water bath 20 minutes.
Nice hors d’oeuvre. Use wide mouth pint jars—it takes a lot to fill quart jars—and wide mouth pint jars are easier to pack the beans in neatly, standing up.
BLUE RIBBON SPICY PUMPKIN BUTTER
4 CUPS mashed cooked pumpkin
2 TBSP lemon juice
1 pkg powdered pectin
4 ½ cups granulated sugar
1 TBSP pumpkin pie spice mix.
Measure pumpkin. Stir in powdered pectin. Bring to a boil over high heat stirring constantly to prevent sticking. Add sugar and spice and bring to a boil again. Boil hard 4 minutes. Pack in hot sterilized half pint (8 oz) jars and seal. Process in boiling water bath 10 minutes. Cool on wire racks away from drafts.
Sandy’s Cooknote: This makes a great gift to give with a small loaf of pumpkin bread or any other tea bread that you like. You can make this with canned pumpkin but I always liked the challenge of finding recipes for fresh pumpkin in the fall.
BLUE RIBBON FIG ALMOND RELISH
We had two fig trees at our old home in Arleta and they produced prodigious amounts of figs, despite the efforts of all the local wild birds to eat most of them. I think I tried every fig recipe I could find and then began creating my own. This one won a blue ribbon at the fair in 1992.
2 ½ lbs fresh figs, washed, stems removed and cut into ¼” pieces
2 cups granulated sugar
1/3 cup orange juice and zest from one orange
1 cinnamon stick broken into small pieces
2 whole cloves
2 whole allspice
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
½ cup slivered almonds
In a 4-quart stainless pot, mix figs, sugar, orange juice & zest. Allow to stand at room temperature 3-4 hours. Put spices into a piece of cheesecloth* and tie. Bring fruit to a boil. Reduce heat, add spice bag and vinegar. Simmer gently 30 minutes. Add almonds. Remove spice bag and pour into hot, sterilized ½ pint jars. Seal. Process in boiling water bath 10 minutes. Makes 5 half-pint jars.
*When the spices are small enough to fit, I put them into a tea caddy which is much easier to use. Sometimes the pieces are too large to fit into a tea caddy and then you have to use cheesecloth.
The following recipe also won a blue ribbon at the Los Angeles County Fair in 1992.
FIGGY ORANGE JAM
6 cups ground black mission figs
¼ cup orange or lemon juice
1 package (3 ½ oz) orange Jello*
3 cups sugar
Grated peel from 1 orange (optional)
Wash, stem, chop the figs. (I used a food chopper or the blender to grind u the figs). Put the figs into a stainless steel pot with the powdered orange Jello, lemon or orange juice and the grated orange peel. Bring to a boil, cooking and stirring to prevent sticking. Add sugar all at once; return to a boil and cook, stirring, until thick, about 15 minutes. Pour into hot, sterilized half pint jars. Seal, process 5 minutes in a boiling water bath.
*You can use almost any flavor Jello for this recipe. The strawberry is also very popular and is often called “Mock Strawberry Jam”.
Sandy’s Cooknote: I have also won blue ribbons for our homemade sauerkraut—which no one else was thinking of submitting at the time—but I have omitted this recipe because it is so long and time consuming to make. We made 30 quarts of sauerkraut last year, using our new ‘toy’, a big fermenting crock pot. It’s so much work – we’re not inclined to attempt making it every year.
I didn’t include in this article any of the recipes that won 2nd, 3rd, or even 4th or 5th place ribbons—although at the time, the L.A. County Fair had bragging rights of being the largest county fair in the country. Their home arts submissions ran to about 10,000 entries when we were submitting our pickles, jellies and jams.
If you are thinking you would like to make your own fruit pickles or try your hand at canning, it’s wise to get a cookbook on the subject first (Walmart sells the latest Ball canning instruction booklets) and determine what equipment you need. One of the large speckled canners is a must. I don’t do any canning that requires a pressure cooker so I don’t can any low-acid vegetables.
There are also a LOT of pickling cookbooks on the market. “The Joy of Pickling” by Linda Ziedrich is a good one to have on hand.
Others I have on my shelves and like:
BLUE RIBBON PRESERVES by Linda J. Amendt
THE BIG BOOK OF PRESERVING THE HARVEST by Carol W. Costenbader
WELL PRESERVED by Mary Anne Dragan and
GOURMET PRESERVES BY Madelaine Bullwinkel
And one more that’s great fun to read is
THE GOOD STUFF COOKBOOK By Helen Witty (over 300 delicacies to make at home). Helen goes far beyond just pickling.
And look around you—what fruits are plentiful where you live? That’s always a good place to start (if you don’t have fruit trees of your own), with whatever is available and inexpensive. Sometimes a neighbor who has more than he/she can use may be willing to share some of the bounty with you. It would kill me sometimes, when we’d be driving around the San Fernando Valley and see oranges, lemons, and grapefruits lying all over the ground underneath the trees. (We had too many of our own citrus trees to go soliciting more from the neighbors—but believe me, I thought about it!).