Angelia McLean: Country Mouse City Mouse 7-18-11
In the movie “Calendar Girls” (2003), Helen Mirren who plays one of the spunkier characters enters a store-bought sponge cake for their local fair and wins the first prize. Despite practically admitting that she cheated, no one believes her and think she’s joking. That was bold!
Despite the trend these days of not hurting any kid’s self-esteem by handing out a blue ribbon for just showing up, earning a blue ribbon and knowing you made the best of the best, no matter your age, is really thrilling. Well, unless you live in Canada where a blue ribbon means second place … but who thinks about Canada anyway?
I’ve entered my share of contests over the years. In my very first dessert competition I made an elaborate bee hive cake that was formed by baking it in a flower pot, turning it upside down, hollowing it out, filling it with mixed berries, piping a honey-rich butter cream frosting in coils around the hive cake, and then sculpting miniature marzipan bees to adorn the outside. Very impressive I might say but alas, no blue ribbon. Another very over-achiever submission on my part was for a dessert contest. It was quite decadent. I created small chocolate bags and filled them with classic chocolate mousse and topped each with fresh whipped cream and mint leaves. Nope, no blue ribbon on that one either. Okay, so maybe I should stick to pickles?
I wasn’t always a ‘blue’ ribbon cook either. When we were first married I made a pot of onion soup. Is a clove of garlic the whole garlic bulb? Oops … My husband refers fondly to a carrot soup concoction as my ‘fire soup.’ Guess it was a little heavy on the pepper. Cringe … I made lemon bars once, forgetting the salt when mixing so I sprinkled salt on top of them after baking. Really, you can’t do that?
Then there was the wonderful attempt of my sister and I to recreate the delicious braided bread that my mom always made for Easter. Using frozen bread dough from the grocery store, she would make this yummy loaf in this braided shape with frosting and cherries on it for the holiday dinner table. Well, we also used frozen grocery store loaves but braided all three frozen loaves. The next morning there was a loaf of bread the size of a Volvo in the kitchen! I guess Mom divided ONE loaf into three. Ah, youth …
And one year, the ultimate ‘winner’ was for our first Thanksgiving. I wanted to do healthy so I made a gluten-free, tofu pumpkin pie. Let’s just say, we went back to unhealthy. I think that was the same year I made mixed vegetables. Note to self, don’t mix white cauliflower with beets; you get a lovely shade of pink veggies.
My mother’s blue ribbon cooking and baking made it difficult to eat at other relatives’ houses. While my mom made the best cookies with frosting 2-inches thick and meals that were top cordon bleu rivals, my grandmother would have those same cookies at her house only in a not so lovely shade of brown. My aunt just didn’t seem to understand frosting abundance; she was more into the thin smear. Quite popular also were the Jell-O rings with fruit inside sitting on a bed of iceberg lettuce.
My kids think I’m a pretty good cook but then again, hungry, grazing teens will consider all kinds of edibles as blue ribbon potential. Their favorite is cowboy dinner – beans and beef mixed up and put over biscuits. I do have a special knack with leftovers. Although it was probably my husband who actually cooked to create leftovers, I can whip up a creative meal throwing anything I find and calling it a casserole. I often get, “This is great, Mom, you’re a great cook.” They didn’t notice the little bit of mold I cut off the cheese …
Walking around the fairgrounds and looking at the entries for different categories of the culinary arts, one has to wonder if this was their first try and their grandmother’s recipe? Did they keep baking, canning or cooking over and over to get it right? Did they win blue ribbons in county fairs but fail in the big time state fairs? How does one keep the stuff from spoiling so it tastes fresh for the competition? And who are the judges anyway? How do THEY know what is the best of the best? And the real question of all … did they cheat? Because sometimes a good ‘ol Oreo dipped in milk has prime blue ribbon potential written all over it.
Someday I’ll enter at fair and try for a blue ribbon. Since decadent chocolate desserts and marzipan bees don’t impress, I guess I’ll try again with the tofu pumpkin pie with a little salt sprinkled on top.