“I got a purple!” said fourth-grader Kinley Pfannenstiel, of Antonino, hopping over to her mom, Jill Pfannenstiel.
Just minutes earlier, 4-H food judge Shari Tucker, of Palco, held a crumble of chocolate chip cookie in her hand as she sat across from 9-year-old Kinley in the judging booth.
“Do you use parchment paper?” Tucker had asked, her hands touching the plate of cookies that Kinley had entered at the 2019 Ellis County Fair for judging.
Kinley had shrugged slowly, then committed to a “no.”
“What kind of pan did you use?” Tucker asked gently. “Was it silver, or dark?”
“Dark,” said Kinley, speaking just above a whisper.
“Next time get your mom to buy you some parchment paper,” Tucker said. “That’ll keep them from browning too much.”
It was the fourth-grader’s first year entering.
“You did a really good job,” said Tucker. “I’m giving these a purple.”
On Tuesday at Deutschfest Hall on the fairgrounds, 1344 Fairground Road, kids and adults of all ages brought their crops, horticulture and wheat samples to enter at the fair, as well as open-class food entries, which are open to anyone.
Judging started Tuesday morning
By 9 a.m., judging had begun and Deutschfest Hall was closed to the public. Volunteer superintendents kept the entries straight and brought them forward to the judges, who looked them over closely, ranked each one either white, red, blue or purple, with white the lowest and purple the highest.
Over at horticulture, horticulture expert and judge Terry Mannell picked up a zucchini as a group of women in purple T-shirts, all of them Ellis County Extension Master Gardeners, circled his table to listen.
“There are almost no blemishes,” Mannell said, looking over the dark green vegetable. “It’s got a fairly nice shape. And since I am looking for as much meat as I can get, that has to be a first place.”
One of the gardeners slid over a plate with four beets on it.
“The second hardest vegetable to get ready for the fair are these,” said Mannell, picking up one of the four beets. “You pull them and you break the stems. So to get really good beets, you really need to dig them. The other thing is size. A good beet is the size of a golf ball or a little bigger. Any bigger and they get woody.”
“These are about as close to perfect as you can get,” Mannell continued. “These are outstanding — it’s definitely a first.”
Margie Hammerschmidt, like the other Master Gardeners, listened as Mannell went through each vegetable.
“He explains to all the Master Gardeners what he’s finding,” said Hammerschmidt. “It’s really educational for us.”
A plate of four bright orange carrots he awarded a first.
“Carrots are really tough to grow here, because we don’t have carrot soil,” he said, explaining the chemistry. “For Ellis County, Kansas, these are really, really pretty carrots. I don’t see any weevil damage. As for uniformity, it’s not bad, but not real good. They could have taken some of these sidehairs off, and maybe dug them a day earlier and washed them because I’m getting some dirt on my hands.”
As for the cucumbers, Mannell pointed out that four had been cut, while one had been pulled and the top broken.
“They should always be cut and not pulled,” said Mannell. “ he said. “These four are ripe, so you can’t throw these in the fridge for a week because this one is going to be spoiled. But overall these are a nice plate of cucumbers.”
In the open class food room, the tables were loaded with cakes, cookies, cupcakes, bread, rolls and even canned goods, such as pickles.
“I’ve already been to three fairs, Edwards, Smith and Barton,” said Donna Maskus, food superintendent at the Ellis County Fair and a 4-H foods judge for other counties. “I like to work with the kids.”
“I went to Mankato Friday, Jewell County,” said food superintendent Marcy McClelland. “It was 125 miles and we had to be there at quarter to eight, so we left at 5 o’clock.”
Ellis County Fair Board Treasurer Julie Rupp, Hays, acknowledged that fair week, whatever county it’s in, is a lot of work.
“But it’s all for the kids,” Rupp said.
As superintendent Tuesday, McClelland was helping bring food plates to judge Janet Skelton, of Larned.
Skelton had just tasted a Salted Caramel Butter Bars entry and was looking over the recipe ingredients the exhibitor had provided.
“I didn’t know there was salted caramel sauce,” said Skelton.
“We’re learning all kinds of things,” McClelland replied.
Fine art entries from all ages
There were 153 entries in the open class photography division, said superintendent Judy Brummer, of Victoria, with about 58 of those being kids 14 and under. She’s helped with the photography for 10 years.
Judge Kathie Rondeau, of Great Bend, is a livestock and harvest photographer, as well as a conservation manager for Pawnee County.
What does it take for a great photo?
“Focus would probably be No. 1,” said Rondeau.
Co-judge Eric Otte, of Valley Center, agreed.
“You can have all kinds of color and design, but you gotta have focus,” Otte said. “All pictures have strengths and weaknesses, but their job as photographer is to put as many strengths in the photo as you can and eliminate the weaknesses.”
Otte picked up a photo of a rusty, turquoise Ford tailgate.
“You can tell, this pickup had a hard life,” said Otte. “So it does kind of tell a story. It’s a strong picture because of the lighting.”
The building was set to open again to the public at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
“All the entries will be on exhibit until the end of Friday night,” said Susan Schlichting, 4-H Youth Development agent with the county’s Cottonwood Extension District. “They’ll be up from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day the rest of the week.”
Kim Borger, of Ness City, was judging the fine art division. Awards had been given to all the entries, which included color and black-and-white pencil drawings, as well as oil and watercolor paintings.
“We are deciding grand champion right now,” said Borger, for the age group 3 to 14.
Looking over the purple award winners, she leaned forward and lightly touched a color pencil drawing of a tiger by Addison Otte.
“So this is our champion,” she said.
Then she touched a black-and-white pencil drawing of a girl’s face, also by Addison Otte. “And this is reserve.”
“I love the energy and the excitement that the little kids bring,” said Borger. “The 4- and 5-year-olds have a lot of potential, it’s awesome to see them starting at that age, and even then they bring out so much detail.”
Like the other judges, she’s done a fair share of judging in Ellis County and at other county fairs. The number of entries, she said, has declined over the years. She’d like that to change.
“We need to encourage our people to bring their work out to the fair and participate,” Borger said. “I know we have talented people in the community.”