By KATHRYNE RUBRIGHT
Massive portions are being served at concession stands at the Hancock County Fair — heaps of melted cheese, deep-fried vegetables, bags of cotton candy and kettle corn bigger than your head.
Inside the Grange Building, the judges for the open class baking competition approach food more delicately than fairgoers on the midway. They cut off small slices and take tiny bites, because there are hundreds of baked goods to evaluate.
Taste matters, of course. So do the item’s color and texture, said Steve Siebeneck, who was judging breads and cakes on Wednesday morning.
With efficient speed, he’d cut into a loaf of quick bread, sniff a thin piece, take a small bite and tilt the bread up to inspect its bottom.
“Probably dumped it a little too quick,” he said, holding a loaf up, “but it tastes good.”
An hour and a half into judging, Siebeneck had sampled several dozen items.
He was equipped with a long knife; paper towels to wipe off crumbs and frosting, so as not to cross flavors; small paper plates; a fork; and water for drinking in between bites.
Next to him, Sandy Wilch worked her way through a binder listing all the entries and ensured every item made it onto the counter for Siebeneck to judge.
Judging starts at 9 a.m., pauses for lunch, and wraps up around early afternoon, said Maggie Morehart, who oversees baking, canning, candy and other Grange Building competitions.
Some judges use their own point system, she said, but it’s not required.
Cookies and cupcakes are popular entries, Morehart said. As breads go, banana nut is common.
“The guys really seemed to like the beer bread,” she said. The “men-only” baking contest this year featured a cheddar honey beer bread recipe.
Once judging is complete, the baked goods sit in cases with slivers missing until everything is auctioned off at 5 p.m. That takes about an hour, Wilch said.
Morehart recommended that judges eat something like a corndog and extra salty fries for lunch, because that “cuts the sweet.”
She judged baking in two previous years, but felt unwell during the afternoon the second year.
“Everything tastes amazing,” she said. “Nobody’s meant to eat that amount of sugar all at once.”
And for three or four days after, she still didn’t want funnel cakes or ice cream or other sweet fair treats.
Two judges split the work, but it’s still a lot of sugar.
“I have to eat something that’s not sweet,” Siebeneck said when asked about what else he’d eat at the fair. “I’ve had enough sweets for a while.”