It was many years ago that Elaine Scribbins taught home economics in Webster City and worked as 4-H fair superintendent, but on Wednesday, she returned to get a taste of the fair once again.
Scribbins judged the products of the kitchen section of the fair, which included many types of food. From cookies, to fudge, canned goods to an ugly cake category, Scribbins got a chance to judge them all.
Her return to judge for the fair was an unexpected one. She was invited by Yvonne McCormick, head of consumer horticulture and agricultural education at ISU extension in Hamilton County. McCormick said Scribbins was like a mentor to her during her time at the fair, and invited her back to judge the food entries.
Elaine Scribbins looks over several entries into the “ugly cake” category on Wednesday at the Hamilton County Fair. The leftmost cake, created by Walker Heins of Ames, won the category for his snake cake.
"When I was judging a long time ago, and Yvonne (McCormick) was getting entries in the fair, I saw she had entries in so many things and I had no idea how one person could make that many entries," Scribbins said.
For Scribbins, judging the entries was fairly simple. Armed only with a palate refined from years of home cooking and a bottle of water to cleanse that palate, Scribbins said the look and taste of the items were what she considered when judging.
"A long time ago, when this was a big deal, they had schools for the judges," Scribbins said. "When I was asked to do this, I said gosh, I don't know what the standards would be for something like canned goods. But, I thought Yvonne (McCormick) would help me out and I'd do what I could."
While many of the categories have stayed the same over the years, Scribbins returned to judge for the fair with a much smaller pool of entries to choose from. Just a single entry was given to her for the canned goods at the fair, and other categories like popcorn and cookies saw few entries. With few choices, Scribbins chooses to err on the positive side when judging the entries.
Some entries in small categories, like the single canned goods entry, are given a blue ribbon without much consideration. Scribbins might give a lower award for something that has an obvious flaw, like a batch of dry cookies, but she doesn't want to step on the work that these few food creators have made.
"People just don't seem to make food from scratch anymore," Scribbins said. "You used to not be able to use cake mix in cake entries for the fair, but when they found out that people used it anyway and still won, they changed the rules. Now, there's just not much here."
Scribbins said that she thinks some of these categories with few entries should be eliminated to save time and money. However, McCormick said that there is a trend with young people who have began to grow their own food.
"If someone sees a category they're interested in on a fair entry form, they might get excited and start making entries," McCormick said.
Scribbins' experience was hardly a negative one. She got the chance to eat some great food, talk with several people who have attended the judging for several years and got to pick out her favorite entry in the "ugly cake" category. Whether or not these categories continue in the years to come, Scribbins can say she had a good time while they were here.