Sour Pickles Honor a Sweet Lady
Imagine a competition where hundreds of talented entrants of all ages and from all walks of life vie for the ultimate prize…a blue ribbon. No, it's not a new reality show; it's the annual Santa Cruz County Fair set to take place September 10 through September 15. Chances are if you've grown it, collected it, crafted it, photographed it, pickled it, or even built it out of Legos, you can enter it into the fair. Among the many county residents who will be showcasing their wares at this year's fair is Angelina Reed of Soquel. For the past decade, Reed has been entering her garlic dill pickles, and in recent years, her jams, as well.
Photo Credit: Eric Richter
Q & A with Angelina Reed
What do you love about the fair?
I have a nostalgic love for the fair. I was born and raised in Santa Cruz, and when I was growing up, my parents always took me to the fair. In elementary school, I got involved in 4-H and raised a market lamb and dairy goats. I remember walking around the fair, in my white pants, white shirt and green scarf, feeling proud to be involved. I just love the grassroots homespun feel of everyday people bringing out their stuff, showing what they do.
Who or what made you decide to enter your pickles?
Years ago, I had a neighbor who made pickles. She would always give them to me even though she used to sell them. I'd offer money, but she wouldn't let me pay. I would ask her, "How about you teach me? I'll make my own pickles so I won't have to take from your stash." She always had excuses for why she didn't want to teach me...she was too busy, her kitchen was too small. But one year, out of the blue, she said, "Angie, you come over next weekend and I'll teach you to make pickles." So I went to her house across the street and spent one day, or more like a few hours, learning to make pickles. Later that year, I asked her if I could have a refresher course. She had been battling lymphoma and that winter she got really sick and passed away a few months later. I started to make pickles in her honor and I entered them in the fair after I asked her daughter's permission. She told me I should do it, that her mom would be proud. So I started entering just for fun, hoping I was making my pickles just as good as hers.
What else have you entered in the fair and what will you be entering this year?
Pickles were the original thing that got me into canning. I've entered dilly beans, pickled peppers, habaneros and jalapenos, and a few years ago, I decided to make some jams. I've also entered art. For a couple of years I entered jewelry and ceramics after taking classes at Cabrillo. It's fun to enter things you make into the fair. This year, I'll be entering my garlic dill pickles, apricot jam, plum chutney, plum jam, and pickled plums. I like to do dilly beans but the person I buy my beans from didn't have any yet.
Can you explain the Danish judging system?
It used to be in previous years you would take your entry in and a fee, and each category would have a first, second and third place winner, plus a small cash prize. Entries were judged against each other. In the Danish system, entries are judged to a standard rather than against other competitors. If I enter something and it's good enough to win first place, I'll get first place. But there can be multiple first places because it's based on how close an item meets pre-established standards.
Why is this new judging system important?
It's more people-friendly and they've eliminated the entry fee. They want people to enter their stuff, just not against each other. In the past, I've made dilly beans, which are pickled green or yellow beans. One year, my beans got second place, but in the judges' notes it said first and second were so close it came down to the length of beans in each jar. It'll be interesting to see how the new judging system works out.
Do you receive feedback from judges that you then use for the following year?
I have, with the jams, taken feedback into consideration. With jam making, I'm learning on my own, without a mentor. I'm reading books and learning how it needs to be a certain way in order to set correctly. Based on feedback, I've increased cooking time. My pickle recipes, on the other hand, are pretty dialed in and don't change.
Photo Credit: Angelina Reed
Change of subject...what is your favorite food at the fair?
It's actually kind of silly, but one of the things I always do is go to the harvest building and buy a fresh apple from one of the farm stands. There's just something about the fair happening in the fall, during apple season. Just-picked apples taste so fresh and crisp.
What exhibits do you look forward to seeing every year?
I love the quilts, collections and art. The kids' stuff is always amazing. Entering the fair is so fun and it's such a community event. It's a great way to see what people are doing in your town, what kind of talent we have among us.
Spoken like a true fan of the fair, Angie. For more information on this year's fair, visit the official website for the Santa Cruz County Fair
and start planning your entries for next year!
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