Jars of jam, bottles of liqueurs, cookies, cakes and more lined the walls of the Del Mar Fairgrounds grandstand complex during the annual San Diego County Fair as it came to a close last week.
The fair has been celebrated locally since the 1800s, and the Home and Hobby contest drew in hundreds of competitors to more than 100 categories this year.
Culinary contests for the Home and Hobby exhibit this year included those for homemade liqueurs, guacamole, pickles and elaborately decorated cakes designed to fit in the fair’s Ozsome “Wizard of Oz” theme. For the first time this year, there was also a kombucha contest for those perfecting the art of fermented tea.
Home and Hobby exhibit coordinator Elena Etcheverry, who has lived in Encinitas since the 1970s, just completed her second season working for the fair. She said many people enjoy entering the contests each year because it’s a fun local tradition that gives winners a sense of pride in their work.
“To be able to say that I’ve made a blue ribbon pie is kind of fun, especially if you’re a professional baker — it takes your food to the next level,” Etcheverry said.
Residents of North County were awarded ribbons for the products they entered in the contests.
Laure Reynolds, a resident of Carlsbad, competed in the liqueur contests during this year’s fair.
She began making liqueur 24 years ago while living in Colorado, where alcohol was quite pricey. Reynolds wanted to make margaritas, one of her favorite cocktails, and decided to start making her own version of Grand Marnier to add into them. Learning how to make liqueurs took a lot of research, but it is a skill she has continued to develop.
“We didn’t have the Internet back then, so I spent a lot of time visiting the library, collecting recipes and trying different things,” Reynolds said.
She submitted several entries this year, including her grape liqueur made from homegrown grapes and a limoncello variety made from limes. Reynolds won a second place ribbon for her chocolate mint liqueur.
For home baker Bartley Chavez, entering the contest was a new way to challenge herself during her inaugural year of baking various breads from scratch.
The Encinitas resident started baking bread as a hobby for her husband and her 1-year-old daughter Hazel. As she grew her skillset and shared her creations with friends and family, Chavez realized it was something she could share with the larger public.
“This is my first time entering any competition,” she said. “It was definitely nerve wracking cause I’ve never done anything like that.”
Despite it being her first time competing, Chavez won second place in the bread category for her fig and walnut loaf this year. Her husband, Clem, also won a first place ribbon in the cookie competition for his chocolate chip cookies.
She is now in the process of getting her cottage license so she can begin selling her home-baked bread.
Some of the other North County-based winners this year include Erik Fredrickson of Oceanside, who won first place for his chunky applesauce; Sue Satterlee of Vista, who won first place for her dried dill; Cathy Boyer of Vista, who won first place for her cranberry orange conserve; and Tiffiny Mishalanie of Solana Beach, who won first place for her Emerald City-decorated sugar cookie.
For those interested in competing in next year’s competition, there are a variety of ways to get involved.
Some contests, such as those for baked goods, preserved foods and liqueurs, require advanced planning and preparation. Those entries are submitted in the beginning of May and are on display in the exhibit during the fair.
On-the-spot contests, where competitors enter on the day of, occur throughout the monthlong fair. To enter, participants print a form online, fill it out and arrive with their completed entries on the day of the competition. They also get free admission on the day of their category’s contest.
The Home and Hobby organizers are also looking for judges for next year’s contest. To get involved, send an email to [email protected]
Lauren J. Mapp is a local freelance writer
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