A silky ribbon from a sow's ear

September 02, 2007|By LYN WIDMYER

If you want to win a blue ribbon at the Jefferson County (W.Va.) Fair I offer these words of advice: baklava and penuche.

I have been an Assistant Superintendent of Breads, Cakes and Pies at the Jefferson County Fair for five years. During that time there has not been a single baklava or penuche entry in these two categories. This year was no exception. There were plenty of coffee cakes, pound cakes, white dinner rolls, chocolate cakes, apple pies, peach pies and potato candy, but no baklava, no penuche. Fruit-filled turnovers, doughnuts and unfilled pastry puffs were also no-shows.

Even though I can't bake them, I am familiar with baklava (a honey-drenched Greek pastry), turnovers and pastry puffs. Penuche sounds to me like a card game, as in, "After we finish off this tray of baklava, how about playing a few hands of penuche?" According to my boss, Superintendent Mimi Snyder, penuche is brown-sugar fudge.


Despite their lack of popularity, it is doubtful penuche and baklava will disappear from the pastry and candy classes. The categories for food entries at the fair are pretty darn hard to change even though our culinary landscape is clearly changing. For example, there has been a groundswell of support over the past few years for a brownie class.

Brownies are now relegated to the "bar cookie" sub-group of the cookie section. This approach fails to recognize that double fudge walnut brownies deserve better company than oatmeal-raisin bars. Other entrants have expressed confusion over the difference between "corn muffins, traditional" and "corn muffins, sweet." I cannot help them in this regard as I bake "corn muffins, packaged."

Deborah Viands of Summit Point knows the difference. This year, she won blue ribbons for both her sweet and traditional corn muffins.

My suggestion for a new food entry category involves chicken feet and pig ears.

The Chinese government, upset by American allegations about tainted dog food exports, has retaliated. The Chinese will no longer buy frozen chicken feet and pig ears from the United States. Farmers in the Midwest are likely to see a dramatic drop in revenues.

We Americans need to step up to the plate (so to speak) to help our poor Midwest farmers like Farmer Cargill Meat Solution Corp. and Farmer Van Luin Foods. I think adding a new county fair food category in the pastry section called "Turnover - chicken feet or pig ear filled" would help generate interest in these products.

I doubt whether I can get this new category added by next summer's fair. After all, brownie proponents have been fighting for recognition for years without success.

The good news is that baklava will probably still be a pastry category and penuche will still be under candy in 2008. Start perfecting your recipes now. This is a wonderful opportunity to claim a ribbon at the Jefferson County Fair.

In the meantime, let's hope the Chinese re-open their kitchen doors to chicken feet and pig ears. I am willing to support American farmers but I am leery of any food that includes the instructions "chop off the toenails before cooking."

Lyn Widmyer is a Charles Town, W.Va., resident who writes for The Herald-Mail. Her e-mail address is

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