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First day of Ag-citement at the Expo

July 16, 2009|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Yes, we can -- and we bake, weave, paint and take pictures.

Renaissance residents of the Tri-State area were at Washington County Agricultural Education Center on Thursday to showcase the fruits of their work in the kitchen, the studio and the wood shop.

Hours, days or months of labor were over; the opinion of experts was what mattered.

Each year, a judging session prefaces Washington County's Ag Expo & Fair at the ag center south of Hagerstown.

The expo and fair has rides, animals, vendors and food. Spectators will see tractors pull, bulls ridden, babies paraded, cakes auctioned, cars demolished and a Farm Bureau queen crowned.

Animal barns were taking shape Thursday; the first occupants were there.

Bleating sheep made more noise than the cows and goats, but were outdone by the occasional squealing pig.

Judging for baked goods, crafts and other inside items was in full bloom late Thursday afternoon, from plants to vegetables to cookies.

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As 6-year-old Edey McDougal handed a judge a flower arrangement, her 8-year-old sister, Abby, presented a painting she made of a toucan.

Edey and Abby both got blue ribbons, an achievement they gleefully shared with their parents.

Mary McDougal of Smithsburg said it was her daughters' first time entering.

"I did this as a kid," McDougal said, remembering the sheep, cattle, pigs and dogs she showed in her youth.

This year, her 9-year-old son, Caleb, is showing calves and sour cream poundcake. McDougal said she wants Caleb to see how a lot of labor leads to a finale of fun and relaxation.

Alexa Vetter, 11, of Leitersburg, had a false start on her pecan pie. It didn't come out quite right with light corn syrup, so she switched to dark syrup and made a second one, which she entered.

In her third year as a contestant, Alexa said she likes entering work she feels she can do well.

She has won a grand champion award for peanut butter chip cookies. Her apple pie entry was a reserve champion last year.

Her mother, Jeanna Vetter, and her grandmother, Betty Tressler, have helped her develop her cooking and baking skills.

Family friend Pam Staley helped Alexa make blueberry jam this year.

Sitting before jam judge Millie Hendrickson, Alexa answered questions as best as she could.

Did she use pectin? Alexa couldn't recall. Then, she and Hendrickson noticed it on the list of ingredients.

Hendrickson examined the recipe further.

"There's lots of sugar in this," she said with a smile. "You could get a big sugar rush."

Hendrickson, a first-time judge, said she's canned for as long as she can remember, but has less experience with jams.

She asked contestants about ingredients and methods. Processing in a water bath is the old-fashioned style, but pressure canning is preferred now, she said.

About 8 p.m., Kristi Schetrompf and Andy Krull figured they had sampled about 50 entries in the category of breads, pies, candy and decorated bakery items, and still had more to go.

Then, they had to go back and pick a grand champion, which meant more sampling.

Schetrompf, a professional cake decorator, said she was looking for good, fresh ingredients. Butter, for example, can taste like the refrigerator in which it was kept.

From Krull, another question for an aspiring baker: How old is your baking powder?

Krull said the duo judged several peanut butter fudge entries, so extra details help differentiate -- such as how well a contestant can explain the steps.

Asked about his judging qualifications, he said, "I love to eat. My mom is probably the best baker I've ever known. I have baked quite a bit."

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