Not too late to showcase fruit and veggies

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Horticulture and field crops superintendent Tom Hyden wants anyone with a garden or some fruit trees to harvest their best specimens this morning for the Socorro County Fair.

The last chance to enter vegetables and fruit is Thursday from 7 to 9 a.m. Entrants bring produce to Zimmerman Hall.

There are three categories in the gardening division: youth, adult and senior. Within each of those groups, the judges award one big ribbon for the best of show entry. Other ribbons are awarded for winning entries in different groups: fruit, vegetables, chiles, melons, pumpkins (including summer and winter squashes), and eggs.

“The best of show goes to the most striking exhibit,” Hyden said. “One year, a really beautiful eggplant was best of show. It was glossy, purple and smooth. One year, I took some rhubarb and it was best of show.”

But don’t stress out — the main thing is to bring in an entry, get to know the other gardeners and have some fun.

“I’m just happy to have any entries at all,” Hyden said. “It looks good to have the shelves full.”

And don’t fret about presentation and paperwork.

“We have paper plates,” Hyden said. “And we have the entry forms.”

A lot of people don’t know what the judges are looking for, Hyden said. Basically, what the judges like is what customers would choose to buy at a farmers market or grocery store — a perfect example of that crop. The whole purpose of county fairs for years has been for people to create a perfect commercial product.

“People don’t like to buy a foot-long zucchini, but they’ll bring one to the fair,” he said. “Instead of the biggest example, pick the best one.”

Those lucky enough to have a ton of zucchini or okra in their gardens should pick several small, unblemished examples to enter.

“Probably 4 to 6 inches would be considered the market size for zucchini,” Hyden said. “For okra, probably 3 to 4 inches long.”

To have the best chance to win a blue ribbon, enter something other gardeners are not, like sweet potatoes, onions, string beans, beets, carrots, green tomatoes or fruit.

“In a good year, we’ll have some apples,” he said. “Almost never peaches.

“You can enter as many entries as you want.”

Pick items that are all the same size and perfect. Fruits and vegetables follow basically the same judging guidelines, but exhibitors should check the fair book to find out how many items need to be exhibited together.

Fruits, for example, have to be shown in groups of three.

“Find the three best apples you can that are also the closest to the same size,” Hyden said. “They shouldn’t have any blemishes. We don’t taste anything. It’s entirely judged on appearance and consistency of size.”

It doesn’t matter what variety, but each exhibit has to be from the same variety.

Have an unusual variety? Enter it.

People have exhibited grapes, figs, quince and pomegranates, he said. No basil or other herbs have been entered, though, at least this year.

“There’s something new this year with eggs,” Hyden said. “We’ve always had entries for eggs, but we’ve never had categories for eggs. This year, I suggested that we create large, medium and small egg categories.”

When choosing eggs, use the same criteria as for fruit — find the best-looking eggs.

“All six eggs should be as close to the same size as possible, all smooth and clean, with no cracks,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how old they are. We’ll take whatever people bring in. If the colors are mixed up, it doesn’t matter. Brown, green, pink, white, whatever.”

A blue ribbon is awarded to the biggest vegetable of all.

“People who win bring in a watermelon or pumpkin,” Hyden said. “It just has to be big. We weigh it, and the heaviest one wins.”

Last year, the winner was a 50-pound pumpkin.