Barb of Blackhoof mentioned in the comments yesterday that she was preparing entries for the Carlton County Fair in these hotly contested categories: potatoes, onions and soap.
It turns out the preparation is quite involved. For instance, Barb says the onions have to be "well cured, with a narrow neck - roots trimmed to an even half inch. not washed, etc." For potatoes, there have to be ten in an entry, all of equal size and without bruises. I'm sure the soap rules are just are rigorous, but the prize money is worth all the trouble. Barb admits that it is in the multiiples of dollars. If her potatoes capture a top award in all three categories, the winnings might total seven dollars - enough for Barb and Steve to visit the mini donut stand AND share a pronto pup or perhaps upgrade to the mammoth barrel of french fries, which would be ironic considering the source of the winnings!
At the State Fair, the stakes are even higher, and the rules, equally strict.
"Tubers should be clean and attractive, uniform in size and shape, free from blemishes and diseases, and true to variety name. Diseased potatoes will be disqualified and not shown. Any exhibit with a variety mixture will be disqualified."
Oh, and your handsome Carlton County potatoes? You can't enter the same ones at the State Fair, even if they were champions. Perhaps ESPECIALLY if they were champions. State Fair potato contest potatoes must be fresh and previously un-judged.
Among their many other significant social roles, you would have to say Our County Fairs and Our State Fair are beauty contests for the produce. Just as humans seem driven to compare and compete with one another under standards of poise and appearance, our potatoes must also vie for primacy, although by demanding that they enter in groups of ten, it does not appear to be necessary to crown ONLY ONE of the potatoes as most beautiful of all.
Nor, I might add, is there a talent contest. But why not?
Why do we encourage predictability and uniformity in our produce at the expense of allowing them to express their individuality? Isn't that what America is all about - the freedom to develop one's personal gifts? And yet we deny this opportunity to our tubers!
If we could only see our way clear to change these 19th century expectations of what a potato should be, I think our tubers would amaze us!
Just look at what is possible!
I got to have my picture in the paper in 1962 for an Easter Bonnet contest - the only prize I ever won for anything based on looks. And that award was really for the hat my mother made - my 7 year old head was merely a prop for staging. I still have the clipping somewhere. I must admit I set the hat off beautifully. It was light and floral and full of color, while my head looked round and lumpy - like a potato.
Has you ever found yourself in a competition where the outcome was based solely on looks?