I didn’t win any of the categories I entered in yesterday’s first-ever D.C. State Fair. Not jams or jellies, not pickles, not biggest vegetable. But when all the votes were counted, our zucchini bread and butter pickles–which came in third behind pickled peaches and pickled white asparagus–won us the overall title of “Best D.C.-Grown Food Product.”
In case you’re interested, that comes with a $25 gift certificate to Hill’s Kitchen, a gourmet kitchen supply shop on Capitol Hill, and a cookie cutter shaped like the District of Columbia.
The fair has to be counted as a huge success, and we gardeners owe a huge debt to Amelia Showalter, a D.C. community gardener and author of the Gradually Greener blog, for imagining this event when no one else had, then bringing together a host of volunteers to pull it off in such flawless fashion.
The turnout was terrific: 20 entrants in jams and jellies, 25 in pickles, 35 in pies. There were 40 different cupcakes submitted for judging. Individuals and at least one team from across the city took part in a home-brewed beer contest that was judged the night before in a local pub, The Black Squirrel. (The winner: a German black beer said to go down like liquid pumpernickel.)
It was all folded into Columbia Heights Day, located on the grounds of Harriet Tubman Elementary School at 13th and Irving streets NW. There were moon bounces and an entire tent with activities for kids (cookie decorating, face painting) on the soccer field, and food and locally-made fruit popsicles and music for everyone. We were especially taken by the community dog show, which was won by a handsome Airedale terrier.
The D.C. State Fair had it’s own modest tent that was bustling with volunteers who worked with military efficiency enrolling entries at specified times, supplying judges with jams and pickles and pies to taste, tabulating the results and then announcing prizes. At one point I asked Showalter how she was going to handle this next year when the fair is even more widely known. “I don’t even want to think about it,” she said, trying to focus on the pie judging. “I have to go home and crash first.”
In the jams and jellies contest I entered a green tomato jam with cinnamon and our famous green tomato mincement, both of which I think are exquisite. But neither of them even placed. Most of the entries focused on fruits, and especially berries and combinations of berries. I was encouraged, however, to see that first place went to a red pepper jam (let’s hear it for vegetables!).
In the pickle contest, I entered the aforementioned sweet pickled zucchini and one of the fermented cucumber pickles we like so much: spicy Cajun pickles. The latter choice created a bit of a stir, because apparently I did not read the contest rules all the way through to where they stated that all entries had to be in sealed jars for safety reasons.
We do not process or seal our lacto-fermented spicy Cajun pickles. And apparently the organizers had not foreseen entries from the fermented–rather than vinegar–pickling realm. But eventually I was given a green light, and I noticed a couple of other fermented pickles in the judging as well.
In a third category–biggest vegetable–one of our giant heirloom Italian zucchini tied with two other zucchini for second in weight, behind a butternut squash that tipped a digital scale at nearly five pounds. I also won second place for longest vegetable for that same zucchini–12 and one-eighth inches, not including the stem.
How appropriate, I thought, that zucchini grown in our urban kitchen garden just five blocks from the fair grounds (about a mile from the White House) should do so well. But in accepting my prize for “Best D.C.-Grown Food Product,” I had to admit that our heirloom zucchini really grow themselves. All you have to do is go away on summer vacation for a couple of weeks. We always come home to zucchini as big as your leg. The one I took to the fair had been hiding in a tomato cage.
The best thing I’ve found to do with these freaky-large zucchini is turn them into pickles. Here is the recipe for our prize-winning bread and butter zucchini:
If using large, heirloom Italian zucchini for this, slice the zucchini down the middle. Remove the center part with the seeds and cut the meat into quarter-rounds about 3/8-inch thick. If you are using traditional garden-variety zucchini, simply cut the zucchini into ¼-inch rounds.
This recipe calls for:
4 pounds zucchini, cleaned and cut as described above
¾ pound onion, peeled and sliced into thin quarter-rounds
¼ cup pickling salt (or non-iodized sea salt, or kosher salt)
2 cups cider vinegar
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons mustard seed
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
Cover the vegetables with ice in a large bowl and let stand two hours. Drain the vegetables. Meanwhile, in a non-reactive pot, bring to a boil the salt, vinegar, sugar, mustard seed and turmeric. Add the vegetables, return to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes.
Ladle vegetables and liquid into 4 pint canning jars, leaving ½ inch head space. Secure two-piece lids according to manufacturer’s instructions and process 10 minutes in a boiling water bath to seal.
For more great stories about how we are taking back our food system, read Fight Back Friday.