July 16, 2007

Botulism in Its Finest Form

Today, I forwent my motherly duties and went to judge the Foods Competition at the 4H fairgrounds. 4H is a state wide organization where children enter projects such as foods, sewing, crafts, home decorating, demonstrations, and other areas where they are judged in their own county and have the chance to go on to the state fair for state champion in their division.

I was in 4H for 10 years. I loved it and I was quite happy when they asked me to judge one of the competitions. This afternoon, I was the judge for International Foods which included international cookies and quick breads. I had to taste around 15 cookies, but it was much better than the judge on my left who had to taste around 15 yeast and quick breads. How would you like to eat 15 bread products? And last year she said she had to taste well over 15 "bran" muffins! She said she was seriously sick for two days. By the time we were done, neither of us wanted to taste anything for quite awhile.

We also had the participant sitting in front of us while we judged. We had to ask the child questions and then score the product in front of them.

The majority of my cookies that I had to score were pretty good. In fact, I was worried it would be hard to pick a winner. Everyone was receiving a blue ribbon which is the highest ribbon. After four hours, when I thought we were done for the day, in comes “the one”, which Lord help me, I should have stayed clear away from. It didn’t necessarily look bad, but the taste, oh man, the taste.

It was a Polish kolacky cookie which most people have tried before since it’s a popular cookie. So I cut a bite size piece off one of the cookies and tasted it in front of her. Once it was in my mouth, I could clearly tell something was definitely not right. It was so awful I could hardly keep it in my mouth; all the while I’m sitting there smiling while this young girl who worked hard on these cookies is watching me. So I did what any moral person would do – I shared the cookies with my fellow judges.

I mean, what if it really wasn’t that horrible? Clearly I needed a second opinion. Maybe it was my imagination that I was eating something as nasty as curdled milk. The second judge (who didn’t have to judge my group, but I so graciously offered her a sample) tasted a piece and after seeing the look on her face, I knew I was right.

So usually, I’m supposed to tell the child their ribbon color before they get up, but this time, I told her she could leave and that I would fill out her evaluation later. I just didn’t know what to say it was so awful.

Once the girl was gone, I thought; why not share in the tasting? So I had the judge on the left of me taste it. She started chewing, let out an “Oh” groan and gave me a nasty look. She opened her mouth with the cookie chewed up inside and kept saying, “Oh, oh,” chewed a few more bites and said, “I think I need to spit this out.” I told her I would get her a paper towel but she looked around, realizing that we were in this big auditorium and someone such as the girl might be watching her so she continued to chew it up and said that it was the worst cookie she had ever tasted.

The conclusion – the judge on the right side of me thought the problem was spoiled cream cheese and the cookies could have been left all day in the girl’s car and the judge to the left of me thought the girl maybe didn’t wash her hands and they were not baked enough to kill the bacteria. But all three of us agreed we might end up with food poisoning. I felt really ill afterwards for several hours but luckily, I have had no real signs since then. And the sick feeling could have been from the fact that I had to taste 15 cookies.

It is now later in the evening and I can honestly say that I’m never eating another Polish kolacky cookie without looking it thoroughly over. And somehow, since I dream of things that bother me, I know I will end up dreaming of some giant raspberry filled kolacky in the sky with cream cheese that has gone bad.

Overall, I had fun and met some interesting people. I would do it again anytime.

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