Hayden At the Routt County Fair on Thursday, baked goods judge Helen Stranathan was closely looking at a plate of six quick-bread muffins maybe as closely as anyone has ever looked at a plate of muffins.
She checked the raised top of the baked goods, called high hats.
"Muffins are hard to do because they are typically overmixed," she said.
Too much mixing means the muffins won't rise.
She compared the plate of six for overall consistency, such as browning and similar shapes and sizes.
Stranathan then split open a muffin in the middle and inspected it. She took a tiny portion of the bread between her thumb and finger. She wanted to see how crumby it was, if it was moist or dry and if there were holes.
Holes means the oven was too hot, and oven temperature usually is the most difficult factor to determine when cooking at higher altitudes, Stranathan said. If you don't get it right, it's a definite strike against you at the fair.
Stranathan is a microbiologist by trade, which seemed a relative fact when watching her meticulous eye study the quick bread.
"It should crumb. It shouldn't stick," she said while inspecting the inside of the muffin.
Finally, she tasted a small portion of the bread, which is the final determining factor.
"These are pretty good. They are blue-ribbon muffins," Stranathan declared.
The entry to the home arts section of the fair was in the "mommy and me" category, meaning the child could be as young as 3 years old.
"I tend to judge the children a little easier," Stranathan said.
The muffins were one of more than 1,360 items entered in the home arts section of the Routt County Fair. Baked goods, crops, wine, beer, photographs, fine art, needlework, flowers, leatherwork, woodwork and just about anything else you can craft, build, grow, can, create, bake or brew was entered in the fair.
All of it was judged and given a placing at the fair on Thursday.
"The whole energy here this year has been positive and exciting," Routt County Extension Agent Deb Alpe said.
The 1,360 entries, which excluded the wine and beer entries that were counted in the evening, are more than the number of items entered last year, which was just above 1,000.
Entries in many of the departments were up in numbers compared to last year. In needlework, for example, last year 76 entries were judged. There were 133 entries this year.
For art, 191 paintings, drawings and a variety of other pieces were entered. Barbara Hinton was the single judge, who still had a lot in front of her by lunch.
"It will take all day," she said.
Last year the arts department had around 120 entries.
"Usually we have it in the low hundreds," art superintendent Lisa Jewell said. She added that interest has grown in the past few years.
One of the fair's most prestigious areas to enter is the quilting section. There, the best quilters in the county show their work, which is among the highest quality most people will see in one place.
In the morning, Barbara Barr was judging some of the entries. Assistance would hold the quilt up when Barr requested it, then put it down. Then Barr would take off her glasses, slowly lean down to the quilt lying on the table and take a good close look at the stitchwork.
"I'm really impressed with many of the finishings and corners and the overall workmanship," she said.
Overall, the quality and participation of this portion of the fair was impressive, making fair officials happy to see the public embrace the event. And it's not just the agricultural families embracing the fair, Alpe pointed out. People from all walks of life in Routt County participate.
"It just shows how the county fair culture is alive and well here," she said.