Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Martha who? Good things a tradition at Morris fair

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MORRIS -- By the time the average visitor to the Morris Stampede sees the prize-winning food and preserves, the goods are frankly a little wilted. Flies buzz around trays of shrivelled vegetables and a slice of raspberry cream pie is flattened and pale.

But the women -- and they are all women -- who bring their pies, breads and cookies fresh to the Homecraft and Junior Fair don't really care what the public sees. On judgment day, two days before the fair opens, they arrive with Tupperware containers and covered trays filled with their still-warm efforts.

And then they wait as a team of trained judges, all of whom live outside Morris, decide who's got the best buns. With a blue or red ribbon, they've got bragging rights for a year. The judges do a blind testing, looking for superior taste and texture.

"They look at it, smell it and taste it," says Diamond. "They just take a little bite."

No mixes are allowed, not that any woman worth her bundt cake recipe would consider such a thing.

"It feels good to win," says Cindy Diamond, co-chair of the Homecraft Fair. "I think I'm a pretty good cook. It's nice that some other people agree."

Diamond, who entered for the first time this year, is being modest. The full-time mom, who also helps with the family's team of sled dogs at home west of Rosenort, nabbed a stack of ribbons at this year's competition. That's her prize-winning Manitoba fruit pie, her bread machine bread and her carrot cake. She also picked up ribbons for a child's angel Halloween costume, a fancy purse she sewed for her wedding, a table runner, a wall hanging and a dress.

There's a $2 entry fee for each item but kids can enter the junior section free. The skills demonstrated are nothing short of astonishing -- 37 different homecraft (generally baking) sections, 22 sections of canning and 24 seniors' categories.

In some categories, winners get more than a ribbon. Diamond takes home a knife, recipe book and a pair of "well-needed" oven mitts for her winning bread.

"I'm just an ordinary person," says the mother of two. "Other people do lots more. I wish I had more time. I don't do canning. I do freezer jam, though."

The hall is filled with the best offerings of women who were Martha Stewarts long before the famous blonde told them it was a good thing. Their mothers put up food and sewed and hand-stitched and passed the skills onto their daughters. It was the way things were done and, at least out in the country, that way hasn't been forgotten. "This is something we all do as a family," says Diamond. "My daughter Caitlyn entered in 30 categories."

Eleven-year-old Caitlyn's fudge won first place. Her mom, who entered her own fudge into competition as a child in her hometown, beams. Her five-year-old son also entered chocolate chip cookies but didn't pick up a ribbon this year. It's no surprise that the Diamonds don't have a computer at home and television viewing is limited to an hour a night.

The men aren't totally left out. Some men entered the photography section, Diamond says, but that was about it for male influence in the Homecraft Fair. This is a traditional place filled with the efforts of women comfortable -- no, proud -- of the skills they have mastered.

"I think we're all glad we learned this," says Diamond. "It's not really about winning prizes. This is something you do for yourself, for your family. This is something we enjoy doing together."

Lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 20, 2002 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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