Plymouth Local Challenges Herself at the State Fair

Plymouth resident Sonja Wieber is a self-proclaimed State Fair junkie. She visits several times each year, checking off everything on her to-do list and trying as much new fair food as possible. Eight years ago, she added a new goal to the list of things she wanted to accomplish: winning a ribbon.

Wieber first started competing at the fair in the early 2000s with baking entries in the honey section of the agricultural building, including honey muffins and snack mix. Now Wieber is canning jams and jellies. She’s won a ribbon in all but two of the last eight years (when she didn’t enter) and last year alone, she won 13 ribbons.

“I go every year with my sister or my husband. Every time I go with someone else, it’s fun to see the fair through their eyes,” Wieber says. "Over the years, I'd notice different competition entries and think, 'I could do that!’”

So started Wieber’s foray into competing for fair ribbons. She’s made a point of never entering a category she’s already won. Without a background in any particular craft, Wieber teaches herself a new skill every year. She avoids categories like chocolate chip cookies, because there are more than 70 entrants competing. Instead, Wieber pursues ribbons in categories with a less crowded playing field.

This year Wieber will enter relishes including zucchini and corn, baked goods in the new honey categories, and once again she will compete in canning, this time with new types of produce. Wieber says she enjoys the canning competition because unlike many other food entries, the product can be made weeks or months in advance.

“The one thing that the creative activities require is that you use an original recipe,” says Wieber, who at first found canning to be an intimidating process. “You have to have a certain amount of acid and water baths have to be at the right temperature. As long as you’re tried and true for the basics, you can alter your spices.”

For those interested in trying their own canning, Wieber recommends using the ripest and most seasonal produce possible. “Make sure your jars are sterilized,” Wieber adds. “I keep my jars in a warm oven so they're warm when I put the product in.” For those entering the fair’s competition, having the right amount of space between the of product and the lid is part of the judge’s criteria.  She encourages new canners to find recipes online that look interesting and give them a try.

While she visits several times a year, the first day is still Wieber’s favorite. “It’s the first time I know if I’ve won anything,” says Wieber, who recognizes the entrants from previous years as they wait for the winners to be announced.

Win or no win, Wieber always enjoys her time at the get-together, especially the food offerings.

“My required food is the deep-fried pickle. I have a list of probably 30 items every year. The strategy is one person buys and we all try it.”