Keeping foods' natural colors is "one of the hardest things to do," but so important, she said, while also assessing a blend of yellow and orange peppers nestled in a jar.

"When you look at all the entries you get the full concept of the history of the fair" and the county's agricultural roots, she said of the exhibition of entries. "You can judge for yourself their quality and freshness, and understand the care that went into preparing them."

Abby Glassberg, Radford's co-chair of baked foods and candies, calls her friend "the Energizer bunny" of the fair for her passionate efforts.

"Jane is an awesome competitor, and she's extremely generous with her time and her recipes," said Glassberg, a commercial real estate broker who also lives in Clarksville. She works with Radford to manage, but not judge, their department's entries with assistance from her husband, Fred Staines, and twin daughters, Sylvie and Isabelle Staines.

Ready for a challenge

While Radford loves serving as an unofficial ambassador for the home arts program, she readily admits she craves a challenge.

"I like to compete and see if I'm any good, so bring it on," she said with a broad smile, issuing her usual dare to competitors.

Yet, there's nothing even remotely cutthroat about her approach; quite the contrary. She regularly divulges her canning tips and baking secrets, happy to create a level playing field.

Want to enhance the taste of your baked goods and candies? Her "weapon of choice" is essential oils that come in a vast array of flavors like clove and marshmallow.

Can't keep your apples from browning? Sprinkle them with Vitamin C powder before canning. Her advice comes from years of competing as well as the 500-plus cookbooks she has amassed since she first became more deeply interested in cooking 20 years ago.

"It's all part of my OCD," she said, joking about having obsessive-compulsive disorder when it comes to her preoccupation with her entries.

Radford loves everything about the home arts process except eating her wares, she said. She samples everything she enters, of course, but resists temptation to eat the leftovers and gives most of them away.

One recipient of her experiments is her office, Hamel Builders, an Elkridge-based construction company.

"We kid her a lot about all the work she puts into the fair," said Ed Hamel, chairman of the board, adding she has the manic energy of a Chihuahua. "But she does a great job for the community and we really enjoy sampling her recipes."

Radford, who is also a certified judge, acknowledges she's a workaholic, both on the job and during fair season.

"I just love all of the agricultural components of the fair," she said. "It's just a perfect event."

And, what about those jars of cherry jelly that didn't turn out?

In true make-lemonade-from-lemons mindset, she will use them in other recipes as simple syrup or as an ice cream topping. Problem solved.