WESTMINSTER -- There are many reasons to be a judge for the baked goods competition at the county 4-H Fair, but for Joan Shearer and Mildred Stine, it's simply a matter of taste.
"Yes, most of the entries are a real treat," said Ms. Shearer, who judged her seventh consecutive contest this year. "It's a pretty good job to have, I guess."
These two women had the last word Wednesday in the angel food, sponge and chiffon cake categories. During their 2 1/2 -hour stint, they tasted and judged the inner and outer appearance of at least 30 cakes apiece.
The winner, Curtis Frizell, 18, of Winfield, must have passed the seasoned vets' test with his icing-less chiffon tube cake.
But the sweets like Mr. Frizell's entry aren't the only delights that bring these women back every year. There is also a wholesome " atmosphere at the Ag Center, they said.
"I love the contact with the young people," said Ms. Stine, 74, a Taneytown resident back for her 15th year. "They make you feel like you are doing them a service, like you are teaching them something."
"I like the 4-H values. I think it keeps the kids closer to their families," agreed Ms. Shearer, a 55-year-old Manchester resident. "This isn't the type event that the child does on his or her own. The parent is standing around watching somewhere to make sure things are going right in the kitchen.
"This is something they can do together."
The two judges also work together to inspect the children's culinary handiwork. Since they are both experts in the field at this point, they agree that they don't always follow the blue score sheet point for point.
"The first year you judge, you use that sheet religiously," Ms. Shearer said. "But after a while you know what you are looking for."
"I've gotten to the point where I know the smell of a good cake," added Ms. Stine. "Just take in the odor and you know."
And the entries had been good and bad, they said. One cake "looked wonderful on the outside," Ms. Stine said, but it was hard to cut and dry on the inside.
But that's OK. It's all a part of the learning process, said Ms. Shearer.
"One of the best things about this is that you can see a kid come one year and not do too well, but come back the next year and bring in a great entry," she said. "They progress and learn from the previous years, and you see that."
The judges, while in a position to be critical, always find a way to make a positive comment the icing on the cake.
"That is very important because no cake is completely bad," Ms. Stine said. "We will always find something that gives the person encouragement."