Ashley West’s grandmother used to bring home blue ribbons from the Freestone county fair with her pickling and canning creations.
This year, West is heading to the fair for the first time herself.
“I’m not very competitive,” West said. “But my dad was adamant that I enter.”
She has offered her “Farmhouse 43” creations at the Denton Community Market for a while. Depending on the season, a customer might find jars of blueberry mojito jam, or pineapple jalapeno jam, or pickled beets infused with wild raspberry and hibiscus tea.
For the North Texas Fair and Rodeo, which starts Friday, West has been busy canning a peach-and-three-pepper jam and four different kinds of pickles. Some of her recipes get fancy, such as the dill pickling liquid that got a big splash of Sriracha sauce before she poured it over fresh okra packed in jars.
“Sriracha’s a thing in Denton now, so I thought I would use it. This,” West said, motioning to her kitchen table covered with canning supplies, “is my canvas. I don’t draw or paint.”
Other recipes are just as her grandmother made them. West checked herself against the handwritten instructions on an old recipe as she transformed about a dozen yellow squash, an onion, salt, vinegar, celery seed and mustard seed into the squash pickles that have been a family tradition.
She knows from visiting with customers at the market, and from giving a class on canning and preserving, that some people find this kind of do-it-yourself project intimidating.
“They think there’s some scientific process they are going to screw up, or some creative process they’ll screw up,” West said.
“It’s not as difficult as you think.”
She finds the work meditative. Since she’s the first generation off the farm, she feels connected to her extended family as she does the work, too. She also enjoys when people come back to see her at the community market and tell her how they used what they bought.
“It’s a fantastic thing,” West said. “I ask them to take pictures and put them on my Facebook page.”
Denton resident Amber Briggle said she recently began canning again after she joined a community-supported agriculture venture. Her family wasn’t always able to consume the entire box of produce that came with each week’s share.
It was a lot like the year she volunteered on a farm run by nuns. They sent Briggle and her husband home each week with a box of vegetables they couldn’t finish. That’s when she started canning, she said.
It happened again when too many beets came home in the new farm shares. No one would eat them until she sweet-pickled them the way her grandmother did.
She entered some of the pickled beets in the fair last year and got a blue ribbon.
“Now I’m hooked,” Briggle said.
On a recent vacation to Colorado, she took two days to put up a bushel of high country tomatoes.
It was a lot of work, she said. But in exchange, she sees a running start on dinner every time she reaches for a jar of tomatoes in the coming months.
Argyle resident Nancy Chumbley said it’s been years since she’s entered the fair, but she still enjoys pickling and canning. She often sends visiting family members home with a jar of mint jelly or fig preserves. This year, she got out an old family recipe and made sweet pickles in a crockery jar, the first time she has tried fermenting.
“They turned out really well,” Chumbley said.
Although Chumbley said she really doesn’t have anything to show at the fair, Briggle said she’ll be bringing pickled beets again. She also pickled green beans with Sriracha sauce this year.
“The color turned out just beautiful,” Briggle said.
PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.
NORTH TEXAS FAIR AND RODEO
Where: North Texas Fairgrounds, 2217 N. Carroll Blvd., Denton
When: Friday through Aug. 23; gates open daily at 6 p.m. except for this Saturday and Sunday, when they open at 1 p.m.
Admission: Adults, $15; children 7 through 12, $5; children under 6, free.
Season tickets, or everyday passes, are available for $90; four-day passes are available for $40.
Gate admission includes the fair, rodeo events and concerts.
For more information: Call 940-387-2632, email email@example.com or visit www.ntfair.com .