Western Idaho Fair Connects Idahoans To Their Roots, And Their Competitive Spirit

Aug 23, 2019

On a hot August afternoon, breads, biscotti and cinnamon rolls cover nearly every surface of Georgia White’s kitchen.

 

Fans positioned at every door and window circulate delicious smells of buttery sweets throughout the house, but offer little relief from the heat. 

These baked goods aren’t for eating. They are for winning. 

White has been competing in Western Idaho Fair contests for over 20 years. She even takes two weeks off from her job to prepare for it — and her family has been bringing home the ribbons for decades.

“I've got ribbons from both my grandmothers. My mom has a ton of ribbons," says White. 

As a fourth-generation Idaho native, White says it’s just what her family does. It connects her to her roots. And White says when it comes down to it ...

“I like ribbons.”

That she does. Last year she even crafted an American flag quilt using some of her ribbons. The quilt was, naturally, entered in the fair’s quilting competition. 

“I got honorable mention, which was very generous since I’ve never sewed anything in my entire life," says White. 

If you’ve never competed at the Western Idaho Fair, here’s how it works: The week before the fair opens you can enter competitions for produce, canning, baked goods— all the classics. These are judged before the fair opens, but competitors won’t know the results until opening day. White says that when it comes to judging, secrecy is paramount. 

“It’s like Fort Knox," says White. "Don’t try and get in and sneak and see if you won anything because they will shoot you down." 

White is preparing for these pre-fair contests when I meet up with her. She’s working on her apple pie, which has even attracted her adoring fans all the way to her house. 

“All of a sudden somebody rings the doorbell and I’m like, 'Who is it?' and I go out there and some random man I’ve never seen before and he took a picture of my address label at the fair because I won first place on the apple pie he drove up here to see if he could pay me to make him an apple pie," says White. 

White focuses on food-based contests, but she has dipped into other arenas. One year, she entered her silver-laced wyandotte rooster, fondly named Rocky the Rockstar George Clooney of Roosters, who remains her phone screensaver. 

“First I go over there and he’s got a blue ribbon and I was like super duper excited and then I go over like an hour or two later and he’s got another ribbon, a medallion ribbon, and then I went over a while later and he’s got a third ribbon and then I go back later and he had a great big trophy. He won the whole fair," says White. 

Beyond the pre-judged competitions, special contests happen throughout the week of the fair. These are “day of” contests that include “cupcake combat” and “cheezapalooza," where contestants create dishes for judges to try right then and there. 

While working on this story, I was asked to judge the salsa competition. Thankfully, White and I had not discussed any salsa-related plans, so I could remain unbiased. 

The contestants are judged based on creativity, presentation and taste. 

Dave Bourff has been judging for over eight years. He says when he first started out he was hesitant about critiquing fair regulars.

“It gets a little easier I think," says Bourff. "My first couple times doing it I was nervous. I was just waiting for someone to come up and physically accost me after like, ‘I saw your judges sheet! You’re an idiot!'"

Bourff says fair contestants, while highly competitive, rarely become bitter. Many competitors come back year to year, creating a tight-knit group.

 “There’s some usual suspects in the crowd," Bourff says. "I see a few people that are here fairly regularly." 

The contestant who racks up the most points earns the coveted title of Chef of the Year, which is usually a shootout among the seasoned vets.

“They win a lot, those regulars. All of them are, no joke, badasses," says Bourff. 

When the scores have been calculated, there’s an air of excitement in the room. 

White did not win first in the salsa or dip contests. Her apple pie, however, earned a blue ribbon. 

“I’ll be back," White says. "It’s a lot of work, but it’s my fun time of creating things and canning and, who knows, maybe this winter I’ll get out my little sewing machine and make something again out of my fair ribbons.”

It shouldn’t be any surprise she already has her calendar marked for next year.

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