The Country Show – adventures in show cooking

Last week I shared my reflections on the country show, and my personal history of show-going from infancy. Country shows are just so important in keeping traditional skills alive. I love watching the woodchop, and the Mudgeeraba show also has displays of blacksmithing, beekeeping, and the young farmers’ challenge.





The skills of cooking, patchwork, sewing, knitting, crochet, spinning, weaving, and craft are also kept alive through the challenge of the exhibitors pavilion.





I’ve needed little encouragement to enter exhibits in the Mudgeeraba Show for each of the last 6 years. Every year I eagerly await the release of the pavilion schedule. Then I go through and highlight what I could potentially enter. Closer to the show the list of intended exibits declines. The passionfruit aren’t ripe; the cockatoos attacked my lemons just as they were ripening; I ran out of time to make chutney. My list comes down to a couple of dozen entries, mostly in confectionery, cooking and preserves, produce, and occasionally a bit of craft, like my never-ending wallaby.

A month or so out from the show, I make a list of ingredients required for each exhibit in the cooking section, and add them to my shopping list. Then I make up a preparation schedule. Confectionery and preserves can be done a week or so ahead. But on the day that the cooking has to be entered the pressure is on.

So the night before I lay out all of my bowls, measure out butter and sugar, and take out the eggs so that they are ‘room temperature’. And set the alarm for 5 am. This year the temperature in the kitchen was 13.5 when I started. I’m sure this is not what is meant by room temperature, and the butter hadn’t softened that much overnight! I don’t have an electric mixer, and beat mine by hand. And I love my old kitchen scale, which belonged to my friend’s grandmother, though it makes measuring exactly 185 grams of flour something of a challenge!

First out of the oven was lemon butter cupcakes; followed by orange almond cookies, all looking pretty good.






Did you know that a trick with show cooking is to put your cakes and biscuits onto a teatowel to cool and not on a wire rack? That way there are no rack marks on the bottom. The judges do check!

This year I cooked in the morning and took one lot of exhibits in, then went to work for the day. When I came home from work I baked a couple of batches of scones, picked some grevilleas to enter, and assembled my display of fresh and dried spices. Then I headed off again in the evening with my second lot of entries.







I usually enter a few more exhibits than I did this year. It’s a bit of a bugger when work interferes with one’s usual contribution to the exhibitors’ pavilion! Other than my home grown and dried spices, I didn’t enter any other produce. I simply have not had enough in the garden this winter, and would rather eat what little I have.

So how did I do? I picked up a few firsts, a few seconds, a few thirds, and a totally undeserved High Achievement for some dreadful honeycomb that I thought I’d have a go at! I think of it as an encouragement award….









So there you have it – a summary of this year’s adventures in show cooking!



Is there a local show in your area? Could you enter some exhibits, and help keep the country show alive?

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  • Although exhausting on the day it would also be so exciting. Setting up the night before and then getting up early. I don’t think I would sleep much that night.
    Would never have thought the judges would look underneath for lines from cooling trays. I guess you really need to know exactly what they look for.
    Well done.

    • Jo says:

      Thanks Kylie, yes it’s all good fun. I’ve got the book The Australian Blue Ribbon Cookbook with lots of recipes and tips in it for show cooking, as well as wonderful stories of show cooking from around Australia. I am a bit obsessed I think……

  • Dianne Williams says:

    Well done Jo; you are not only carrying on your family’s past contributions to rural life but stamping your own authority on this time-honoured tradition. Your commitment, especially as a full-time employee, is commendable. Congrats on your success. I remember an aunt who entered preserves in the rural show I attended as a child and the fascination of seeing the herringbone patterns of carrot pieces or fruit chunks in the tall jars that waited on her kitchen shelves until Show week. Last thing – are you intending to practise honeycomb making?

    • Jo says:

      Thanks Di for your lovely comment. I’ll give honeycomb-making a miss I think – the end product tasted as burnt as it smelled while cooking! Was that Aunty Marj who used to do preserves? xxx

      • Dianne Williams says:

        No; the maternal link gets the spotlight again here; it was Aunty Anne. Nell also preserved veges, probably as a response to the vast amounts of produce from their orchard out there at Charters Towers. Aunty Anne also made ginger beer and pickled onions of all things! A key point worthy of note from these stories is that women of this era not only filled their days but stocked their larders and fed their families homemade goodies that were free of chemicals and industrialised additives. No wonder the saying emerged: “Don’t eat anything your grandmother cannot pronounce.”

  • Kathy Marris says:

    Congratulations Jo. All of your home baking looks delicious. It was interesting to read how you manage to cook everything on the day of the show for judging. I never realised the co-ordination and work involved in doing this. It seems to be a bit of a mission. 🙂 #TeamLovinLife

    • Jo says:

      It is a bit Kathy, or rather, I make a mission of it. An enjoyable one though. I see a few other early birds entering exhibits, and it’s good to see that this tradition is not just for people no longer in the paid workforce.

  • writeofthemiddle says:

    Well done Jo! It all looks so yum. Wow – can’t imagine the nerves entering my baking into a show. I’ve never done it and probably never will. It might have been a different story if I lived in a more rural area. I love your tip about cooling the food on a tea towel rather than a wire rack. I would never have known that! #TeamLovinLife

  • Deborah says:

    I was initially thinking you were writing about ‘slow’ cooking and wondered why it wasn’t making sense to me. D-oh!

    I’m not a baker at all and incredibly blase about the minimal baking I do (ie. gluten free brownies made from a packet mix!). However my step nanna was a judge at local shows and would always be telling me stuff about only making pikelets or patty cakes using one dollop and not adding a second dollop and so forth! #teamlovinlife

    • Jo says:

      Hahaha Deb, that’s hilarious. I guess it’s a form of slow cooking to put the butter and sugar out the night before….

  • leannelc says:

    Wow Jo you are an inspiration (especially with no electric beater!) I’ve never entered anything in our local show – my kids did for several years and won a few prizes – which they were very pleased with. I loved seeing all your pictures and congrats on all your placings 🙂

  • I love entering into the show, and my kids have done that past few years. Ours is in November, and I usually enter photography. The last couple of years I have started with flowers and veggies. Haven’t gone into cooking though! My daughter got three sashes last year for cooking(it was chocolate crackles), cut flowers and produce for her eggs! It was a fabulous surprise!

    • Jo says:

      She would have been so excited with her wins Alicia! It’s a great thing for kids to be involved in as well. The photography section is always great to look at as well. Makes me want a better camera!

  • Jo says:

    Oh, this brought back memories – but I never knew that trick of the tea towel on the cake rack! Beating by hand – I’m in awe. Congratulations. #TeamLovinLife

  • Hi Jo! Lovely to meet you and well done you with your awards. I love a country show and hope they continue for years to come it really is a great tradition. Growing up in Sydney it was always the Royal Easter Show, then I took the kids to the Kiama Show (much smaller). I’m in Brisbane now but have only been to the ‘Ekka’ as it is called here a couple of times. I just love wandering around looking at all the exhibits and the handiwork of everyone.

  • Congratulations on your wins! I grew up in a country town where the show was widely supported and the competitions were strongly contended. I do love visiting a country show – they’re so rustic and real. 🙂 #TeamLovinLife

    • Jo says:

      I’m enjoying River Cottage Australia at present Lyndall, and seeing Paul jump into competing with his scones at the Tilba pumpkin festival. It’s such an important part of country life.

  • Woo hooo! Show cooking. Go you!

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