Prize winning Rhubarb Jam & the Royal Melbourne Show 2012

Guess what I had on my toast this morning?... My prize winning rhubarb jam! 
Not only had I never made jam before I don't think I've ever come first in anything - so winning the novice preserves in the 2012 Royal Melbourne Show is a big deal for me!  I've totally caught the jam making bug now & believe it or not, I'm already thinking about what I could make for next year!  I'll be entering the open preserves class so I need to come up with something pretty special if I'm going to have any chance against all those experienced jam makers! 
I had quite a morning yesterday & it all started with my husband's very skillful driving & dodging of traffic jams to get us to the show in time!  We headed straight for the Art, Craft & Cookery Pavilion to look for my cupcakes, yoyos, decorated cookies & brownies before the judging of the preserves started.  

It was really good to see how my baking stacked up against everyone else's.  My yoyos looked a bit too rotund & rather pale in colour compared to the winners.  

My yoyos
The first three yoyos in the front row
As for my brownies, I was the only one who had covered the tops with sifted icing sugar (in my trademark cat stencil of course!) but I must say, the winning brownie didn't have one crack on the top.  It was completely smooth.  I don't think I've ever made a brownie that doesn't go flaky on the top - so I was quite impressed with the winner!
My cat brownies!

First place on the right, second on the left
Next were my decorated cookies.  Now, this class called for four fancy/sweet biscuits which had to be two distinct varieties (two of each).  Edible decorations were allowed & they could be joined, decorated on top or half dipped in chocolate etc.  They could be iced with delicate colours & dainty decorations.  I decided to enter two vanilla cookies & two lemon flavoured cookies, which I decorated with coloured fondant & little sugar flowers.  As soon as I saw the other entries I knew the reason why my cookies didn't receive a place.  Everyone else had done quite different varieties of biscuits & I think mine weren't distinct enough.  Good to know for next year! 
My decorated cookies - the purple ones are vanilla, the green ones are lemon
First place is middle front row, second on the left, third on the right
Then it came to finding my cupcakes.  There's a bit of a story behind those.  So... I entered two separate classes of cupcakes, each having four on a plate.  The first class - 224, required four cupcakes 'iced with delicate colours & dainty decorations'.  Having thought long & hard about what I could do for this class, I opted for some floral cupcakes with buttercream icing.  The second class was 225, which required four 'decorated' cupcakes.  For this I entered my striped fondant cupcakes with buttons.  
Cupcake competion - class 225 is on the top shelf, class 224 is on the bottom left
Now, when I checked the results online the other week I noticed that my name appeared twice in class 225.  By looking at the unique exhibit numbers, I could tell that I had come third for the striped fondant cupcakes and received a very highly commended for the floral cupcakes.  After a few minutes of confusion, I came to the conclusion that it must have been a typo & that the very highly commended for the floral cupcakes should have been listed with class 224.  So when I found my cupcakes on display at the show, imagine my surprise when I see that the Judges have moved my floral cupcakes to class 225.  After racking my brain & satisfying myself that I hadn't made a mistake & stuck the wrong exhibit ticket on the cupcakes when I delivered them to the show, I decided that the Judges must have had some reason for transferring the cupcakes from class 224 to 225.   

Class 225 - my striped fondant cupcakes

My floral cupcakes - these were meant to be in class 224
As I was standing there mulling all of this over, there were a group of people looking at the cupcakes.  One girl pointed at my floral cupcakes & said how beautiful they were & that she couldn't understand why they didn't win.  I stood there quietly appreciating this compliment until she then added,"maybe it's because they bought the decorations".  Well I couldn't stay quiet for a moment longer so I politely said that they were my cupcakes & that I had made all the decorations by hand!  I felt quite sorry for her because she looked so stunned & she gasped when she heard what I said.  She  was very quick to apologise & was interested to know how I had made the decorations.  They all said that they loved my cupcakes & that if it was up to them, they would have won.  So that was really nice to hear! 

First place class 225
Second place class 225
So back to the mystery of the transferred cupcakes...  I almost walked away without doing anything about it but I decided to ask one of the stewards if they knew why the Judges might have done it, especially given that the rules state that a person can't enter the same class twice.  The steward was really friendly & she ended up asking me for my contact details & said she would get one of the Judges to contact me about it.  I haven't heard anything yet & I really hope I do.  I don't mind at all that they transferred the cupcakes to the different class, it would just be good to know why - especially for next year.
So then it came time for the public judging of the preserves.  There was an area set up with a table for the Judge & some chairs for people to watch.  I quickly grabbed a front row seat & settled in for the show!  It was all very official, there was a man with a microphone compering the whole thing & the Judge was a lovely lady with 30 years' experience in judging preserves at the show.  Luckily my class of preserves was up first & I could see my rhubarb jam on the end, the last one to be tasted by the Judge.  Including mine, there were seven entries in total; chili jam, apricot, plum & raspberry, cumquat, raspberry, fig & gooseberry. 
I was so nervous at this point, even more so when the Judge picked up my jam to taste it!  It was quite funny, with all the other jams she wasn't exactly blown away.  Unfortunately the apricot jam had mildew on the top (which apparently apricot jam is notorious for), the raspberry jam didn't have that big raspberry flavour you would expect, the plum & raspberry was nice but the inside rim of the jar wasn't cleaned & it was covered with remnants of jam, the cumquat was nice but the Judge was quick to point out that it was technically marmalade given that cumquats are citrus, & the gooseberry & fig jams weren't quite set & didn't seem to have much flavour.

The Judge studying my rhubarb jam!
As soon as the Judge tried my jam she closed her eyes & said how beautiful it was & that it had the true rhubarb flavour - so I breathed a sigh of relief!  She also made the comment that rhubarb jam was becoming more popular these days.  She then quickly grabbed my jam as well as two others & I knew it was in the final three.  After a final tasting, she picked up my jam again & studied it closely before announcing it had come first!  Second was the raspberry & third was the plum & raspberry.  The man with the microphone asked if the winner was in the audience so with cheeks burning I shyly put up my hand & he congratulated me while everyone clapped.  Honestly, it might sound sad but in that moment, I felt so proud of myself.

The jams on display after judging
After that, the Judge was kind enough to give us some jam making tips, which of course I'm going to share with you all!  So here they are:
  •  Always fill your jam to within a millimetre or two of the top of the jar to prevent too much air getting between the top of the jam & the lid as this can cause bacteria to form on the top of the jam.  Once cooled, the jam will shrink down a bit anyway.
  • Tall jam jars show off your jam - so keep an eye out for nice jars through the year & collect them!
  • Always clean the top of the jam jar once you've filled it with jam.  Messy glass rims covered with remnants of jam look terrible.  Make sure you use a very clean cloth for this & either keep that cloth solely for cleaning the tops of jam jars, or like I did - use a disposable paper towel which I moistened with hot water.
  • Sparkling clean jam jars look the best so once they are all sealed, clean them with a soft cloth & a bit of window cleaner (taking care not to get the window cleaner in the jam of course!)
  • Finally, it's important to know the difference between a jam & a marmalade.  A marmalade is made with citrus fruits like lemons, oranges, limes & as we discovered yesterday, cumquats.  A jam is made with fruits such as stone fruit & berries.
It's been so much fun entering in the show this year & it's something I'll definitely be making a habit of.  It's something ANYONE can do - just give it a go!  Whether it's jam, baking or any other craft I urge you to consider entering your work in a show at least once.  My advice would be to plan well in advance what you are going to enter & have a couple of practice runs at home first.  The show - no matter how big or small, is such a wonderful event for people of all ages to enjoy & it's fun to be a part of it.  Even if you don't win anything or do as well as you hoped, it's all good practice for the next year & at least you can say that you've given it a go! 
I think being able to create something by hand whether it be jam, baking or something else crafty, is such a good skill to master.  Everyone loves receiving hand made gifts & I think in this day & age when things are so expensive it feels so good to be able to save a few $$$ & make something yourself - whether it be for a gift or for your family to enjoy. 
I hope I have inspired you to try making something for that first time - just give it a go & if at first you don't succeed, just try again & you'll get there soon enough.  The most important thing is to enjoy what you do & have fun in the process! 



  1. Wow, that's so fantastic, you should be so proud! You have inspired me - I've been collecting empty jam jars all year and this time I'm really going to do it!

    And I agree, you certainly should have won with your 'shopbought' flower cupcake decorations! I thought they were amazing, well done!

  2. Aw thank you alpinemummy! I too have been collecting jam jars - it's borderline obsession at the moment! I'm so pleased I have inspired you to give jam making a go - let me know how you get on x


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