LEWISTON, Maine — The Farmers’ Almanac, which is published by Geiger in Lewiston, is chock full of helpful information – including, of course, its four seasons of weather forecasts.
Each year, the Almanac also runs a recipe contest. How does it go about picking a winner from all the entries? 207 headed to Lewiston Regional Technical Center’s Green Ladle culinary program to find out.
On the morning of the Farmers’ Almanac Recipe Contest, the students at The Green Ladle culinary school prepped the final seven dishes that would go before the judges.
Peter Geiger, who publishes the Almanac, turned all the submissions he received over to Chef Dan Caron, who leads The Green Ladle program. This year, each recipe in the contest had to somehow feature at least two tablespoons of honey.
While the Green Ladle kitchen was busy with all the preparations, Chef Dan told us a bit about the contest.
"We’re looking for – knowing this is being judged – people eat with their eyes –– what is this gonna look like on a plate," he said. "So, we look at that first. Then we look at the taste profile."
Recipes came in from 32 states and four countries. Students and staff at The Green Ladle worked to narrow the submissions down to the seven best.
"And that was some of the questions that we asked the students … What do you think? How is that going to look? How is it going to hold up on a plate? How’s it going to hold up for judging? Does it have texture? Does it have eye appeal? So they really had to meet this criteria," Chef Dan said. "We compete a lot, as you know, but this is kind of a different kind of a competition because it’s not their recipes, but are they making it well, and a great learning experience for them today because they have to speak to the judges and say, ‘This is what I made.’ So, just another soft skill for them to learn."
While the judges began to gather, the students put the final touches on their dishes and got ready to explain to the judges just what they’d created.
All the while, the activity level back in the kitchen was at a fever pitch.
"Seven minutes! Seven minutes!" Chef Dan said, loud enough to be heard over the noise.
Maxwell Hall graduated from The Green Ladle two years ago and was back for his third year as a judge.
"It’s really fun to see to see what kind of recipes people come in with, and I think the fact that I like the most is that it’s coming from homes," he said. "Like, people’s families are sending these in, so there’s a lot of personality between each recipe."
The seven final recipes covered the range of courses: salad, main course, and dessert. The judges evaluated flavor, creativity, and how the honey is used.
"Usually what I’m looking for is the use of the ingredient because it would be very hard to compare two different types of food," Hall added.
The students stood at their station, each explaining their dish, how it was prepared, and the key ingredients. The judges asked questions and sampled the dishes while taking notes and filling out a score sheet.
"This really is about what students learn in school. Dan and his team continue to find new ways to engage the students. This is certainly a hands-on experience as opposed to just making a meal to be served," Peter Geiger, publisher of the Farmers' Almanac, said. "This is very much a part of a national publication. They’re going to see their work, finally, in the almanac and online. I’m just so excited about this thing – it’s the best. It really is."
Duram Qahalliu made a chicken dish with bread crumbs, garlic, and, of course, plenty of honey.
"It’s got me nervous. Even though it’s not me competing. Still has me nervous, but I hope they like it. I actually made this the night before to get a feel for it. I thought it was really, really good," Duram said. "I really liked the crust, the crunch. The honey actually made it taste wonderful. The chicken was juicy. This was the juiciest chicken I’ve ever had."
After sampling all of the dishes, the judges got down to business.
"That was the easy part. Now, the hard part is coming up with the top three items," Geiger said.
We cannot tell you which recipe won! The contest winners are kept under wraps until the 2023 Farmers' Almanac comes out this August. There are cash prizes to the top three winners, as well as the announcement of next year’s contest and specific ingredient.