Local resident Nancy Doyle has won more than 500 ribbons at the annual New Jersey State Fair over the past five decades for baking, canning, pickling, and making preserves – activities she describes as hobbies she loves. This past August she won the “New Jersey’s Best Cheesecake Contest” – which had more than 50 entries – with her strawberry/kiwi topped cheesecake. She also won first place ribbons for her blueberry Darjeeling Jam, strawberry jam, and red raspberry jam, among several other winning preserves, sauces, and baked items.
In addition to her first place prizes, Doyle also placed second for items like her spicy hot cucumber pickles and third for her lemon fudge, among others. All in all, she took home nine blue first place ribbons, four red second place ribbons, two yellow third place ribbons, and one honorable mention.
State Fair winning streak
“It is very exciting to me to bring all my baked goods and wait for the outcome,” said Doyle. Doyle, 68, is retired and previously worked at a fragrance company for 32 years.
For someone with over 500 ribbons, she began competing early on and entered her first contest around the age of 20. She liked being around animals and had horses growing up, which drew her to the fair.
“I liked the whole atmosphere,” she said about the fair. “There is so much to see and learn.”
The State Fair, held in Sussex County, showcases the state’s agriculture and includes a horse show, a wood chopping competition, fiddlers’ contests, an oxen demonstration, and turkey calling contest, among many other activities and entertainment.
“The essential part is that I don’t freeze my berries.” – Nancy Doyle
“I just love it,” said Doyle about her hobby. “It is delicious and beautiful.”
She said she especially loves giving away what she prepares.
Doyle devotes a lot of time to her craft leading up to the state fair. She said the week before, she is busy baking and before then she spends full days making preserves.
“A batch of jelly or jam from start to finish would take – between picking and preparing – five to six hours,” noted Doyle. She follows recipes for canning and making preserves that involve a process of crushing fruit, sterilization, and adding certain types of ingredients like pectin and sugar.
Doyle grows her own raspberries and currants and said that the key to winning recipes are fresh ingredients. “The essential part is that I don’t freeze my berries,” noted Doyle. “I try to make the product the same day I pick it…that might mean making small batches everyday for a few days.”
She said that judges at the fair factor in the tightness of the seal on the jar, appearance, and taste.
“A good jam tastes very much like the fruit, not too sweet but extremely strawberry like or peach like,” noted Doyle.
Doyle also grows her own cucumbers, peppers, eggplant and herbs for pickling.
Learned basics on farm in Secaucus
Doyle’s experience with canning and making preserves dates back more than six decades when she was a small girl on her grandparents’ farm on Ninth Street. Her family goes back three generations. Her father and his father were born in Secaucus. Her grandfather had built the house on a property, which ran all the way to the Hackensack River and had a large vegetable garden, chickens, and pigs.
“I had a pony there,” noted Doyle. “I spent a lot of time with my grandparents.”
Her grandfather was a trapper on the Hackensack River who sold fur to furriers in New York. Her grandmother had migrated to the United States from Germany. She passed on the tradition of baking, canning, pickling, and making preserves to Doyle.
“I enjoyed helping my grandmother with her baking and canning,” said Doyle. “She gave me the basics for it.”
Passing on the tradition
“I am hoping the little guy will be interested,” said Doyle about her niece’s 6-year-old son Caleb Co. Last year with her guidance he entered the nine-year-old and under no bake cereal bar contest at the State Fair and took home first place. He used a simple recipe that involved cereal, peanut butter, coconut, and peanuts.
“He did it himself,” said Doyle. “They were delicious!”
She said that he has already decided what he plans to make next year.
Adriana Rambay Fernández may be reached at email@example.com.
Blueberry Orange Darjeeling Jam Recipe
First Place 2012 – NJ State Fair
3 pints blueberries, stems removed
Thin slices orange peel from two juice oranges
Juice of two oranges
½ cup strong Darjeeling tea
Scant dash powdered cinnamon
1 ¾ oz package powdered fruit pectin
¼ teaspoon butter
4 cups sugar
Place berries in an 8-quart pot.
Crush berries with potato masher.
Stir in orange peel, juice, tea, cinnamon, pectin and butter.
Berry mixture should measure four cups.
Heat on high, stirring constantly, till mixture comes to full rolling boil.
Add sugar all at once.
Return to boiling, boil one minute, stirring constantly.
Remove from heat. Skim off foam.
Ladle into hot, sterilized half-pint jars leaving ¼” headspace.
Wipe jar rims, adjust lids.
Process in a boiling water bath for five minutes.
Remove jars, cool till set.
Makes six half pints.