They don’t lounge at spas and plan leisurely retirement cruises. They are K. D. Proffit from Land Park and Barbara Ruona from East Sac, and they play for keeps. They created and developed a unique marmalade recipe. Making extraordinary marmalade requires the science of a chemist and the art of a superior chef. Last year Proffit and Ruona earned a second place award in the Cal Expo canning and baking competition. This year, determination heightened, they entered again. Using tasty naval oranges from Proffit’s tree and Seville oranges donated by a friend, the women set to work. Both are acknowledged excellent cooks, but that is not nearly enough to win the coveted State Fair awards. You won’t find too many more focused protagonists than Profitt and Ruona, and they worked resolutely on three entries—three identically sized small jars of marmalade, two bitters, one sweet.
Now they needed a name. The rules demanded it. “How about, the Marmaladies?” suggested friend, Eileen Lynch, and the two women were now the Marmaladies.
July 14th–the judging begins. Proffit had to leave to Colorado, so a nervous Ruona went with other friends through the milling State Fair crowds to Building B, where the fate of the marmalades would be decreed. Some people had come early, sat on pillows, and had brought stools upon which they propped their feet. Contestants and general fairgoers filled the seats. Some, who sold wares at the Farmers Market, longed for those blue ribbons that would testify to the high quality of their goods. Finally the judges began to sample the products. People watched intently. Ruona’s nervousness now palpable, she listened as the judges (all cookbook authors, chefs or other acknowledged experts) began smelling, tasting with spoons, holding jars to the light, intently discussing the texture and flavor. Some entries were quickly disqualified for multiple reasons: the jars didn’t match, the lids were wrong, the spread was too thick, or a jar was found with exterior dirt. The judges generally tried to find something encouraging to say as they disqualified people, but there were no exceptions: if you were out, you were out.
Ruona’s nervousness increased. But there were so many entries the judges didn’t reach the Marmaladies offerings in time. She would have to come back later that night. What a long day it was. Her friends took her to the movies to distract her, but it didn’t work. The Marmalady couldn’t stop thinking about marmalade. At 9:30 pm they returned to the fair. The contest area was empty now, the jars behind a window display. Ruona and her friends advanced on the display, began reading. Then a shout—“Here it is—a blue ribbon.” One blue ribbon. No, two blue ribbons. No, three. A blue ribbon sweep for the Marmaladies!
Last year when they shared a second place ribbon, Ruona kept it for six months at her house, Proffit for six months at hers. Now there would be no need to share. The next day Ruona made a phone call to Colorado and heard jubilation. “K. D. was so thrilled,” she said. “We worked so hard to get it right. It all paid off.”
“Now you can relax,” somebody said. “You’re a big winner.”
“Oh no,” replied Marmalady Barbara Ruona. “Now we have to aim for Best of Class.”
This article first ran in East Sacramento News.