Los Banos

Food, competition and friends abound at the fair.

One of the most popular things to do at the Merced County Spring Fair is to enter food contests. During the fair’s five-day run, people serve up their best recipes for judging in categories for meats, salsas, nuts, desserts and more.

“I think there’s a lot of good cooks in Los Banos who want to show off their stuff,” said Eileen Vaughn, organizer of the fair’s day-of contests. “A few years ago, the cheesecake contest was big. Then, cookies were big; now sausage. It’s pretty much a tie between those three.”

She said participation in the “Best Ever Baking Contest For Kids” has grown from its debut in 2012; Vaughn is expecting even more entries this year. The contest is open to children ages 14 and younger and will take place at 4:30 p.m. May 1, an hour before the adults’ Best Ever Cookie Contest.

Vaughn said the sausage contest, slated for 3 p.m. May 4, is quickly becoming one of the more popular food contests. However, she said, participation in the contest has definitely been dominated by one gender.

“The guys seem to like that contest a lot,” she said.

At last year’s fair, grill aficionados lined up behind the exhibit building, cooking their homemade sausages while getting in some good-natured bragging about whose recipe was better.

Vaughn said contestants have started to enter the “day-of” contests in groups with such names as The Red Hat Ladies in recent years. The group members usually fill the 20 or so seats set up for spectators at the contest, anxiously waiting to see where they’ve placed, she said.

Vaughn said those in the audience are usually as curious about other people’s entries as they are of their own.

“I think people come because they like seeing what their friends and neighbors are making,” Vaughn said.

Vaughn said the day-of contests’ popularity, which also includes pasta sauce, almonds, cheesecake and salsa, can be attributed to the level of competition.

“I think we have some really good cooks in Los Banos,” Vaughn said.