3rd Annual Salsa Contest at the Collingswood Farmers' Market

13 Salsas, 3 Categories: RED, VERDE, FRUIT.
Ingredients such as Avocado, Blueberries, Corn, Dragon Fruit, Peaches,
Pineapple, and Tomatillos were used
The 3rd Annual Collingswood Farmers' Market Salsa Contest was held on Saturday, July 7th, and I was a judge once again.  We returned for a day from our 2-week vacation at the Jersey Shore.  It's nice to take a vacation from vacation and do something completely different.  The drive up from Strathemere, NJ, takes all of 1 hour and 10 minutes on a Friday night when most people are heading down the shore!  The weather was a perfect day because the heat wave broke and skies were crystal blue clear. With many people shopping and visiting at the Market on Saturday it was an ideal day to be out and about.  We had an impressive turn-out of participants - 13 people entered the contest.  I saw a few folks who have entered the pie contests try their savory making skills as well as many new-comers.  

Participants, Winners, onlookers and salsa contributions.
Winners, from top center going clockwise:
 Darla Viereck and Jane Walker;
Melissa Linden; Karen Zayac and her daughter; Gerard Martin;
Nicholas Cullmann and Emily Thompson
Participants in the contest hailed from towns in NJ: National Park, Haddonfield, Barrington, Runnemede, Paulsboro, West Berlin, Cherry Hill, Collingswood, and Atco.  Nearly everyone was a winner - especially when it came to the Salsa Verde and Fruit judging - win, show, place was the motto for those two categories.  Surprisingly of the 4 judges, we could not come to a firm conclusion on any of the winning salsas; we had three run-offs to break ties for first place in each of the three categories of Red, Green and Fruit Salsas!  I wasn't able to get everyone's photo, as a few people entered the contest but didn't return for the judging and prize awards.  The above photo is of the folks who were around long enough to allow me to photograph them.  My apologies to the contestants who I missed.
The 7 Red Salsas: Winners were #14 (Top Right), #1, (Top Left),
and #4, (Center Left)
Red Salsa category - we had the largest variety of entries.  Some were smokey.  We had one with beans, corn and avocado.  There were two that were indicative of a true Salsa Fresco.  One salsa could have done double duty as a gazpacho if it were pureed a tad more and chilled (and had a dash of tequila added to it!)   My favorite red was a spicy hot number that had a great bite and ton of flavor.

1st Place Winner: #14- Emily Thompson, of National Park, NJ.  Her salsa, Sassy Salsa, was a chunky ripe number with hints of cumin and lime.  Emily is a competitor in the Pie Contests and is an amazing baker and artisan.  She and her mother, Jane Walker, are becoming Professional food winners at our Market!

2nd Place Winner: #1 - Deborah Hinds, of Cherry Hill, NJ.  Her salsa, Deborah's Highness,  was fiery and fierce! The bite of heat gave way to good flavor, well balanced acidity and a good texture - not too smooth and not too chunky.

3rd Place Winner: #4 - Nicholas Cullmann, of Atco, NJ.  Nick's salsa, called, IconNICK,  was another one of my favorites, zipped up ingredients that were charred to add a smokey edge.  His salsa also stood out with the use of corn as a secondary ingredient.
Three Green, aka Verde Salsas: #3, #10 and #7
for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Place.
Green Salsa Category: When you only have three entries you would think the judging would be simple.  Not so.  Seems my tastes can be too picky, in that, my thoughts weren't aligning with the other judges! Ha, imagine that, I'm too picky!  Actually, I did like all of the salsas but we still need to re-taste and re-tally our decisions.  Salsa verde can be tricky because if you're using tomatillos, they are naturally on the sour side.  Balancing lime acidity with sour tomatillos or even green tomatoes is difficult.  The salsa shouldn't be too smooth because then you're veering towards a soup.  I find that roasting or grilling all of your vegetables and fruit before you chop, mash, or puree your ingredients really adds a layer of flavor that helps everything pull together.

1st Place Green: #3-Jane Walker, of National Park, NJ.  Jane is Emily Thompson's mom, as well as a fine pie baker.  I thought she had entered last year's salsa contest but she told me that the day before the 2017 contest, she broke her foot.  Well this year, she's fit as a fiddle and in fighting shape!  Her salsa was called, Green Goddess. It was smooth and well-balanced.

2nd Place Green: #10 - Darla Viereck, of Paulsboro (and daughter of Viereck Farms).  Salsa Verde Viereck was smooth with a piquant bite and salty pop.  The Viereck family have been long-time Collingswood Farmers' Market Vendors and they all know a lot about produce, plus they share the best recipes for what to make with any given week's crops.

3rd Place Green: #7 - Gerard Martin, of Collingswood.  His entry, Freaky Weekend Dipper, had the char I was looking for in a salsa verde.  I see from my notes that I wrote, "Oooh, NICE!" Which it was, very very nice.
Fruitful Salsas: Fruit used were,
Blueberries, Dragon Fruit, Peaches, Pineapples
Fruit Salsa Category: Again, hard to agree on how to place the entries.  We had yet another vote-off amongst the judges.  When it came to the fruit salsas, we were all over the place because each entry stood out and were so very different.  We had pineapples, peaches, blueberries, dragon fruit as fruit choices, plus grilled vegetables like jalapeƱos and corn.  I would have liked to have taken each one of these salsas home with me!

1st Place Fruit Winner: #5 - Melissa Linden, of Collingswood.  Her salsa, Fantastic Fruit Salsa, had pineapple, onion, and healthy dash of cilantro to tie it all together.

2nd Place Fruit Winner: #8 - Karen E. Zayac, of Cherry Hill Township.  Jersey Blue Salsa, was made with blueberries, grilled onions, jalapeƱos, peaches, and corn.  Lots of good texture here to complement NJ Blueberries which can go soft quickly if you don't watch out.

3rd Place Fruit Winner: #2 - Conner Rhea, of Cherry Hill. Conner's entry, called Dragon's Breath Salsa, had the unusual ingredient of Dragon Fruit.  Not something you think of when it comes to salsa ingredients but it worked really well. Nice to see a unique fruit being used.  I'm sure this fun fruit that has a creamy interior speckled with black seeds will be making its way into my salsas soon!

Thank you to all of our participants: Deborah Hinds; Conor Rhea; Jane Walker; Nicholas Cullmann; Meilssa Linden; Crista Green; Gerard Martin; Karen E. Zayac; Diana Martinez; Darla Viereck; Nicole Ciccaglione; Deborah Cullman; Emily Thompson  I hope that you will all enter other contests at the Market and come back next year.  

A tip (or coupla two-tree that I'll share with you):

  1. Check for the salt content - too much and it over-powers everything.  Add it in small stages.  
  2. Keep the texture - salsas are made with ingredients that break down quickly and get watery.  It's better to have things chunky than too smooth.  
  3. Taste for balance and acidity.  Limes, like a lot of citrus, have a powerful punch in the zest, so consider using a micro-plane to zest the limes and then juice them for additional zip.  
  4. A pinch of cumin and a few dashes of hot sauce will liven up a bland salsa fresco if you need some extra flavor.  
  5. Oven Roast, Grill, or Pan Sear your vegetables and the fruit before you make your salsa.  Believe me, it adds a layer of flavor that will blow you away.  Plus, grilling, charring, or roasting your ingredients pre-cooks them, which will tame some flavors and enhance others.

BONUS Recipe! One of my favorite seasonal salsas to make at this time of year when peaches are coming into the markets in abidance is a Fire-Roasted Peach Salsa I made a few years ago.  Here's the link for the recipe and step-by-step photos to show you how beautiful NJ Peaches are!

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