Last year, 13-year-old Amelia Dunwoodie gobbled up the competition to win the turkey-calling contest at the Lorain County Fair.
1 Practice Your Technique: National turkey calling champ Denny Gulvas has identified 12 distinct turkey calls, from clucks to cackles. Dunwoodie says the traditional "gobble" call works best. It should be low-pitched, throaty and a few seconds long. She amplifies the sound by cupping her hands around her mouth. "You also want to move your tongue up and down," she says.
2 Know the Bird: Although the Wellington resident admitted after last year's victory that she practiced for "about two minutes" before the competition, she had plenty of prior turkey experience. She raised the birds for 4-H Club from age 9 to 12, winning first place two consecutive times. Those years feeding and leading the birds around her family's 16-acre farm provided invaluable insight, including this nugget: "When you clap your hands, they make their gobble sound."
3 Keep a Straight Face: "It's funny when you make the noise," says Dunwoodie, who was up against about a dozen other preteen and teen competitors. "It's hard trying not to laugh." She says the important thing to remember is "just have fun."
Bake an Award-Winning Pie
A pie-baking rookie, Avon resident Brittney Nagel mixed, rolled and filled her way to first place with a double-crust cherry-raspberry pie at last year's Lorain County Fair.
1 Get a Mentor: Nagel learned from her husband's grandmother, Marge Potash. Using the cherry-raspberry pie recipe that's been in the family for 60 years, Potash invited Nagel over to watch her bake and then they made a pie together. "She showed me how the knives have to be real close together when you mix the butter in, and you have to make sure all the clumps are pea-size," Nagel says.
2 It's All in the Crust: The tangy flavor gets the attention, but Nagel says the crust is the star. "Everyone comments about how flaky and light it is." It's also the toughest part to master. Nagel used to forcefully flatten the dough, until her husband recommended rolling it lightly. "It makes a world of difference. You have to slightly push it from side-to-side."
3 Have Fun: It takes Nagel one hour for this pie, but three hours for a more difficult apple-brandy confection. If you don't find it fun, it'll be miserable. "I've baked a pie when I'm not in the mood," Nagel says, "and it's very true."
Grow Giant Gourds
Armed with 30 years of gardening know-how, North Royalton retiree Ken Lewandowski snagged a blue ribbon at last year's Cuyahoga County Fair for his 330-pound pumpkin.
1 Think Big: Giant pumpkins require giant seeds, so head to Canfield, Ohio, the home of the Ohio Valley Giant Pumpkin Growers. "During the Canfield Fair [Aug. 28 through Labor Day] you can go through bins of giant pumpkin seeds," he says. Just be sure to bring some cash: A single seed can command as much as $40.
2 Get Your Hands Dirty: Lewandowski mixes up a proprietary planting blend in his wheelbarrow using bagged potting soil, topsoil and fertilizers such as perlite and Osmocote. "You want the mix to be nice and light. Pick up a handful and give it a good squeeze; if it seems too heavy, add more perlite."
3 Don't Skimp on Space: "Pumpkins need an awful lot of room to grow," Lewandowski says. "My backyard wasn't big enough, so I rented three 500-square-foot plots at the Ben Franklin Community Gardens in Old Brooklyn. The three pumpkin plants took up at least two-thirds of the space." He uses spray-on deer repellents and powdered insecticides to protect his pumpkins from would-be predators.
4 Two Words: horse manure. "I've started putting it all around the plants. There was a big improvement."