WILKES-BARRE — Six days from now, I will again be charged with the great responsibility of judging the Plymouth Kielbasa Contest.
As wonderful as that sounds, it is no easy task.
I can assure you that this contest is the fairest, squarest contest this side of Warsaw. We, the panel of distinguished judges, do the judging in anonymity. We have no idea which vendor’s kielbasa is which.
All we have to rely on is our decades of kielbasa tasting. We can’t even add horseradish.
One by one, a platter full of kielbasa is brought to the judges’ table and shown to the judges. Some of the presentations are remarkable, others are unique, other leave us scratching our heads.
As we examine the platters, we are told to take up to three pieces of kielbasa to taste. Half of the judges choose the best fresh kielbasa and the other half selects the best smoked kielbasa.
As I said, it’s not an easy task.
Most of the kielbasa has a good taste. Some of it, over the years, has made at least this judge wonder where they got the recipe. But as I said, most — fresh and smoked — have been delicious, making the judging that much more difficult.
So we go on, tasting sample after sample, giving serious consideration to each and every offering. Too much garlic? Not enough garlic? Mustard seeds? Casing? The right mix of meats? And on and on.
We grade each entry for presentation, texture and taste. Every single year, I can tell you that I have never recognized any of the entrants and I have judged this contest to the very best of my ability.
I take kielbasa judging very seriously.
And as serious as the judging can get, the contest and the festival itself is more fun than a barrel of monkeys — and everyone knows how funny monkeys are.
We have polka music played on an accordion. We hear jokes — some funny, some awful — and some heard for the 12th time. The American Legion on Center Avenue gets packed with spectators who laugh, heckle and even tell their own jokes. It is one fun kielbasa-laced party.
Just like the Kielbasa Festival itself. Terry Womelsdorf and his Plymouth Alive committee of volunteers do a great job with this event. Terry also likes to tell bad jokes, which are much better than most of his Fantasy Football picks. There are many people involved in bringing this festival and my hometown alive once again.
You will find me in Plymouth on Aug. 11 and 12 just walking around and talking to people who I grew up with, who taught me, who I coached, who coached me, who operated businesses I patronized, who knew me before anybody else did. This is a true coming-home party for people like me and anyone who grew up in this small town.
Back to kielbasa judging.
I know kielbasa pretty well. My mom and dad made it at our kitchen table. To this day, I feel we made the best kielbasa I have ever tasted. My mom was one of nine children. Her sisters would make kielbasa too. But none of their kielbasa tasted as good as my mom’s. Yes, this is a biased opinion, but I swear it’s the truth.
And that’s my point. Kielbasa judging comes down to taste. My preference may be completely opposite of yours. I’m sure the panel of kielbasa judges all have different taste buds and judge accordingly.
So anybody who enters shouldn’t be concerned about the results of the contest. The real reason for participation is fun. To a kielbasa lover, all kielbasa is good. You can eat it on a bun, on a stick, on a plate. You can boil it, fry it, broil it. You can add onions and peppers too.
But always, and this is just one person’s opinion, use horseradish — white or red.
And when you get your kielbasa treat at the Plymouth Kielbasa Festival, enjoy it. Walk up and down Main Street and smile at your fellow kielbasa lovers. Say hello. Stop and listen to the music. Patronize the other vendors.
Be glad that there is this wonderful festival in this small town that honors the delicacy known as kielbasa. And next week it will be the tomato’s turn. The pierogi was honored in May.
It really doesn’t get any better, now, does it?
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle, or email at [email protected]