PALMER -- Lovers of giant vegetables crowded the bleachers in the Farm Exhibits building at the Alaska State Fair on Friday evening with one question on their minds: Would the world cabbage weight record be broken?
Last year Steve Hubacek grew a 127-pounder that brought down the previous record for a colossal cabbage, 124 pounds set in Wales in 1989.
Alaska's Matanuska-Susitna Valley is famous for growing enormous veggies of the cole variety, especially cabbages. Long daylight and rich, damp soil get credit for spurring the rapid growth of this family of plants, which thrive in cooler temperatures and include cauliflower and brussels sprouts.
Humans were disappointed by this unsunny summer with its record number of consecutive rainy days. But there were indications that cabbages loved it. Hubacek had already turned in one pre-contest giant that hit 93.9 pounds, and rumors were he had a bigger one still in the field.
The gala event, a highlight of the fair since 1941 when farmer Max Sherrod grew a then-astonishing 23-pound specimen, the Giant Cabbage Weigh-Off took place next to areas where fairgoers could lift cabbage barbells or play soccer with cabbage heads. The "Cabbage Fairies" made an appearance in a conga line with maracas and colorful Carmen Miranda-style dresses and hats.
By 6 p.m., 25 cabbages with names like "Moose Bait," "Wannabe," "Kraut" and "Sluggo" were waiting their turns on the straw around the official weighing device.
But the tale of the scale proved disappointing. Half the entries had been weighed before one finally broke the 50-pound barrier. Grower after grower told tales of woe, of slugs, moose, hail and -- mainly -- too much rainy weather. None of the repeat contestants were hitting numbers even close to what they'd presented in state fairs gone by.
"It was a crappy year," said Scott Robb, a perennial contender in the weigh-off when his specimen weighed in at a mere 51.4 pounds, barely half the heft of his personal best in previous competitions.
Hubacek's cabbage came last to the scale. There was a loud burst of applause from the crowd of perhaps 500 as the weight was announced -- 105.6 pounds. No world record, but enough for Hubacek to repeat as state champion.
While cabbage growers had to settle for that, there was optimism in the fact that the 100-pound mark for Alaska crucifers has only been breached in the past decade. With the right year, the old number may still fall -- maybe next year. Or next.
Meanwhile, also in the Farm Exhibits, there was at least one genuine world record-holder on display. A long gourd vine grown by Dave Iles of North Pole spread over the 21-pound turnip and 24-pound rutabaga and 1,101-pound pumpkin and other huge produce, looking more like a decoration than an entry. At 46 feet and 8 inches, however, it stands as the longest ever recorded, according to fair personnel.
Answers were not immediately available concerning what, exactly, you do with a 46-foot-long gourd vine.
Find Mike Dunham online at adn.com/contact/mdunham or call 257-4332.
By MIKE DUNHAM