Patricia the winner, culinary queen of the Melbourne Royal Show

Patricia Surkitt is briskly mixing cake batter in her Wantirna kitchen as she rattles off the secrets to a good fruit cake.

“Definitely cutting up your fruit very fine,” she says, to the whomp, whomp of the cake batter mixing. I can imagine her wedging the phone between her cheek and shoulder to keep chatting as she works.

Patricia Surkitt, with one of her fruit cakes.Credit:Scott McNaughton

“And also letting the cake sit on the bench for half an hour before you put it in the oven. Bump the tin on the bench to get all the air holes out and for the actual mixture to settle. And then bake it on a low temperature.”

Does she use booze? “Oh, absolutely. I’m a brandy girl. Never sherry.”

Surkitt submitted an eye-watering 70 entries in this year’s Show, which has been rebranded as the Melbourne Royal Show. Marmalades, relishes and jams, rich boiled fruit cakes (her specialty), olives, Worcestershire sauce, kimchi, nougat, Turkish delight, lemon curd; the list goes on. “Yeah, I’ve done a few bits and bobs,” she says, modestly.

Patricia Surkitt prepares some of her entries at the Melbourne Royal Show.Credit:Scott McNaughton

Some items, like fresh cakes and scones, can only be made in the immediate days before they need to be dropped off for judging so, when we speak, she is frantically baking her remaining entries. She has taken two days off work, and her kitchen bench is entirely covered with ingredients. She delivered her dozens of entries on Saturday.

Does she use lemonade in her scones? I ask. She laughs. “No, actually! One of my first memories of public judging was a lady who entered scones made with lemonade and I can just remember it. The judge goes, ‘Oh. Scones should not be sweet, it’s what you put on the scones that’s sweet’. And that poor lady just about died in her chair.”

Patricia Surkitt submitting some of her 70 entries in this year’s Show.Credit:Scott McNaughton

Entering this many items into the Show is serious business. Asked whether it’s an expensive enterprise, Surkitt laughs again. She estimates she’s spent about $3000, including ingredients and entry fees, this year. “Don’t ever tell my husband what I spend!”

While food, beverage and produce contenders dropped off their entries on Saturday to be judged ahead of time, the Melbourne Royal Show itself will return next Thursday, after a two-year hiatus. The winning entries will be displayed at the Show.

Fancy some cake? These treats were all submitted on Saturday for judging, ahead of the Show.Credit:Scott McNaughton

The first day will fall on the one-off public holiday held to commemorate the late Queen Elizabeth, which organisers hope will mean larger crowds will be able to attend the show.

The Show contributes $244 million a year to Victoria’s economy, and has attracted up to 460,000 visitors in previous years. This year kids aged 14 and younger will receive free entry. Attractions include woodchop competitions, agricultural displays, a motocross stunt show, animals, rides, sideshows, kids’ entertainment and after-dark concerts. Tickets will only be available online this year, with no tickets available at the gate.

A packed showbag hall on the first day of the Show in 2015.Credit:Chris Hopkins

Last year the Show was on, Surkitt walked away triumphant, with five first places. This time, she’s hoping to match or better that result. But among the highs of Show competitions are disappointments, too.

“Three years ago at our last attended show, they had [an] apple pie [category], and I’ve got to say, I was really miffed. My apple pie was amazing, but an 80-year-old man beat me!”

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