Met with a lack of success in finding frog balls during my Opening Day fly fishing trip, I was back at the cabin this past weekend, this time with The Wife, hoping to track down the elusive and delectable pickled morsels.We first found these little globes of goodness a couple of years ago at a wine tasting room in the Sierra Nevada foothills. That’s how we found ourselves near the little town of Angels Camp. Perhaps you know it better as “…the ancient mining camp of Angel’s,” or as the setting for “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.”
What better place or time to find frog balls than at the Calaveras County Fair & Jumping Frog Jubilee?
The Calaveras County Fair is a relatively small affair, condensed into a few buildings, with the obligatory display of hit-and-miss engines powering pumps. One powered an old wash tub. Filling space in one of the buildings was the regular complement of vendors hawking their goods, some unique, some tasty and a few suspiciously smacking of snake oil. Other buildings housed the winning entries in horticulture, art and photography, as well as a display of locally produced wines. Our visit was flavored by the requisite fair food: corn dogs and cotton candy.
Most surprising was the entertainment value of the jumping frog competition. Since 1928, and inspired by Mark Twain’s story, frog jumping is a serious sport in Angels Camp. After all, there are rules:
An amusing kids’ competition is held to the side of the main stage, with all kids encouraged to kiss their frogs for good luck. Most precious was the look on the younger kids’ faces when their frogs took flight.
1. Must be at least four inches (4”) from nose to tail.
2. Must begin jump with all four (4) feet, including toes, on the eight inch (8”) launch pad.
3. No substitutions.
4. Evidence of jumping the same frog twice will result in disqualification and forfeiture of prizes.
1. The distance will be measured on the third jump in a straight line from the center of the pad to the tail of the frog. A walk or skip is counted as a jump.
2. If a frog jumps into the Jockey or the Jockey’s equipment, the frog will be disqualified.
3. If a frog jumps into other people or other people’s equipment on the stage, the Jockey may allow a re-jump or take the mark.
4. During the jump only the person jockeying the frog may move ahead of the launching pad.
5. Frog catchers shall be on the right– or left-hand corners of the stage and cannot move until the frog has finished jumping.
6. The jump must occur within one (1) minute from start to finish. A one-minute clock will start when the Announcer announces the Jockey’s name. If the jump is not completed within one (1) minute the horn will sound and the frog will be disqualified.
7. Touching the frog after it leaves the pad is cause for immediate disqualification.
8. All marks are final. Any interference by a participant or team member may be cause for disqualification.”
On the main stage, however, the competition was serious. Veteran “frog jockeys” competed alongside youngsters. Organized teams competed for top honors, including a trophy at least three feet tall and cash prize of $750. A frog that beats the world record of 21’ 5¾” can earn $5,000 worth of greenbacks for the jockey.
We ended up spending more time than expected watching folks flail their arms, hoot, holler and jump in an effort to motive their amphibian friends. (Not to worry, these athlete frogs, after just about 30 seconds of competitive effort, are pampered at a frog spa under the main stage.)
This year’s winner was a frog named “4Peat,” jockeyed by Michael Wright of Team Bozos. 4Peat’s three jumps totaled 19′ 1”.
Alas, we were not to find frog balls. Not at the fair, not in local stores. It seems that the purveyor of these spherical snacks pushed prices a bit too high for the retailers we talked with. It was still a good time.
*No, they’re not real frog balls. They’re pickled Brussels sprouts. The story goes that the man who would make these delicious orbs needed a name for his product. His little sister, when served the vegetable at about six years old, decided that the odd green things on her dinner plate were green like a frog and round like a meatball, thus “frog balls.”