It’s that time of year again!
Summer is winding to a close, and for some, school has already gone back into session. Sad as that may be, it heralds a fun part of the late summer/early fall season: the county fair.
A week ago, we were lucky enough to attend the Ulster County Fair with our cousins prior to their big move cross-country. It was a fun fair, with all the requisite exhibits and attractions.
There were lots of rides, with our favorites being the “Himalaya” (formerly known as the “Flying Bobs”), the carousel, the “fun house”, the giant slide, and even the bumper cars.
The fair also had all the fun “carny” games, from which my girls won a stuffed dog and three goldfish, all of which have, sadly, gone on to the big goldfish bowl in the sky. (Not to worry, we still have a tank with three other fish which we added to the family after we brought the originals home.)
Of course, everyone knows about fair food. Funnel cakes, fried dough, corn dogs, corn on the cob, sodas galore, and snow cones were all in evidence. My oldest wanted a cinnamon roll but we got too full on the hot dogs and hamburgers we ate while watching the pig races, so we never did go back to that stand to get one.
These are what people often think about when they think about a county fair. However, fairs–especially during the harvest season–often have much more.
One of our absolute favorite fairs in Maine is the “Fryeburg Fair” in Fryeburg, Maine. Arguably the most famous of all the Maine county fairs, the Fryeburg Fair is the quintessential Maine agricultural fair. Like the Ulster County Fair, they have animals (including a petting zoo), tractor pulls, food, and rides. However, the Fryeburg Fair, known as “Maine’s Blue Ribbon Classic”, has some outstanding exhibitions, all of which are worth the drive to Fryeburg, even if you don’t do anything else but go see them.
Every year, we go to the fair, and even though we don’t usually ride any rides–because we’re too busy doing other stuff–we have a fabulous time. We visit all the stables to see the various livestock (my daughters love the draft horses in particular), and take in the petting zoo. The kids love the up-close-and-personal looks at goats, cows, bunnies, and chickens.
Two of our favorite parts of the fair include the Agricultural Exhibitions and the Farm Museum. The farm museum includes a working smithy where a blacksmith plies his trade. There is also a farm kitchen where a group of women every day make a new from-scratch treat for everyone to sample. It’s amazing and a little sad that, for some kids, this is one of the rare times they ever see apple crumbles or rice pudding made from scratch. They sell a booklet of recipes, also, which we’ve bought–we loved the rice pudding that much!
The Agricultural Exhibitions houses displays from granges, extensions, local farmers and even individuals; the displays have always fascinated my daughter and myself, with all the canned foodstuffs on display. My oldest daughter was stunned to find that some people make their own pickles. To her, pickles are a food that comes from the Hannaford grocery store; certainly they are not something one makes themselves. Also suprising were the jars of jams, vinegars and even maple syrup.
Canning is one of those skills I wish I had; I was born in that weird time in history when “convenience” was just becoming the norm. My mom, who had canned in the past, no longer did so because it was easier to buy “store-bought” foods; thus, I just missed out on learning how to do it myself. I remember baking cookies with my friends and feeling sorry for the those who were unfortunate enough to get “store-bought” cookies in their lunches. I remember when Chips Ahoy were new on the market, and were so hard, crumbly and unappetizing that they were later forced to come out with “soft batch” cookies–both of which are still available on the market today. And I also remember my mom making all my clothes–she was an apprenticed seamstress at age 14 in WWII Italy, and is so skilled she made my wedding dress by incorporating all my favorite ideas, and she did so without a pattern. (And it was/is beautiful!)
Going into the Agricultural Exhibitions is fun, because it’s a look back at when people didn’t use “store-bought” products. They made their own; from clothes to quilts, afghans to pickles, canned foods to baked goods. Handmade/homemade rules at the Fryeburg Fair, and it’s a lovely peek back at the not-so-distant past of Maine–and America.
The Fryeburg Fair is the Queen of fairs in Maine; however, between now and September 30, when the Fryeburg Fair opens, there will be many local town and county fairs going on. Back in Northern California where my parents still live, the Humboldt County Fair is set to open tomorrow. The Humboldt County Fair holds a special place in my heart because it is the fair we went to every year–and it is also directly responsible for my bachelor’s degree!
When I was in college, my family worked all ten days of the fair in our own Shave Ice booth, with a machine my dad brought back from Hawaii. Those ten days (combined with the insanely low tuition rates in California in the mid-1980s) got me through four years of college–books and tuition combined.
I came to love that fair, and I got to know a lot of the people there. The guy at the “Pepperwood Corn” stand across from us used to trade us hot buttered corn on the cob from Pepperwood, California, just south of Ferndale (where the fair is held); we’d give him huge shave ices in return. I met the Marcy Brothers family one year, and became good friends with Kevin, Kris and Kendal. Kendal was closest to my age and thus was my best friend of the three (although I had a minor crush on Kevin). I was so disappointed for them that one of their songs was later covered by a “nobody” named Billy Ray Cyrus–he took their version of “Don’t Tell My Heart” and re-released it as “Achy Breaky Heart”. That song exploded in popularity, but I always felt it should have been the Marcys who got the fame!
One of my favorite stories of the fair was when my sister-in-law, Lori, went to watch the horse racing. She chose to bet on a horse that nobody figured would win, and really got ribbed for it. She almost got the last laugh, though…almost. Her horse did, in fact come in first. Unfortunately, it was disqualified because the jockey fell off the horse!
We still tell that story every year!
Your Challenge this week is this:
Make some time this week to research and plan to attend a town or county fair near you. Fairs are not just about the carnival rides, games, and food (although all of those are a big draw). Fairs are a great exhibition of the best an area has to offer. From agricultural displays, historical talks and presentations, livestock exhibitions, races, and local foods and products, fairs have a little bit of everything local that defines the history of an area.
It is at a county fair where you will meet those people who still do things they “way they used to be done”: canners, quilters, farmers, blacksmiths, 4H kids, bakers, photographers, artists–they all have a place at the fair to show off their wares and their talents.
Don’t miss your local fair. And if you’re in Maine, plan to stop by the Fryeburg Fair. Expect there to be a lot of traffic, but be patient: parking is plentiful but it takes a while to get into the lot. The wait, however, is well worth it!
Note: AlohaKarina will be taking a bit of a vacation this next week, and so posts will be spotty as a result. That’s also why today’s was a day late; we had close friends (“family of the heart”) visiting and spent today at the beach and barbecuing. Yesterday I spent the day working in my classroom, preparing for the coming year. I’ll try to participate in the Friday photo challenge, but part of my goal is to “unplug” for a week. That’s something we all need to do now and again!