Well, I seem to have hit my quota again this year. A little shy, perhaps, but got the basics done. I am speaking, of course, of fair attendance. I really like going to fairs. It’s the food, mostly. Nothing like hot grease wafting through the air to set the rustic mood and a culinary challenge.
I got to the Portage County Randolph Fair, the Great Geauga County Fair at Burton( where one of the neatest features is the number of trees still scattered around the grounds and the number of shaded tents and pavilions that are available for just sitting and “taking a load off”) and the Lorain County Fair at Wellington, Ohio—all within the space of about ten days. Yum! Portage County was the most hum-drum, food-wise. I did spot a pork parfait—layers of pulled pork and mashed potatoes—but for the most part, it was the usual suspects—bloomin’ onions, fries, corn dogs, deep-fried veggies, sausage sandwiches, etc.—nothing exciting. Randolph does have something not seen much and that’s the rabbit sandwiches. I haven’t stepped up to that one yet (“Tastes like chicken,” doesn’t do it for me) but I think that it’s good to be offering the public new possibilities. The usual boosters’ groups and churches were in their accustomed places; hope that they did well. I can remember when the only place my mother ever ate at the Lorain County Fair was at the Grange tent—homemade, dontcha know—but that’s been taken over by a catering concern because there just aren’t enough Grange members around who are still ambulatory.
The Grange was one facet of the Progressive movement of the late eighteen hundreds and early nineteen hundreds and is still around today, although in somewhat reduced form, since there are so few farmers relative to the size of the population. Officially titled The National Grange of the Order of Husbandry and founded in 1867, it is believed to be the oldest American agricultural advocacy group. We can thank the Grange, as it became known, for the Granger Laws regulating railroad charges and grain elevators—pretty important stuff out on the prairie, and for the rest of us, for that matter. The organization also was a factor in bringing rural free delivery of mail to the American hinterlands, co-operative extension services in the states (eventually involving 4-H), and the federal farm credit system. It has the only private monument on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Their offices were open to women and, indeed, women’s participation was required in some elected positions. My favorite character associated, though loosely, with the Grange, was the loose cannon Populist, Mary Elizabeth Lease, who was famous for saying that farmers should, “raise less corn and more hell.” Gotta love a woman like that.
Anyway, the food out on the midway is what really appeals to lowbrow tastes like mine but I’m always looking for the latest in fair fare. Best I could do in Randolph was the deep fried(of course) Wisconsin cheese curds. Those folks were really lacking in marketing skills; there was nothing to go with the crispy curds, no mustard, no vinegar, no catsup, no salt, nothing…not even any beverages that I could see. Lost opportunity. Much better luck in Wellington—some outfit called the Hunger Squad was peddling—among other things—sweet potato fries with maple ketchup, crumbled bacon and chopped scallions (sriracha aioli was available but hot is not my thing). Very tasty! That was only the side dish at this establishment; they had several other offerings that looked tempting and out of the ordinary. I think that it was a real food-truck operation and is available for catering gigs around the area. Another interesting operation was Wild Bill’s Beverages or something like that. You paid an unconscionably high price for a beverage—root beer, cola, lemonade, birch beer, whatever—in a tin cup with Wild Bill’s logo on the side, then you got to keep the cup and get free refills all day. Nice deal for anyone staying around for the whole time but for the “in-and-outers” or the just plain forgetful, not so much. The most incongruous menu item was at the Great Geauga County Fair, where I supped upon Crab Rangoon and birch beer. Sound like it came from a Grange kitchen? Amish maybe? ‘Fraid not, but it was tasty (even though the total amount of crab would have probably fit on my two thumbnails) and very illustrative of the diversity of the fair food scene. I also saw a trailer featuring selections from the Harry Potter book series; I saw sweet rolls, maple products(definitely a Geauga favorite), fresh apples and apple cider, more cheese—fried or not fried, pizza of every description and lots of elephant ears. Anyone who leaves a fair hungry is just not very adventurous.
And, of course, there are just the sights in general. Livestock, from rabbit & cavies (family Caviidae—guinea pigs) to llamas and alpacas, dairy cattle, beef cattle horses, ponies, miniature horses (not the same as ponies), pygmy goats, regular goats—meat or milk, if you can find it on a farm, even a mini one, you can probably find it at the fair. Except for fowl. This year, the State Agriculture Department decreed that no chickens or turkeys or ducks or any birds could be shown at the fairs across the state because of the danger of spreading the avian flu which has decimated flocks of birds across the country and caused the price of eggs, baked goods containing eggs, and even chicken meat to shoot up in grocery stores. Too bad for the kids who worked hard on their 4-H projects but better safe than sorry. Ohio has some pretty large commercial chicken and/or egg farms and we wouldn’t want them to suffer the same fate as the ones in Indiana. At Burton, even the display by the Geauga County Park System, which often has rescued birds and animals in its displays, had replaced all birds with stuffed replicas…less cage cleaning to do too.
Besides the animals and the food, fairs are a fantastic place to go “people-watch”. But don’t you sometimes wonder who’s watching you back?