I've always loved a county fair. As a kid, I loved to go and look at the displays of perfect vegetables grown by proud gardeners, entries of home-canned foods and layer cakes, drawings and stitcheries. I loved fair food. And most of all, I loved visiting the animals in the barns. I really haven't changed much.
The closest fair to me, though, is disappointingly citified. It has the carnival midway and rides, concerts and tents with local businesses, yes, but there's nothing left of homely skills and rural ways. This weekend, along with world's-most-patient husband, my parents, my brother and his fiancée, I went to the good honest agricultural county fair I remember.
All the delights were there. I welcomed the preserves, the home arts, the 4H displays like old friends. I happily indulged in the usual square meal of funnel cakes and fresh lemonade. And none of your pre-made funnel cakes briefly rewarmed in the deep fryer, either. These were the real thing, batter drizzled from the pitcher directly into the hot oil and lifted out, delicate and scrumptious, to be showered with confectioner's sugar and pulled apart gingerly, nearly burning your fingers!
There were new treats, as well. Fresh, sweet roasted corn on the cob, served on a stick and doused in melted butter. Crab cakes deep-fried in a pastry wrapper. Fried Oreo cookies. "Curd snacks" from the Wisconsin cheese booth, soft irregular chunks of just-made cheese not yet formed into a mold and aged. Tasting rather like cottage cheese, but with just a touch of Cheddar tang and saltiness. And then some pit barbecue to round things off with a return to tradition.
In the car on the way to the fair, clicking around the radio dial, we happened to hear Garrison Keillor of Prairie Home Companion fame, telling one of his slow stories about a woman preparing to serve breakfast after a visit to a state fair. Melting two pounds of butter, spearing the toast on a stick for dipping. Well, I could just about understand that.
Visiting the animals was as much of a thrill as always. Of course, now that spinning has me in its grip, I see the sheep and goats and alpacas and long- haired bunnies a little differently than I used to. I recognize some of the breeds. I handle the wool samples as if I were at a fiber festival, trying to discern their spinning qualities. I look at this regal llama and think, my, that's a lot of straw to pick out of his fleece!
But at the county fair, there were also animals I don't get to see at the fiber festivals. There was a brand spanking new baby, not too steady on his legs yet, having a rest.
There were soft, velvety short- haired bunnies. There were ducklings and chickens, ponies and mules, and a little donkey. There were tiny piglets with their mama.
There were other piglets, too, these a little older and feistier, scampering headlong around a little sawdust track much to the delight of crowds of children.
And among the quilts and the knitted entries, the home arts displays had one more unexpected bit of fun in store for me: a crack fleece- to-shawl team. These gals, a team of four in their matching themed costumes, take the raw, unwashed fleece there on the floor and with three spinning wheels, one loom pre-warped with hand-dyed yarn, and three hours of non-stop effort, produce a beautifully textured, six-foot long hand-woven shawl.
I've heard about these at the fiber festivals but had yet to see one. How this all gets done in three hours is beyond me, so I was eager to check it out. The team members answered questions graciously while ticking steadily along in their well-choreographed efforts. It was fascinating.
I flitted from one thing to another and finally headed home tired and happy. I never even made it to the carnival rides. After all, there are other carnivals, but there's nothing like a good old-fashioned county fair!