Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Oh, Yes, it is Fair Time!


It is true. I’m a sucker for county fairs. I love them. I want to marry them. Last year I went to three different county fairs plus the Spartansburg Fair. On multiple days. From the time I was a little kid on, I used to enter all sorts of things in the fair. Flowers and flower arrangements and pictures and painted ceramic animals. When I was older, I switched to baking and needlework. I want it on my tombstone that I once won the blue ribbon in drop cookies at the Warren County fair for my gingercream cookies. That is some cutthroat competition, I do not lie. I haven’t entered in lately, but I really plan to get back into competing at the fair within the next year or so. My ultimate dream in life, more than publishing a book or having someone who actually says things that I believe getting elected President would be to win the big homemaker award at the fair which is a special ribbon for a person who has the most wonderful all around fair entries in the household goods department. I’ll never do it, because I’m such a poor seamstress, but I can always dream.

Okay, it is easy to be dismissive of fairs and everything like that. David Foster Wallace wrote a really, really funny essay piece about a trip to the Illinois State Fair that was kind of meant for the non-fair-going audience which really kind of played up the hickiness and oddity of the whole thing. But, if you look at the fair as kind of a trade show for people who live in the country, it becomes much more plausible. Because, really, that is what it is. At the vegetable competitions, you can see what other people are growing. You can stop by the commercial buildings and learn about different water systems and banks and electric companies. All the big ag tractor people set up and show off their new models. All the state, county, and federal land management agencies have informational booths and tables. The political parties are there handing out freebees and registering people to vote. At the Spartansburg Fair, the local medical clinic sets up and does health screenings and even gives out free tetnus shots, which I will definitely take advantage of this year as I'm coming due.

You can check out new breeds of chickens and ducks and geese especially, and a lot of people offer rabbits and things for sale right at the fair. It’s great for kids, because they can sell the animals they raised all year at the the livestock auction, and it’s especially great for people to get around animals and walk around all day and realize that there is a lot more to do in life than just watch things on TV and play video games. If you want to plan on moving out of town, it’s really inspiring, and if you are already set up with a little land, it’s a good way to “shop” for things you might want to fill it up with. And like at a regular trade show, there are usually a lot of fair specials where you can get discounts on anything from a tractor or a four wheeler or a fancy sewing machine.

I never got over being horse crazy. I can’t understand how these people have all these horses, though. I know they cost a lot, and then you have to take care of their feet and take get vet care, and the tack costs a lot, and they eat a ton. Horses are surprisingly fragile, and you can’t just blow off buying hay and chop spruce boughs and throw them in the pasture like you can with a goat. And you have to have a real fence, because a horse can go a long way when it gets out, and, also unlike a goat, when it gets into things that aren’t its regular food, a horse can get very sick and die very fast. My goats have been known to snack on latex gloves with no adverse effects at all. And when they "run away", I never have to look much farther than the nearest piece of landscaping or a tomato patch. The goats stay better than dogs. They walk with me better than the dogs, too! When I want the edges of the pond trimmed down, all I have to do is drag Don the goat down there with his brother Matty and let them rip. I take a book and have a nice old time. Les chevres preferent Proust, naturelment! Pardon my French! I can't spell in English, let alone French.

Eventually, I want to get a pony to have up here. For my nieces and nephew. “Yeah, right, whatever,” as my four year old niece would say. I’m pretty sure that I could pick out a good pony that I could ride, too, as the the munchkins are starting to catch up with me in size. They definitely are getting their height from someone other than my sister who has been having the “I’m taller than you!” argument with me since we both quit growing at about age eleven. And we were not tall eleven year olds!

So, right now, until I can get the lower pasture cleared and fenced and get a barn built down there and be able to take care of a horse well enough to not get called in to hooved animal rescue, I really look forward to the fair. I like to watch the shows in the ring, but also, they have harness racing at Crawford and sometimes at Erie which is a lot of fun to watch. the draft horses are the best, though, and for drama and excitement and competition and (a little bit) of danger, I go to the draft horse pulls as often as I can.

I’ve never been to a tractor pull, and people keep thinking that I would go just because I like to watch things pull heavy things, but it is not so. In a draft horse pull, teams of two hitch up to a load and try and pull it a set distance. If they can do it, there is more weight added, and they try again. These are some big horses. The heavyweight teams have horses that easily go a ton apiece. They also wear a couple hundred pounds of harness and just walk by, jingling. They have they slow way of stepping, but they are so big they still go by fast.

The early rounds are almost casual. At the lightest weight, drivers can even skip pulling at all. Depending on the competition style, the horses are either pulling a dynamometer truck that has a mechanism in it that creates as much pressure on the wheels as they are pulling that round or, more commonly -- I’ve heard it called “Ohio” style -- they pull a boat or sled with concrete weights ratcheted down to it on a packed clay track. I’ve been to both kinds, and they each have an appeal, but when the boat is used, and the weights get high, the horses can see that the sled is bigger, and they get more excited. Then, you get to see who is the better driver and which teams work together. There is a lot of drama because, even though the drivers and teams get three chances to move the load, the horses are living creatures. If they get flustered or get on a bad night, even the best team can get knocked out relatively soon in the competition.

At the end of the competition, some of the horses are so worked up, they try and bolt away. Sometimes, you get to sit quite close to the pulling track, and I’ve had to leave my seat more than once. I’ve seen horses throw shoes, snap harness, step over the traces and even slip, but I’ve never seen any terrible injuries, which is one of the best things about the competition, because it is tense and exciting but not really risky for the animals. By the end, it all gets very dramatic, because you’ve been watching the drivers and horses come out for sometimes a couple of hours, if it’s a big competition. You’ve picked your favorites and the horses are usually pretty fired up. And there’s a whole weird, professional golf element where, especially at the end, you just try to sit as still as you can while the horses are pulling because if you were to make a mistake and clap too early or make any sound like saying “go”, the horses might hear “whoa” and quit before they pull the distance. The drivers’ helpers often follow along behind the sled, holding up their hands to the audience to remind us to keep quiet, and, I kid you not, you can still hear people gasping and “ahh” -ing, it is just so darn exciting!

The Warren County fair is this week, and it is about the earliest in this area, and it has a great horse pull where the competition gets up to 10,000 pounds on a regular basis. It’s inside under the lights in the same building where they have the big country music concert earlier in the week, and you can sit at floor level if you want. But the Crawford County Fair, which is the biggest in the state is coming up soon. I like the horse pull at Warren, but I try to get to Crawford for everything else at least twice during the week of the fair. I bet I’ll spend the equivalent of a week of days at different fairs this month, and I’ll enjoy every second of it!

Here’s a recipe for officially blue ribbon winning cookies. Even my molasses-hating sister can’t resist these if I put the frosting on them!


1/4 c. Shortening (or soft butter)
1/2 c. white sugar
1 egg
1/3 c. molasses
1/2 c. water
2 c. flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt (I always leave the salt out of everything!)
1 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cloves

Temp. 400

Cream together fat and sugar. Add molasses and egg and cream. Blend water on a low speed. Sift together flour, soda, and spices into wet ingredients and combine. Drop by teaspoons onto a greased cookie sheet. Cook for 8 minutes until middles are springy like cakes and bottoms are just starting to get some tan color.

Let cool.

Frost with a thick glaze of confectioners sugar and milk. Put a couple tablespoons of milk in a shallow bowl and add confectioners sugar. For extra yumminess add a couple drops of almond extract to the glaze. Dip the tops into the frosting bowl and shake off. Frosting should be opaque but not spreadable. If you can see through it or it runs off the cookies, it’s too thin, add more sugar. Top before the frosting sets with a sprinkle of ground ginger.

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