As I was walking my dog, Finn McCool, this morning I was thinking that this would have been a great day to be waking up at Grange Fair. As not only a county fair but an encampment of 950 tents and 1300 recreational vehicles—the largest of its kind in the United States—the Centre County Grange Fair hosts hundreds (even thousands) of overnight guests for more than a week in late August.
It was in the mid-50s last night; great sleeping weather. Children are still cocooned in their sleeping bags, their parents awake but bleary-eyed (hard work keeping track of teenagers at the Fair!). Gram and Pap are not only awake but already have had their coffee and are reading the obituaries in the CDT (“Hey, Dad, looks like [fill in name] won’t be at the Fair this year”). There is a low fog in the Bald Eagle Valley where I live; no doubt, in Penns Valley at the Fair, as well.
It would be like waking up in Brigadoon. Only in an RV.
Today is the day I find out how many prizes I’ve won in the canned fruits and vegetables exhibit competition. I say “how many” as opposed to “if” because Fifth Place is still a win. I entered canned items in thirty categories and, in the end, managed to finish twenty-six on my list. Earlier in the week, I had dejectedly resigned myself to twenty-two entries. I hadn’t enough time to finish (I do have a full-time job, after all) and I was spent. But, at 5 a.m. on Thursday (the day the entries had to be submitted), I got a second wind and rallied to the final count. Raspberry Wine Jelly with Basil & Garlic was number twenty-six.
On Thursday morning, I schlepped my jars over Centre Hall Mountain. At the top of the mountain, if you pull into the Mount Nittany Inn parking lot, you can see down into the fairgrounds. The wide sea of cars, RVs, tents, fair rides, and concession stands below is unmistakeable.
The portable road sign was familiarly flashing “CONGESTED TRAFFIC AREA AHEAD.” Going down the mountain at 11 a.m. was pretty clear, until I got to Church Street (Route 192), still a half-mile easy from finding a place to park at the Fair. (Finding a primo parking spot is always uppermost in every Fair-goer’s mind.) That night, after the Grange Fair Queen coronation, Your Dad’s Friends was playing at the Grandstand, so I knew that a much longer string of cars would be lined up the mountain later in the day.
Some of these folks were probably going where I was going, the Exhibits hall. Little did they know that my peach jam was going to beat the skin off their peach jam.
After entering Gate 1, and buying my week-long entry ticket and parking pass, I found a spot in Row 7 of the Lily parking section, about thirty cars in. Not too bad. I have two large boxes of filled jars, so they’re pretty heavy. The small dolly I borrowed from my office (for the Fair three years ago) came in really handy walking over the grass and gravel.
The line at the check-in table at the Exhibits hall entrance was relatively short and I was able to move inside to the catagory-tagging area fairly quickly. The ladies there were complimentary of my lid decoration and, as is inevitable when canners meet, we talked about recipes. I was anxious to see how many cherry-related entries there would be at this year’s Fair, since a hard spring frost had eviscerated the overall cherry crop in Central Pa., as well as in other cherry-producing areas of the Northeast and Midwest. But it was too soon to tell.
The submition process seemed more organized this year, and I left the hall feeling pretty confident. A warm peach dumpling (baked fresh on-site) awaited me at the Bissinger concession stand.