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100 Things - Erie County Fair

Sometimes, when we’re lucky, two adventures on our Western New York 100 Things tour collide. That happened at our last stop, the Holland Speedway.

The Erie County Fair was about to open, and folks were talking about it. I learned that one woman I met, Lynn Easton, had won a blue ribbon for apple pie, in 2006.

I caught my breath. I had just entered a jar of plum jam, my first attempt at fair competition. We got talking about sugar and spice. And a short time later, when I was back in the grandstands, she flagged me down.

“Mary!” she called, over the roar of the race cars. “What I told you about my pie, the ingredients – that’s a secret.”

I yelled back that her secrets were safe with me. And I held my head high.

I felt part of a proud tradition.

Founded more than 175 years ago, the Erie County Fair is part of the fabric of our land. Not only is it one of the oldest fairs in the country, it is the largest county fair in New York, and the third largest in the nation.

Quote these statistics freely and loudly. The fair is all about superlatives. The biggest pig, the strongest Budweiser horse, the ugliest eggplant. (That is an unappreciated competition category, Non-Typical Vegetables.)

Fair food has mushroomed into a contest of who can most push the envelope. How do you improve on a taco? Pile the filling on fried dough, as they do at the Nya:Weh Village Cafe. Or how about Bacon S’mores on a Stick, praised by Andrew Galarneau, The News’ food critic? Look for that delicacy at Bubba’s Bacon.

Entertainment, from the bands on down, is also designed to fascinate. New this year are Circus Incredible and A Grizzly Experience. But there are also proven favorites like Hilby, the Skinny German Juggling Boy, and Jerry Ward, Wizard of Wood.

Dive in. You’ll be in good company.

Over the last decades, the fair’s image has soared. Thanks to increased interest in history and heritage, it’s hip to go to the Erie County Fair, to celebrate what we have.

As you gawk at the exotic, stop to savor the gentler sights.

The sheep bleating as they’re being sheared.

A pig asleep with his head in his bowl.

A boy nuzzling his horse, as they both await their turn in the Showplex.

The sweet shaded silence of the Nya:Weh Indian Village.

The Octagon Building, which dates to 1885.

The Ramblin’ Lou Family Band, local country legends. We lost Ramblin’ Lou earlier this year, so 2016 marks the first time in 50 years the band is playing on without him.

Go where you haven’t gone before. See something you haven’t seen. Go out on a limb. Remember, every trip to the fair is an adventure. It sure was for me, this year.

I didn’t win a ribbon for my jam. But I wrote about it in The News. And such is the warmth of readers that visitors came to the fair asking how the gal from the paper had fared with her jam, and where it was. So the fair put my jar on special display, with a copy of the story.

And does that ever make me proud.

Who wouldn’t want to share in our fair’s fair history? It’s a wonderful feeling. And I think I’ll have an Erie County Fair Beer, on tap on the fairgrounds and brewed according to the recipe that won the Homebrew Competition, to celebrate.

They are not long, the days of wine and roses, bacon dogs and bomber dogs and fried dough. But the fair runs through Aug. 21. We still have a window of opportunity before it’s back to our normal lives.

Seize it.


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