After a summer of near-gluttony, stuffing myself with lobster rolls slathered in Hellmann’s, swilling rum punches by the gallon, I appreciate the potential dietetic austerity of autumn. As the trees shed their leaves, I too will shed my August roll. For a few September weeks, it works.
Then, Pavlov’s bell rings in the form of the Fryeburg Fair, an eight-day event held the first week of October and hailed as Maine’s “blue ribbon classic.” It’s a homage to a 1500-pound steer named Tony, folk wearing bib overalls and wide red suspenders, whoopee pie contests and Maine country life.
The fair has been going on for 166 years now and, for pal Sandy Boardman and me who go every fall, it’s as far removed from our genteel Kennebunkport lifestyle as can be.
Thousands of Mainers arrive in campers and trucks to ogle pumpkins weighing 790 pounds, witness black iron skillet tosses and marvel at the crosscutting and bucksawing contests on Woodsmen’s Field Day. And then there’s the best part — grazing through a bodacious midway of food outlets that out-calorie Dr. Oz’s hit list of forbidden comestibles.
After paying the $10 admission, we fortify ourselves with cider donuts, consult the fairgrounds map and head to the barns and exhibit halls. We eyeball the lop-eared bunnies, marvel at the vibrant colors of a prize-winning Guinea fowl, and stare slack-jawed at hogs nearly the size of my Samsung refrigerator. In all, the fair hosts more than 3000 head of cattle, horses, sheep, goats, hogs, poultry, rabbits and oxen.
As a knitter, I appreciate spending time in the Fiber Center with its display of the latest in crocheted lilac-hued toilet paper covers, intricately woven mohair blankets and woolen hats in a rainbow of colors. Ladies sit in their stations exhibiting techniques in knitting, weaving and spinning. Sandy waits patiently for me while studying the fairgrounds map for the best route to the oxen stalls.
The walkways throughout the fair are festooned with cornstalks and technicolor mums. They are also wide enough to allow a virtual caravan of adult scooters — few Mainers miss Fryeburg. Rosy-cheeked kids wearing 4-H tee shirts stroll by with their animals in tow — calves and baby lambs, brushed to perfection for an upcoming exhibition.
Our traditional lunch is sausage and pepper heros. After more than 20 years in attendance, we are loyal to our favorite spot which touts its own “private dining area.” (It’s actually a few picnic tables set up behind the cook trailer under a tarp, but it beats a wooden bench on the midway.)
Every day the fair features a unique event and for us it’s the greased pig scramble in the Pulling Ring. We get lucky and squeeze into front row seats. Nearly 2000 folk watch 12 kids, aged eight to ten, attempt to corral, then bag eight-week-old pink piglets slick with grease.
“One pig to a customer,” the Pig Master announces. Squeals from the piggies, the roar of the crowd as one of the kids nearly bags a piglet, plus the pervasive barnyard aroma make for unforgettable entertainment. It’s a wrap in 10 minutes.
And interesting enough, even this town deep in the Maine hinterlands can’t escape the current political scene.
Sandy and I missed the sheepdog trials, anvil throw, tractor pull and harness racing. But we’re already looking forward to next year’s fair. If you’re in Maine in early October, put this on your bucket list. Where else can you sample deep fried oreos?