All Images by Janet R. Stafford
As long as I’m blogging about fairs, I might as well bring us into the twenty-first century. For the past eleven years, I have been a participant, along with members of my church, at the Somerset 4-H Fair. Sadly, like many events, this has been cancelled this year due to the coronavirus.
It feels weird not to have the fair. This would have been my twelfth year working at our sausage, peppers, and onion sandwich booth. It takes amazing effort and coordination to pull it off, and it is a significant event for my church and for me. Not having the fair feels decidedly weird.
At the same time, it is nice not to undertake such an enormous effort this summer. Selling sausage, peppers, and onion sandwiches sounds so simple. But it isn't.
All the prep work and cooking is done in the church kitchen. Hot food is packed in full trays and half trays, which are put in big, white, insulated containers and sent by pickup truck to the fair. Then the containers are transferred into a cart and taken to the food tent. (No cars are allowed on the fairgrounds once the fair opens.)
The prep and cooking begins on Tuesday when green bell peppers and onions are cut.
Above: Cooking and cutting in the church kitchen.
Below: building the booth at the fairgrounds
The booth is stored in the garage of the house where I live, which is owned by the church and referred to as a "parsonage." We pack that thing up and take it over to the fair grounds, where we literally reconstruct the booth.
When the fair is over, we deconstruct it the next day, take it back my house, and stow it in the garage, where it sits to this day.
Our booth has a floor, which helps when it rains. Otherwise we would be standing in puddles. This is a real issue. We’ve had some giant downpours over the years and a major lake forms in the food tent in front of the ice cream-and-popcorn booth and our own booth. The 4-H workers come by and throw straw over the lake to sop up the soup, and this kind of helps for a while. Then it morphs into soggy straw.
And yet, people put up with the muddy straw just to get their hands on a sausage sandwich. They often tell us that they’ve been looking forward to our little masterpiece all year.
Serious-looking storm clouds The soggy aftermath
The fair starts on Thursday, runs through Saturday, and is open from 10 am to 10 pm. We work the booth in shifts to keep people from burning out, Predictably, we have lunch and dinner rushes and need to stay in communication with the church kitchen to make sure we have what we need to make those sales. (The money is split between the church and the youth group.)
I will miss the fun of working with our great team. But I’ll miss other things, too, like hearing the cows. They usually are shown in the tent across the road from us and when that happens we are serenaded with choruses of loud mooing. I’ll also miss checking out the other animals raised by 4-H kids - the llamas, goats, alpacas, and dogs, to name a few.
The fair’s food tent is the old-fashioned kind where various groups sell all manner of things to tempt your taste buds in order to raise funds for their church, synagogue, scouting, cultural, or other organization. That means you can find falafel, Chinese food, Greek salads, milk shakes, hamburgers, hot dogs, homemade lemonade, bubble tea, barbecue pork, and… oh my gosh I’m starting to drool.
Our fair does not have rides. However, it does have a stage, and on this stage every aspiring rock band and singing group in the county perform throughout the day. It adds to the general cacophony. I’ll have the Rock’n’Roll with a side of moo's and food tent roar please.
Even though we are far into the future as far as my character Maggie is concerned, I think she would recognize most of what goes on at the Somerset County 4-H Fair, excluding our modern conveniences and… well, the rock music. I know she certainly would appreciate the teamwork that goes into our church’s sausage, peppers, and onion booth. And I imagine she might like getting behind the booth and waiting - very politely of course – on customers, although I’m not sure she’d understand why we wear gloves and hair nets. Historically, she is located just before germ theory made its entry into the world. “Germs? What are those?” And then I’d have to say, “Never mind, Maggie. I’ll explain later.”
Like all of us, I don’t know what things will look like once we have emerged from this pandemic, but I do know this: the 4-H Fair has left me with many and well-loved memories. I also know that everyone (that includes you and me) will find ways to create new memories. Because that is what people do.
Stay safe and well, friends.
Janet R. Stafford
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder