Burton, OH: The Great Geauga County Fair

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OK, this isn’t a museum or anything like that, but for me, county fairs always seem to herald the start of fall, even if they are technically usually held in the summer; and despite the cold rain that’s been lashing down on London since the weekend, I’m definitely in an autumnal mood, so this week you get the Burton Fair (this is kind of a rambling, reminiscing type post with a bunch of subpar animal pictures thrown in at the end, so feel free to skip it and wait for the next museum post on Friday if you don’t want to listen to me blather on).  Technically, it’s the Great Geauga County Fair, but it’s in Burton, so there you are.  Geauga County is probably best known for Amish people and an absolute crapload of snow, but it’s also home to Ohio’s oldest fair, founded in 1823 and still going strong (you may also recall me mentioning the Apple Butter Festival some time ago, which is also in Burton)!  It’s always held over Labor Day weekend, and might not be as large as the State Fair, but is still a fairly sizable venue, particularly by the standards of British fairs I’ve visited (not to mention that there’s about 1000x more random fried foods at an American fair). For the first time in a couple years, I was back in Northeast Ohio when the fair was on, so I got to partake in this year’s festivities.

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I’m sure most of my American readers have been to a similar event before, but I’ll give you the basic set-up.  A large portion of the grounds are devoted to vendor booths, rides, and carnival games, but those things have never really interested me so much as the animals and various 4H buildings around the back of the fairgrounds.  I’m from the suburbs halfway between Cleveland and Akron, so my experience of farm animals, square dancing, and the 4H Club was pretty much limited to my annual visit to the fair, and I admit part of the appeal for me was always looking into this strange “country” world that I didn’t really understand (kids excited about gardening?  How odd!).  Of course, I also loved petting cute animals, and spending time with my grandparents, who always accompanied us; my grandpa especially loved it (and also loved the fact that senior citizens get free entry on Fridays).  Nowadays, my grandparents are gone, so fairtime is always a little bittersweet, but I still enjoy it – particularly the chance to stuff myself full of all the classic American foodstuffs that you just don’t get in Britain.

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While the Burton Fair doesn’t quite have the full creative range of fried things that you might find somewhere like the Texas State Fair (although I did spot deep fried pierogies, which are probably not as well known down South), you certainly won’t go hungry either (although if you have IBS like me, you might well pay for it later!).  Though I am willing to go off piste if something else appeals, there are a few items I must always consume.  One: A milkshake from the booth that is near the cow barn (yep).  All they sell are milkshakes, and they are super thick and amazing.  I always joke that they must have been pumped straight from the cow, but I’m sure they have to pasteurise in this day and age.  Awesome nonetheless, especially because in America, we believe in putting ice cream in our milkshakes.  Two: Hawaiian Shave Ice.  This is especially good on the really hot years, but I love it anytime.  Pink lemonade is my favourite syrup, but I usually go for the huge one where you can choose three syrups.  It is far superior to the Sno Cone because the finer grind of ice nicely soaks up the syrup, instead of turning into dirty ice with a pool of syrup on the bottom. Three: French waffles.  My grandpa would always buy a huge bag of these for us to take home (after much grumbling about the price) and we carry on the tradition.  A French waffle is actually based more on a Swedish pastry (although the American interpretation is thankfully sans cardamom), wherein a fluted iron is dipped into a thin batter, and then the whole thing is plunged into deep fat; a thin, crispy waffle emerges, and is then smothered in powdered sugar that will end up all over your clothes.  Greasy and divine.  If I’m feeling brave, I will attempt an elephant ear, but this year my confection of choice was a deep fried Snickers, because obviously a Snickers is far superior to a Mars Bar (Snickers and Twix are my two favourite candy bars).

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I do have to burn off all those empty calories, and that’s where walking around the exhibition spaces comes in.  A few of them are devoted to arts and crafts done by children, and the things they make can sometimes be a bit creepy (see several examples of this, above), especially the section where they demonstrate their sewing skills by making doll clothes (the clothes themselves are always very good, it’s more that some of the dolls the children use look as though they want to eat your soul), but there’s also plenty of cute things, like the parsnip family and that picture of a cat, and I always find it just a little depressing that 8 year old children have more artistic skills than I ever will.

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I also love the building where all the vegetables are on show, especially the giant sunflowers (they always tell you the height, and they are often over 14 feet), but the bee keeping display is my favourite, because they always have an array of honeys to sample.  There are also buildings holding the entries for the adult competitions.  They award prizes for various categories of baked goods, which I always enjoy admiring even if you don’t get to actually try them (probably for the best, as they start to look a bit rough over the course of the weekend).  There’s also prizes for sewing, maple sugar moulding (Geauga County is also known for its maple syrup, and there’s a Maple Sugar Festival held there as well), and even table arranging!

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And of course, there’s a whole building for flowers.  I’m not super into flowers or anything; I enjoy looking at them, although I don’t know the names of most of them, but the flower building is nonetheless a treat for the senses, especially if you come straight from the charming odours of the cow barn.

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Because I am a bookworm at heart, and love reading about a gazillion times more than any kind of outdoor activity, the highlight of my fair experience is picking through the shelves of the Geauga County Library booksale, which takes up an entire building right by the entrance; hardbacks are $1 and paperbacks 50 cents, so I grab as many books as I can justify hauling back to England (my three bookcases pay testament to this), but there’s so much more to enjoy that I haven’t even mentioned yet.  There’s always a band of some adorable old people playing trumpets and clarinets and things, there’s usually a big display of army memorabilia, and a huge field full of tractors (I find the tractors incredibly dull, but certain family members seem to enjoy them).  And I certainly can’t forget about the animals, who fill more of the buildings than anything else, because who doesn’t love adorable animals (though I feel bad for the ones that are going to be sold for food, but it doesn’t stop me wearing leather, so I guess I should just shut up).  I love the goats and rabbits the most, but they’re all pretty cute.  So I’ll spare you from my pictures of fair attendees with mullets, and just leave you with lots of animal pics!  And I’d definitely urge you to visit a county or state fair of this nature if you’ve never been, because they are clearly a riot of interesting sites, sounds, and smells (and that includes some of the people!).

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