Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Minnesota State Fair

This past Sunday a friend and I went to the State Fair. We go every year. I have a little list of "must dos" at the Fair: Poultry Barn to see the newest varieties of chickens, Horse Barn, one fairly tame ride on the Midway, and the Arts and Crafts building to see what won ribbons in stitchery. Oh, and eat. The Minnesota State Fair is famous for putting foods on a stick. I love the pork chops on a stick. They'd put sweet corn on a stick, except it sort of comes already on a kind of stick. The shuck is just pulled down to make a kind of handle, and that is wrapped in a napkin to keep the butter from running up your elbow. This year the new thing was deep-fried fruit, which was really good. A wooden skewer held pieces of pineapple, strawberry, apple, cherry, etc., which was dipped in a batter that puffed up crisp when it was deep fried – you can get almost anything to eat at the fair if you like deep fried food. Well, there is a milk bar where, for a dollar, you can get a cup of whole white or chocolate milk and they will refill it for free as often as you care to come back. But what's milk without cookies? And there's a stand that will sell you quantities -- up to a half-gallon bucket! -- of oven-hot chocolate chip cookies. And they overload the container, so there are a *lot* of cookies. Many people buy a smaller, cone-shaped paper of them. Ann and I did that, and carried them down to the milk bar. Heaven!

I took lots of pictures, and some came out. I’ll be posting them on my web site.

There was a lot of needlework worth looking at. I tried to get some pictures, and there should be one on here. It looks like shell or fabric flowers in a necklace, but it’s really BEADS! Thousands and thousands of white beads worked into three-dimensional flowers. Very striking as well as beautiful. There was a quilt in a merry-go-round theme, lots of bright colors. There was a windmill-themed quilt – I’m sure there’s a name for that pattern – that made me dizzy just to look at. I can’t imagine putting it together. There were two large pieces of Hardanger, gorgeous work. Every single tiny square was filled with identical perfect, tiny, braided threads in a kind of double loop. One quilt – I didn’t get a photo of it – won every single blue ribbon offered, a State Fair one, one offered by a quilt shop, one offered by a quilt club, and, I think, the Swedish Institute award.

We didn't see any chickens. The 4H (a future farmers club, very old and venerable) had won or lost all the ribbons there were for them, and were loading chickens, bunnies and sheep onto trailers. The adult competition hadn't arrived, so there were no chickens for us to see. But we did see the biggest boar hog, who weighted 1200 pounds, a considerable portion of which were testicles. Boar hogs are very obviously male, but this creature looked as if he had two huge pink balloons attached to his backside. There was also a mama pig with over a dozen piglets. A man inside the enclosure would pick up a piglet for the children to pet, and when the piglet screamed his head off the mother pig didn't so much as wiggle an ear. I remember back in my teens going with the family to visit Uncle Paul, who was then into pigs. Dad slipped over to the pigpen and snagged a piglet for us to play with. Then, as a joke, he pinched its ear. The piglet screamed and I thought that mother pig was going to rip down the boards of her pen and come have a word with us. She was roaring and banging so loud and hard us youngsters decided it was getting near our bedtime and retired into the house. But here this State Fair mama was totally indifferent to the plight of her baby. Sad.

We spent about two hours at the horse show. First came the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, about fifty strong, all on matched black horses. They did maneuvers to music, circles, "thread the needle" (making a big X and riding toward each other in the center, barely missing one another as they passed through). They did it one at a time, then in pairs. They did lance drill, thrusting the lances in different directions in unison, including to the sides and rear. The horses stood stock still, even though each lance had a little red and white pennant on it and often flew near their ears and eyes. We noticed each horse had a maple leaf on it, made by putting a stencil on its rump and combing the hair the wrong way.

The horse judging started with draft horses, seven teams of six percherons pulling big wagons, the drivers holding a huge mass of reins (two from each horse) in their hands. The horses had to trot, walk, and do a fast trot. They pulled into the center and the judge asked them, one team at a time, to back up four steps and come forward again. Some members of one team didn’t want to and the lead team went practically down on its haunches trying to push both the wagon and the other four huge horses backward. That team finished last. The team Ann and I picked out came in third. Then came the Morgans, being ridden Western style. Nice-looking horses, with beautiful heads. The very best, obviously best, horse was quiet, obedient, did everything called for perfectly. He was ridden by an older man with a big paunch, who sat in that saddle as if he'd taken root. He came in second, and I thought he'd been cheated. Then came the Arabs, ridden with English saddles, English Country Pleasure style -- no fancy stepping. They had to trot, canter and gallop. The horse I picked as the most beautiful had a bad rider or was badly trained, it was hard to tell which. He swung out of line, and kept trying to canter when he was supposed to trot, and refused to back up at all. He came in last. OTOH, my second favorite came in next to last, which surprised me. Then came the miniatures. Normally I don’t like miniature horses because, apart from being shown, what good are they? They can’t stand watch like a dog, or catch mice like a cat, or give milk, and I don’t think they’re good to eat. These bitty horses were pulling two-wheeled "sulkies," one ridden by a very tall and fat man, which didn't seem fair. Every one of them looked like miniature horses, except one, which was the littlest Shetland pony I've ever seen, complete with bushy mane and tail, very short legs, and a pot belly. He was the slowest one in there, but he was dead game, trying hard right up to the very end. I started to feel sorry for him, but pity doesn't work in horse shows, and he finished last. My second favorite won, a dark horse with a light-cream colored mane and tail. Then came the saddlebreds, with their curiously upright necks, but by then we were both tired and left for home. Anyhow, I just can't see why anyone would want to ride a horse who carries his head perilously close to his rider's nose. Go here and see some pictures of them:

But no chickens this year. sigh


Linda O. Johnston said...

Even without chickens, it sounds like a fun fair, Monica. Lots of other animals!

Monica Ferris said...

I'm sorry I couldn't get the photo of the beaded flower necklace to show up on the blog. My web mistress is this minute picking the best of all the photos I took, editing them a bit, and getting ready to post them on my web site: monica-ferris.com. There were some killer Hardanger pieces!

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Monica, I enjoyed your visit to the fair--vicariously! My husband used to sell organs (as in musical instruments--not body parts!) at the Illinois State Fair. It's a memory he does NOT care to revisit.

Monica Ferris said...

Joanna, how long ago was your husband selling organs? I've been to that huge marketplace under the stadium and I remember the place that sold (still sells?) electric organs. I remember when they were hugely popular in people's homes -- they replaced the "piano in the parlor" sign of respectable middle-class sophistication. My Aunt Norma had one and could play it well.