This weekend I went to Eastern States Exposition, better known as The Big E. Like The World’s Fairs of the 19th century, The Big E is designed to showcase the agriculture and products of the New England States. Those products include food. Lots and lots of food.
For starters, there’s all of the typical food that you can eat at any county or state fair. Like fried dough:
Or GIANT CORN DOGS:
These are the greasy delights that we all enjoy before promptly becoming sick on the Ferris Wheel, and I’ve been known to enjoy them myself. But the Big E has so much more to offer, and that’s what I’d like to focus on in this post.
For example, one of the things that makes this fair unique is that it’s an exposition not just for a county, not just for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, but for all six New England states! Each state has a house that acts as an embassy (you are legally in that state while in its building) and showcase of its culinary glories. You can also usually buy scented candles and other such nonsense, but we all know where my priorities are.
We stopped into the Massachusetts building and started the day with some macaroni and cellar-aged cheese local to the nearby town of Granville. The cheese was pleasantly sharp and there were just hints of tomato in the mix – this was a far cry from boxed mac ‘n cheese. I’d have liked to purchase some cheese but didn’t think it would survive being dragged around the fair all day. No one likes weepy cheese.
Next we went to my favorite building:
This is the Rhode Island building. While I am Massachusetts born and bred, the RI building offers a treat that we cannot compete with:
That, my friends, is a hot bag of clam fritters. Also known as clam cakes, these little gems are worth the trip in and of themselves. Conversation actually heard as we stood eating these outside the Rhode Island building:
Little Girl: But mom, why do you want more fritters?
Mom: Well, Isabelle, because that’s why we come here.
Clearly Mom is raising her children right. Anonymous mother, I salute you!
Lest you think that these are just little balls of corn dough, let me assure you that there are indeed chunks of clam embedded in them:
While I did not indulge in it, Rhode Island is also home to coffee milk, which I believe has it all over chocolate or strawberry. I believe I am in the minority in this opinion outside of Rhode Island, however. Three cheers for that tiny state to the south with all of the bizarre regional cuisine!
That was the extent of our state building tour this year. Two of my fair companions did eventually return to the Maine building for the baked potato, but as I am personally unexcited by that treat I didn’t bother to document it. Forgive me, Maine.
Instead we headed over to the 4H buildings to look at the adorable and slightly pungent animals. Check out my Flickr if you enjoy pictures of cows and sheep! Since I’m focused on the foodstuffs, here, I’d like to draw your attention to the joys of the dairy bar:
This gentleman is a first-time patron of the Dairy Bar, a magical place where you can get a proper New England milkshake made with fresh milk. He’s enjoying the vanilla variety. For those uninterested in clicking my links, the difference between milkshakes in New England and the rest of the world is that here they do not include ice cream. That particular confection is called a frappe. Learn the distinction to avoid disappointment at your local soda parlor or ice cream establishment.
Also next to the Dairy Bar is a work of food art:
The artistry of this piece is jaw-dropping – look at those little cows! Quite a bit of butter goes into this ephemeral masterwork:
After enjoying the agricultural delights of the 4H barn we headed to the midway to play some games. While my companions excel at games like shooting out the star, skeeball, and plate breaking, my only talent is darts. I can pop balloons with a dart like nobody’s business. Sadly this talent doesn’t transfer to the plate breaking – I can very accurately hit a plate with a baseball, but not with enough force to shatter it. Perhaps I will train for next year.
In any case, all of that throwing worked up an appetite, so we headed to lunch. I decided to try a couple of fair treats that I’d never had before. The first was the fried pickles:
These were great – hot and salty, with a light, crisp breading. The frying seems to draw out some of the vinegar sting from the pickle. Though not, apparently, from the pickle eaters:
Oh, and they were prepared for me by the fine young men of Dr. Vegetable:
The Vegetable Therapist approves!
The rest of my lunch was a food I’ve eaten before, but not at the Big E – pierogies. Western MA has a big Polish population, so I’m not sure if these are a common fair food or specific to the region. I do know that the Bolton fair has spectacular galumpkis. (as a half-Pole it’s my duty to know these things.)
The Big E’s pierogies were tasty but a bit greasy. The aforementioned field expedition to the Main Building brought them to me – an assortment of potato, kielbasa, cheese, and cabbage filled.
I was partial to the cabbage, which had a nice sour flavor to complement the bland dough casing. The kielbasa were pleasantly salty – really just flecks of sausage embedded into potato. Certain table companions were too put off by the grease to truly enjoy them, but I believe that’s the hallmark of good fair food.
We finished off the day with a few more games and the always amazing Circus Museum. Check out the Flickr for lots of pictures of incredibly detailed circus miniatures.
My last food item for the day was a sarsaparilla float. This was some of the best soda I’ve ever had – just enough of that root flavor to be a nice complement for the ice cream – sweet but a little spicy.
All in all it was a grand day at the fair! Good fun, good people, and of course, good food!