Flavors of the Fair – good for the body and the spirit


The annual Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society Fair is a treasure trove of attractions, something to please visitors of every age and inclination. From the traditional agricultural displays and events that are the heart of this nearly 150 year-old country fair to the bright lights and hubbub of the carny with its games and careening rides, everything has its fans.

It’s the competitions — the horse pull, woodsmen’s contest, dog show, and more — that draw many to the Fair, both to participate and to watch. Farmers bring their oxen, sheep, pigs, and fine hens to be judged; home bakers, gardeners, and handicrafters look ahead all year to entering their best cakes, squash, flowers, quilts, and knitwear in hopes of a blue ribbon. Even those who don’t enter enjoy meandering through the Ag Hall to view the jams and pickles, paintings and photos, and all the other colorful fruits of their neighbors’ labor.

Those with a mind to can shop ’til they drop for exotic Eastern clothing and accessories, cozy and fashionable sweaters and shawls, jaunty summer hats, handmade jewelry, African crafts, and an array of toys, glittery souvenirs, and balloons. Daring fairgoers, especially the youngest ones, love the rides; the nighttime carny, chaotic and bright as day, holds the promise of adventure.

Others prefer a stroll through the fiber tent where artisans with spinning wheels and looms ply their traditional crafts beside the creatures that provide the fleece. Venture down in back to the animal barns where livestock meet, greet, and fill the air with farmyard sounds. One barn also boasts a fascinating display of antique farm equipment. The midway stage hosts kids’ shows by day then entertainers: Johnny Hoy, the Sting Rays, Joel Zoss, and others keep it rocking at night while acoustic musicians offer traditional tunes under the trees.

But when all is said and done it’s the food we all remember best — those sinful and sweet, greasy and delicious, spicy, saucy, calorie-laden dishes we eat just once a year. At the Fair dieters can devour strawberry shortcakes and sausage subs with a clear conscience; mothers simply smile as their children gulp down another candy apple and snow cone; grown men wolf fried dough with chocolate sauce. Who hasn’t enjoyed a loaded cheeseburger from the West Tisbury Firemen, ribs from BBQ Bill’s, and a bin of tempura all at one meal?

Temptations abound at the Cushing Carnival whose vendors offer belly-busting decadence from foot-long hotdogs to Italian sausage, fried dough with all the fixings, hot fudge sundaes, and of course cotton candy. Feasting at the local midway is a gastronomic adventure for most fairgoers and the newest offerings add to the appeal.

This is the first year for Everett Whiting and Tim Laursen’s booth where the two Vineyard boys will do a traditional Island pig roast. Tim and a buddy built the sturdy steel cooker and Everett has been raising the pigs in a field near the fairgrounds. The pair will cook nonstop all weekend, offering roast pork sandwiches and plates with Island-grown veggie side dishes.

Serving another local delicacy, Todd deBettencourt did a booming business when he opened a corn-on-the-cob booth last year so he’s back again, with dozens of field-fresh ears from Morning Glory Farm and plenty of butter for slathering.

If you prefer your corn popped, try Huff’s Kettle Korn, a salty-sweet sensation, also new this year from Pennsylvania and sure to be a new addiction for many.

Even with all the newcomers you can’t go wrong with the tried and true. Jim Pringle and his motley Cozy’s crew are still at it, simmering sausages and meatballs for their hefty subs; lobster rolls and chowder from the venerable Bill Smith’s M.V. Clambakes booth will fill your seafood hankering. Carnivores can rest easy, confident that the firemen are grilling burgers and hotdogs, and BBQ Bill White has once more made the trek from Vermont with his mouth-watering smoked ribs. Cheese fries, egg rolls, pizzas, gyros, how to decide? On the sweet side the Dancing Smoothie Guy whirls fresh fruit into a delectable drink to the sounds of ’70s music. Splurge with a strawberry shortcake, or support Island Children’s School with a double-dip cone.

When you’re feeling full, work it off by spinning your partner in front of the stage, toss darts or pitch balls at a game of chance, or work up an appetite at a competition hefting an axe or tossing a skillet. If your stomach wasn’t big enough to hold everything your eyes craved, if there were more fun things to do than hours to do them, take heart! There are four full days to savor every delicacy the Fair has to offer.