The Fryeburg Fair, Maine

The only thing that’s better than spending a day with my family, is spending a day with my family AND farm animals AND a plethora of unhealthy fair food! And to my utter delight, that is exactly what happened this past October. The weekend before my birthday, I had a work trip that brought me to the states, and I couldn’t pass up a cheeky 24 hours in Maine with my family before flying back to Amsterdam. I haven’t heard my family sing happy birthday to me in more than nine years, so it was an extra special visit as we were able to have a little birthday gathering in my honor, followed by a day at the Fryeburg Fair, which topped off a very magical Maine weekend.To be honest, the timing of my visit kind of sucked, as my parents had just sold their house and were three weeks away from their big move! At first I thought the fair might just be a sister outing, as my parents were both bogged down with moving-related tasks, but my mom somehow managed to plow through her chores on Saturday, which meant that on Sunday she was able to join us at the fair!  And so bright and early, the Ronca ladies climbed into the car and drove up to Fryeburg, Maine. As you can see, we were pretty excited to make it to the fair grounds!Growing up, we always went to the Topsfield Fair in Massachusetts, but when I was 12 we moved to Maine, and the Fryeburg Fair became our new annual fair jam. I actually remember skipping a day of middle school with Katie when we were 13 to spend a day at the fair (can you believe we’re now 31 and still best friends?!) and another year my mom let me bring three friends to the fair to celebrate my birthday. I’m a hardcore fair girl and have been dozens of times over the past 20 years, under white skies and in the rain, but this past year was by far the most brilliant fair weather I’ve ever experienced. The skies were bright blue without a cloud in sight, and the day was a balmy 68 degrees with many people walking around sans coat.
If you’ve never been to a proper New England fair, you are missing out. Typically, it’s a week-long celebration, where farmers gather to tout their crops and livestock. Think pig scramble, poultry shows, sheepdog trails, horse pulling, flower shows, wreath making demos, and tractor pulls, just to name a few! There are blue ribbon events for everything from gourds to pies, a woodsman day, harness racing, and numerous agricultural and garden centers. There are also ample local craftsmen selling their wares, food stalls, and carnival rides, so even if you’re joining as a spectator, there’s a little something for everyone!And while nothing beats beautiful blue summer weather, there’s something about fall traditions that are just my favorite. Warm flannel materials, bountiful harvests, all of the vegetation sporting brilliant fire-colors. The fair is a celebration of all of these things – when our Maine community comes together one final time in the sun before the weather turns cold and we all go into a long hibernation over winter.Our first stop at the fair was the goat playground (so much fun to watch these little guys clomping around on big wooden blocks and slides!) followed by a stroll through the goat pen. Goats are by far my favorite farm animal, and I love their playful and friendly nature.I legit had a proper photo shoot with this guy, who was hamming it up for my camera and simultaneously begging for a little ear scratch.Outside, all of the cow pens were decorated for the season with scarecrows, hay bales, and pumpkins.Some of the dairy cows were outside in the sun, getting primped for the livestock shows.And while I could have admired goats and cows all day, there was also a huge assortment of fair food to taste, and so we knew we had to get started early with the sampling!I kicked things off with a hot apple cider, my favorite fall drink that is unfortunately unobtainable in Europe. Imagine my surprise when I first moved to England and ordered an apple cider, only to find myself served a tall glass of sparkling alcohol. In Amsterdam the cider pickings are even more slim, with processed apple juice on the shelves but no cider to speak of. And so every October when I crave fresh donuts and hot apple cider, I console myself with a warm stroopwafel and chai tea, but it’s just not the same.Hot apple cider happily in hand, we then set off to find some food for Jess, who was getting a tad hangry.She chowed down a corndog and then ordered a bloomin’ onion, which was incredibly lucky for me as they tend to be a bit too big for one person to tackle alone!So we chowed into a big, deep-fried onion, with both ranch and chipotle sauce for dipping!In addition to checking out the animals, I also love people watching at the fair. There are so many beautiful Maine faces, and I especially appreciate how Americans always tend to sport seasonal attire. In the Netherlands, people wear the same dark colors, denim, and sneakers all year-long, which makes getting dressed in the morning fairly easy, but the seasons don’t feel really differentiated. In Maine, fall feels extra festive when you are surrounded by fuzzy North Face and Patagonia pullovers, plaid button downs, and sturdy leather shoes.In between the snacking and the people watching, Jessy and I also found some more bounty – this time in the form of a huge bag of salted caramel corn! To be honest, I didn’t buy one food item all day (other than my apple cider) as I was happy to have little nibbles here and there of my sister’s food! I love sampling a bit of everything as opposed to digging into a big dish of my own. Once fueled, we found my Mom and Liz and walked through some of the blue ribbon garden centers. All kinds of crops are reviewed and up for various prizes – everything from pumpkins to peppers are on display.There’s also an award for biggest pumpkin, which never fails to amaze me!In addition to all of the agricultural eye candy, there’s also an opportunity to take home some of Maine’s freshest produce. I always try to support the local farmers and purchase a haul of honey, jams, chutneys, and chocolate so I can enjoy a taste of Maine in Amsterdam.Nothing beats a fresh cup of mint tea in Amsterdam with some Maine orange blossom honey :)After our gander inside, we returned outdoors to the fair grounds to soak up a bit more sun . . .  . . . and also sample some more fair food! My mom got a hot apple crisp and Liz got a caramel apple, and I indulged in a few bites of both :) To be honest, my all time favorite fair food is a caramel apple dipped in peanuts, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve developed allergies to both nuts and apples (in addition to a thousand other things), so I have to make due with a taste of my sister’s candy apple, and hope my mouth doesn’t get too numb in the process!But that one bite is always so, so worth it!My mom was also pretty happy with her apple crisp :)After our eating, we finished the trip as we had begun – in the livestock centers.And while I loved the goats, the marshmallow-looking bunnies were also so, so adorable!And then in the pig pens, we stumbled upon a few newborn piglets! Had we arrived an hour or two before, we would have seen their birth.However, seeing blood on their little pink bodies was graphic enough for me, and I marveled at their little tails and toes for a good 10 minutes.Our last livestock stop was to the sheep pens, where we met some new friends in various phases of hair growth. Some had fuzzy faces but bare bodies.While others had been completely sheered and wore big warm hooded jackets to keep them warm.Outside, others lined up for their haircuts, which must have felt pretty nice in the warm sun!As the fair got more and more crowded, we knew it was time to head home. We’d had a great time checking out the animals, supporting our local craftsmen, and sampling a plethora of fair food, but none of us love big crowds and the bright skies were attracting more and more people as the day wore on!And so we headed back to 76 Beech Ridge Road. It was the last time I would ‘go home’ to this house in Maine, as by Christmas my parents would be living in a new house. Before I left for Amsterdam, we took some family photos outside.I love this place and these people. And am really looking forward to experiencing new seasons with these folks, wherever life may take us.

xx Ali


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