It’s not fair. But you can make it better.

Maine’s beloved fall fairs have been canceled this year – like everything else – because of COVID-19. That means Mainers have to skip yearly fair traditions like pig races, skillet tosses, baking contests and pumpkin gawking. It means no filling up on yummy fair foods like fried dough or bloomin’ onions.

Or does it?

With a little creativity and a sense of humor, you can replicate some timeless Maine fair traditions at home. OK, maybe you don’t have herds of sheep to shear or oxen to pull stuff or a Ferris wheel in your back yard. But you can certainly come up with your own takes on fair foods, contests and frivolity.

September and October are usually when the last of Maine’s fairs take place for the year. They include some of the best known, including the Cumberland County Fair, the Common Ground Country Fair in Unity and the Fryeburg Fair. So for ideas for your own backyard fair, think of the things you love about those fairs and see what you can pull off at home.

And if you need help with ideas, here are a few to consider.

Skillet toss events take place at several Maine fairs. This year, have one on your lawn. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

FLYING FRYING PANS

Several Maine fairs, including Fryeburg, feature a skillet-tossing contest. The contests started in rural parts of the country as a way for women to kill time while men were off roping steers or hunting or some such business, according to fair organizers. Another story circulated in Maine over the years that a woman who could throw a skillet with some accuracy had a certain amount of power over her husband. So skilled tossing contests became a way for women to display that power.

Some Maine fairs attract 100 contestants for their tossing contests. Most give contestants a couple throws and judge the best, for both distance and accuracy. So if you want to do this at home, just use chairs or Frisbees or something to mark off a tossing lane – that’s the accuracy part – and mark the distance with a tape measure. You’ll want some sturdy pans to throw. Fryeburg Fair uses custom-made steel pans. Many fairs have skillet tosses for women only, but you can determine your own eligibility. To see an example of some skillet toss rules, go to fryeburgfair.org. You can also go to that website Oct. 4-11 to see a “virtual fair” including videos and photos of fair events.

Longing for the Cumberland County Fair’s giant pumpkin contest? Try having a giant cookie baking contest at home. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

GO GIANT

It’s too late now to start growing a giant pumpkin, the 1,000-pounders that often show up in the legendary pumpkin contest at the Cumberland County Fair. But it’s not too late to bake a really big cake, or a cookie the size of your head, or a pie that could double as a truck tire. Why not combine the majesty of the giant pumpkin contest with the culinary mastery of a fair baking contest? So instead of judging the baked goods on taste, make it all about size. Make up your own rules, and if your home contest is a success, send those rules into your favorite fair to see if they might try it out, too.

EVERYONE PITCHES IN

The Common Ground Country Fair has a major focus on sustainable agriculture, and one of its annual events is a manure-pitching contest. It’s dubbed the Harry S. Truman Games, because the former president was known for a down-to-earth vocabulary, including the use of synonyms for manure. Farmers have to pitch manure, shoveling it into a pile to be used as fertilizer at some point, so this contest measures a practical skill. Contestants can use shovels or pitchforks in two different tests. One is about who can pitch manure the furthest. For the other, it’s who can come closest to a marked spot.

If you don’t have much extra manure around the house right now, try using wet soil or something else that’s heavy and messy. Then set up an area and some targets, and pitch away. The Common Ground fair is planning to hold live online fair events Sept. 25-27. The events are still being worked out, so go to mofga.org for more details.

Try making your own bloomin’ onion at home. Jeff Pouland photo

FRY, FRY, FRY AGAIN

You don’t need an industrial-strength deep fryer to replicate your favorite fair foods, just a deep pan and a lot of oil. One fair favorite you could try at home is the so-called bloomin’ onion, a whole onion sliced to look like a blooming flower, then deep fried. There’s a fairly straight-forward home recipe for it on the Food Network’s website. Another fair favorite is fried dough, topped with powdered sugar or maybe some cinnamon. If you’re not afraid to work with dough, here’s a fairly simple recipe on the King Arthur Flour website.

DIY BARNYARD

So much of a fair’s allure is about animals. But if you don’t have pigs in the backyard or oxen on the front lawn, maybe you can replicate some fair events with a little creativity. Cumberland County Fair has popular pig races where piglets are trained to run down a course to get to their favorite treat. Maybe a couple neighborhood dogs could race across the lawn for their favorite chewy meat product? Instead of an oxen pull, where oxen compete to see who can pull the heaviest load, have your kids compete to see who can lug the heaviest stuff while cleaning the garage or basement. Give the winner a blue ribbon, and a piece of that giant cookie you baked earlier.

 

 


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