EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 27, 2012

Take me to the fair

It's all about tradition at the Topsfield Fair

By Will Broaddus
Staff Writer

---- — Like sumo wrestlers stepping into the ring, entries in the All New England Giant Pumpkin Weigh-Off will start arriving at the Topsfield Fair tomorrow.

Then slowly, very slowly, forklifts will deliver the pumpkins to the scales.

It’s a ritual that has become one of the most anticipated events at the fair, which starts tomorrow at the fairgrounds on Route 1 and runs through Columbus Day.

With so much to see and do, from the midway to the barnyard animals to the Flying Wallendas, it’s hard to choose a favorite. So we’ve rounded up a sampler of fair activities you may want to check out.

Great pumpkins

Last year’s winning giant pumpkin weighed in at 1,668.5 pounds, and this summer’s hot weather may have produced something bigger, said Mary Ann Hoomis of Ipswich, who, with her husband, George, is an associate director of the New England Pumpkin Growers Association.

But the heat has also taken its toll, and while some entries may be larger than last year’s, there may also be fewer of them, she said.

“It won’t pollinate over 90 degrees, unless you put ice packs on it, which pumpkin growers do,” she said. “If you did not get your pumpkin pollinated in June — we had that streak of hot weather, and everything aborted.”

The weather will have no effect on the winner’s purse, which is also a decent size, awarding $5,500 for first place — provided their pumpkin was grown in New England — and $3,000 if it came from somewhere else.

But for the first time this year, there is also a reward of $10,000 for any entry that weighs in at one ton. To reach that, a pumpkin would have to be much bigger than the current world record, which was set last October in Canada at 1,818.5 pounds.

Pumpkins begin arriving at 1 p.m. on Friday, and weighing begins at 4 p.m.

Scouting style

Tradition is an important part of the Topsfield Fair, which is the country’s oldest fair, and is being held for the 194th year.

That makes it the perfect place for the Girl Scouts to celebrate their 100th anniversary, which they will do by holding a fashion show this Saturday displaying the history of Girl Scout uniforms.

“There’s probably about 20 uniforms,” said Leslie Voss, a troop leader from Topsfield who organized the show.

“It started off almost safari style, with a real camping outfit, although back in 1912 girls were wearing long skirts with a hat and belted tunic,” she said. “In the ‘20s and ‘30s it became an A-line dress, a light green khaki with a slightly different hat that still had a scarf, and the badges ran up the arm.”

One uniform that may surprise people, Voss said, is an all blue Mariner Girl Scout uniform from the ‘40s and ‘50s, for Scouts who were involved in sailing and other nautical activities.

The uniforms, which came from a museum at the Girl Scout Council headquarters in North Andover, will be modeled by current members of troops in Danvers and Topsfield.

All Saturday will be Girl Scout day at the fair, with free admission for Girls Scouts in uniform and one adult.

“They have to be wearing their sash or vest, or a T-shirt or sweatshirt that identifies them as a Girl Scout,” Voss said.

Bakers’ delight

Apple pie contests are traditional at most country fairs, and Topsfield’s is no exception.

Fifty entries are expected already, and pies will be accepted until Oct. 3, two days before the winner is announced on Friday, Oct. 5, said Priscilla Gerrard of Danvers, co-chairwoman of the foods department in Coolidge Hall.

There is also a parent-child cookie contest, which announces its winners on Monday, Oct. 8, and will accept competitors until Oct. 6.

“They create the cookie together,” Gerrard said. “This year we’re doing whoopie pies.”

While the apple pie and cookie contests are sponsored by the fair, with assistance from Cider Hill Farms in Amesbury, there are cooking contests with corporate sponsors almost every day of the week at the Topsfield Fair, from the King Arthur Flour Favorite Scones Contest to the Ghirardelli Chocolate Championship.

Entry requirements for all the cooking contests can be viewed in the “Exhibitor’s Handbook” link at the bottom of the Topsfield Fair’s website.

The public can admire the blue ribbons winners in a display case at Coolidge Hall, but they are not allowed to eat them.

Animal farm

Showing off animals you’ve raised is another important agricultural tradition, and the Topsfield Fair exhibits everything from chickens and pigs to sheep, rabbits and cows.

More than 250 dairy goats will trot through the show tent on Saturday and Sunday, according to show secretary Mary Fox of Mont Vernon, N.H., who has been involved with the event for more than 40 years.

Judges are hired from all over the country, Fox said, to confirm certain physical characteristics.

“With an adult body, it is all on the udder, where the milk comes,” she said. “It (should be) well attached, with teats pointing downward in a good direction so it’s easier for milking.”

Udders count for 35 points in the judge’s score, while feet get only four points, Fox said. Udders are also important to local goat farmers Peter and Elizabeth Mulholland, of Valley View Farm in Topsfield, who raise Nubian goats.

“Nubians are considered to be the best goat for cheese-making, because its milk is high in butter fat,” Mulholland said.

The Mulhollands’ goats are shown at the fair by a close friend, James Eveleth of Wenham, where a total of eight breeds compete in this official American Dairy Goat Association event.

The Valley View goats were reserve grand champions two years ago, which is “the next down” from grand championship, Mulholland said. Their son Andrew won a blue ribbon in the 4-H Dairy Goat Show last year.

There are 34 goats on seven acres at Valley View, and contrary to popular opinion, they are actually picky eaters, she said. They do like variety, and have a fondness for “woody, herbacious” stuff like poison ivy and wild roses.

But they won’t eat just anything, and won’t even touch grass if it’s simply been trampled.

People often ask Mulholland if they can rent her goats to clear brush on their property, but she refuses, because the animals are too valuable as producers of milk.

“We can’t make enough cheese,” she said.


TOPSFIELD FAIR When: Friday, Sept. 28, to Monday, Oct. 8 Where: Topsfield Fairgrounds, Route 1 Admission: $11 weekdays, $15 weekends. Free for children under 8. Ride tickets: $22 for 11 rides Parking: $10 Information: www.topsfieldfair.org