September 30, 2010

Fairytale Feasts from the 156th Annual Bloomsburg Fair

It's the most wonderful time of the year for lovers of all things fall: mums, scarecrows, tractors, haystacks, pumpkins, crunchy leaves, fairytale feasts, and of course, the Bloomsburg Fair! 


The 156th Annual Bloomsburg Fair is taking place this week in Columbia County, Pennsylvania. The first fair was held in 1855 after Dr. John Taggart visited a county fair in upstate New York and brought the idea home to Columbia County.  Five other gentleman then got together and decided to hold an agricultural fair if they could find enough people to exhibit fruits, vegetables and other products found on a farm.  After personally searching for exhibitors, the men organized a one day event and the first fair was held.  Admission cost a mere ten cents per person and the fair garnered a whopping thousand visitors the first year alone. The event gradually increased in size and by 1892, the event was operating for a full five days.

Now, over a hundred years later, the Fair still draws thousands of people from all over the country in any weather conditions.  Originally held late October of each year, the fair is now traditionally held in September, the third Monday after Labor Day. The fair will take place this year from Saturday, September 25th through Saturday, October 2nd.  Over 75,000 people attended on opening day alone and my guess is that 99% of these individuals had something to eat there.

The Bloomsburg Fair is like a huge playground for food lovers, interweaving different ethnic foods from around the globe with signature Pennsylvania specialties. Caramel candy apples, pumpkin rolls, apple and peach dumplings, hearty soups, hot apple cider, church sponsored barbecue dinners, beef brisket sandwiches from hundreds of vendors are all sold at the festival.  Here are some highlights of noteworthy fairytale feasts that can be found at the festival: 

We'll start with the cheesesteaks. Yes, cheesesteaks are a dime a dozen all over Eastern and Central Pennsylvania and at the Bloomsburg Fair.  But Vince's Steaks have the longest lines at the fair for good reason - their cheesesteaks are amazing. And unlike in Philly, you're allowed to ask for peppers or marinara sauce and other toppinon your steak sandwiches here.

The fish and chips were really delicious. The meal was wrapped in newspaper - such an authentic, lovely touch to compliment the food. The fish was not too oily and was perfectly done. With little sprinkle of salt and vinegar and a drizzle of lemon juice, the flaky fish and the roasted potatoes were absolute perfection.  In fact, this was the freshest bite I had at the fair. Loved it!

Another favorite Fair treat is the Grotto Pizza. Grotto Pizza is a chain restaurant with locations in Northeastern Pennsylvania and Delaware. While I can technically have this pizza anytime, it's just too hard to say no to that gooey cheese and sweet sauce so I had to have it. Other people must feel the same way, because the Grotto stand is always crowded every year. And for $2.50 for this single tiny slice of pizza, it better be good! 

You can't visit the Bloomsburg Fair without having some Old Fashioned Birch Beer poured from a barrel! 

The Fair features hundreds of different vendors selling food items, home goods, and more.  I came across this little stand selling an asortment of gourmet dips and instantly fell in love.  There was a sample of each dip displayed in its own wicker basket cooling container ($33). The dips (3 packets for $14) are 100% natural, containing no preservatives. They're really just dried spice mixes that you can add to cream cheese, mayonaise, sour cream, greek yogurt, etc.  (And yes, you can substitute fat free yogurt, etc. to make the dips healthy!) I took home the Excellent Crab, Irish Cheddar & Ale, and Rockin' Ranch. To visit the website and try these delicious dips for yourself, click here.

The Bloomsburg Fair offers plenty of soup options to warm up the soul.  One stand that I enjoy is Nana's Nook, which serves homemade New England Clam Chowder, Maryland Crab Soup and Cheddar Ale.  If you want to try a sample, just ask and they are more than happy to help you.

Another option for soup is the "pot pie" stand.  In Pennsylvania Dutch cooking, what they label "pot pies" are really delicious cups of a broth based soup with vegetables, ham or chicken, and homemade pieces of pasta that are similar to dumplings.  

One of my longtime standing favorite stands at the Fair is the Baked Potato stand. They do sell complete dinners there, but all I have eyes for are the baked potatoes there. You can order one with your choice of toppings.  This one was served with cheese, broccoli and bacon bits.

One of the most prominent offerings at the fair are the many ham/beef dinner stands which serve up hundreds of blue plate like dinner specials and sandwiches.    


Anyone from Pennsylvania knows that one of best fall desserts to have is a Pumpkin Roll. I literally die for Pumpkin Rolls - and will blog about them at some point this season. If you are at the fair, you have to try the Pumpkin Roll ($8.75) from the Pennsylvania Dutch Stand near the Grandstand.

You can't go to the Bloomsburg Fair without getting an apple dumpling. These little bundles of joy are admittedly the main reason why I keep coming here every year. The marriage between autumn and apples is most beautifully exemplified in this distinct dish. 

Lastly, if by some miracle you're still hungry as you're leaving the fair or you need a little something to bring home, stop by the apple stand near Gate 3. It's easy to spot - it's a booth literally carved into the shape of an apple.  You can get cider, lemonade and other gluttonous fair-essential treats like fried oreo cookies and or the famous fried apple rings. 

Yes, there are other things to do at the fair besides eat - like see the agricultural exhibits that showcase the biggest and best produce and baked goods from the county and beyond.  Since I was a little girl, my favorite part of the fair (besides the apple dumplings) has always been seeing the "great pumpkin" (think Charlie Brown) exhibits on display. I just love them and used to think they were the pumpkins that were used to make Cinderella style carriages. They still haven't lost their magic.

There are still TWO more days to visit the fair this year! Here is some important info to know if you go:
Admission gates are open daily from 7 AM to 9 PM.
Admission is $5.00 per person, with free daily admission for children 12 years old and under.
High school students are admitted free of charge on Friday October 1st.

Parking is $5.00 per car, including free tram/bus service to and from the parking lot and admission gate.

Enjoy! :-) 

September 27, 2010

Fairytale Fall Festival at the Lands at Hillside Farms

There is a fairytale land in Northeastern Pennsylvania currently undergoing an extensive renovation to restore it to all of its original splendor from once upon a time.  But you don't have to wait to experience magic of this fairytale. The Lands at Hillside Farms is sparkling historical gem whose light has never faded and will only shine brighter with a little polishing. This weekend the Second Annual Fall Festival, a major fundraiser at Hillside, is scheduled to take place and will provide a wonderful opportunity for families throughout the area to experience all that Hillside has to offer. See below for operating hours and details.

The Lands at Hillside Farms, a 412 acre working dairy farm, was formed as a non-profit organization in June of 2005 to protect and preserve the farms aging infrastructure. It's whose mission aims "to present aspects and benefits of the region's land, history and promotion of lifestyle choices which are healthy, conservation-minded and practical."  Hillside places great emphasis on family-friendly educational programs, sustainable agricultural activities and living.  It is now undergoing a major restoration to return it to its original pristine grandeur and in hopes of eventually becoming a major tourist destination. Look for a bed and breakfast, a restaurant and a more expansive educational program for people of all ages in the future.

Hillside has always been one of my favorite places to visit - and not just for the homemade ice cream. The atmosphere at Hillside is serene and picturesque, and almost even romantic, as evident in the photos of the iron and cypress greenhouses.  These greenhouses were constructed by American greenhouse and conservatory builders Lord and Burnham over 100 years ago. They were relocated from the area no occupied by the Dorthy Dickson Darte center in Wilkes Barre and are thought to be only five greenhouses of this design in the entire country.  Currently, the greenhouses are being restored by Glass Garden Builders, which purchased the Lord and Burnham business several years ago.  

Greenhouse at the Lands at Hillside Farms.
During the late 19th century, at the height of the Anthracite coal mining era in Northeastern Pennsylvania and the Industrial Revolution, industrialist William L. Conyngham purchased 100 acres from Joseph Harter of Trucksville.  These 100 acres formed the foundation of a grand summer and agricultural estate. 
 The Cottage at Hillside, pictured above, was originally built in 1882 as a two story summer residence where family friends would stay during their summit visits. The first floor of the cottage includes a Victorian foyer, sitting room and dining room, butler's pantry and kitchen.  Originally, there was also a companion building which housed bedrooms and a ballroom.  Footpaths led from the home to other locations with bridges, gazebos, flower beds and benches at the farm and alongside the creek.  The main Cottage and accompanying Heritage Gardens at Hillside hosted many of American's elite individuals.  Hillside was also the home of the award-winning Clydesdale Belgian draft horses, Dorset cheep, Berkshire hogs and dairy herds of registered Holstein/Friesian, milking shorthorns and Jersey cattle.
Today, the Cottage is available to host a variety events including small weddings, family reunions, birthday parties, office parties, or bridal and baby showers.

The Cottage at the Lands at Hillside Farms.

The Dairy Store at Hillside has been offering its famous ice cream and milk since 1977.  The milk is sold in returnable glass bottles, some of which have lasted decades. While most cows in the United States are raised in confinement, force fed grain, hay and/or corn, and stand in dirt and manure, the cows at Hillside graze on a pasture from Spring through fall, enjoying green grass, clean water and fresh air.  This ensures that the milk you consume from Hillside is loaded with vitamins, minerals and cancer-fighting agents. Milk obtained from a pastured cow can have five times as much conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA, as milk obtained from a cow who is purely grain fed.  This CLA is a type of fat that is believed by some to fend off cancer. 

The Dairy Store
Notably, the cows at Hillside have not been injected with controversial Bovine Growth Hormones, artificial hormones usually injected bi-weekly into cows, causing them to produce three times as much milk as a normal cow.  (In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency and National Institute of Health (as well as numerous other studies) have declared that this hormone is safe for human consumption. However, it has been banned in Canada, Australia, Japan, New Zealand and most of the European Union)

The Dairy Store offers butter made on the premises with Hillside Gold milk and eggs from free-range chickens. Whenever possible, the Dairy Store offers products from small-scale producers located near the Lands.  You can find just-picked seasonal produce for sale, as well as locally produced baked goods. To provide a shopping experience reminiscent of "days gone by," the Dairy Store also offers old-style penny candy and natural treats like granola, trail mix, nuts and seeds.

The Dairy Store is open seven days a week at 8:00 A.M.

The Ice Cream Parlor opens 8:00 A.M, Monday through Friday.
The Ice Cream Parlor opens 10:00 A.M on Saturday and Sunday.

Both the Dairy Store and the Ice Cream Parlor close at 10:00 P.M.

Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream from The Dairy Store
Getting messy with some chocolate chip ice cream!

On October 2nd and 3rd, the Lands at Hillside Farms will hold the Fall Festival, its largest "Noon to Moon" event.  This popular event, sponsored by Luzerne Bank,  attracted over 5,000 guests last year and is expected to attract over 8,000 people this year.  Though proceeds from the Dairy Store help to fund the operation of the farm. the Lands at Hillside Farms needs to raise approximately $500,000 per year to cover the costs of education, non-dairy animals, building and grounds maintenance, utilities, machinery, fencing, etc. The Fall Festival is held to raise money for Hillside's educational programs, which cost the farm about $200,000 annually. Hillside's education programs bring more than 3,500 regional school children from grades K-12 to the farm each year where they have the unique opportunity to learn about science, agriculture, archaeology, ecology, history, sustainable living and community service.
This year's Fall Festival will feature family-friendly activities including tractor hay rides, pony rides, children's games, live music, barn tours, local vendors, artisan demonstrations.  A variety of food in accordance with Hillside's values will be available at the Festival, including hamburgers and hot dogs from grass-fed beef, veggie burgers, pizza, macaroni and cheese, grilled cheese sandwiches, soups and other side dishes. The event will attempt to incorporate Hillside's own products as well as those from local farmers.

The event will also feature farm-to table cooking demonstrations featuring Chef Kate Gabriele of the Rustic Kitchen and Natural Foods Chef Jennifer Elliott.
Entertainment includes the Cabinet Will on Saturday afternoon and Fell Swoop on Sunday.  The popular Philaldelphia band, the Adam Monaco Band, will also be entertaining children near the greenhouse on Saturday and Sunday.

This year, WVIA members will receive free parking/admission and a free tractor hayride. WVIA members will also judge the scarecrow contest, which awards a $100 gift certificate for the Dairy Store. (Bring your scarecrow to enter!)
For non-WVIA members, the cost is $10 per carload and includes parking and admission.
The event will be held on Saturday, October 2, 2010 from noon - 6 PM and Sunday, October 3, 2010 from noon - 5 PM.

All photos except the photo of the Cottage were taken by Diana Collins of Fairytale Feasts.  The photo of the Cottage appears courtesy of The Lands at Hillside Farms.