Sometimes I feel like my brain is doing things without telling me. Percolating, in a way. Thinking up ideas, processing information, sifting through the incoming streams of perception and organizing things in ways that will be useful later. This happens a lot in my writing; I’ll just stop, for a while, and things feel like they’re brewing but I have to wait for the interesting bits to float to the surface.
That’s not really what I want to post about, but I guess it serves as an explanation for my long silence (and for the deluge of words and photos to come). I’ve definitely been expressing myself in pictures rather than words lately, but maybe I can find a happy medium.
I’m back in the U.S. of A, and I’ve almost gotten caught up with all my relatives on both sides of the family. It’s been a whirlwind of traveling and trying to pack in as many American cultural experiences as possible. And it’s been awesome! I went to Stone Mountain, Georgia for Labor Day and watched the light show that’s projected onto a carving of Confederate generals on the flat face of the mountain. I ate fried chicken and fried green tomatoes (twice… what can I say? When in the South…) and Georgia peaches and tried muscadines (or rather, scuppernongs?) for the first time. I walked through the creek and found a salamander. On the way back, my dad and I stopped by a roadside farmer’s market on a whim and decided to try mayhaw jelly, made from a member of the Rosaceae family similar to crabapples.
Now I’ve just gotten back from northern Ohio where I got to see tons of relatives and hang out around town. My mom and I reminisced about all the times we’ve picked berries in the big raspberry and blackberry patch in my grandparents’ back yard. I still tell people about my gramma’s raspberry jam, which was a staple of my childhood. We found a stand of lush, beautiful tree-like weeds we later identified as pokeweed, poisonous to mammals but known for the brilliant fuschia juice in the pokeberries which can be used in beautiful natural dyes (more on this in future posts!).
We made pumpkin roll, my own personal harbinger of fall before Pumpkin Spice was a thing. A simple jelly roll with pumpkin flavored cake and cream cheese filling, it’s a comforting flavor for me, and oddly meditative to make. There’s something satisfying about rolling up the warm cake in a thin chef’s towel, filling it and rolling it again, and finally cutting through it to see the even rings.
The highlight of the trip was going to the Wyandot County Fair, one of the last traditional county fairs and (in my humble opinion) the best fair out there. The school kids still get two days off school, because everyone knows many of them will be showing animals and participating in the events.
There were all the carnival games and rides I had always remembered: the ring toss, the duck pond, the balloon darts; the Sizzler, the kiddie dragon train, the Ferris Wheel. In the barns I got to meet two cows raised by one of my cousins (first cousin twice removed, I think). She was proud, and she should be–they were the nicest-looking cows around.
Of course, one of the best things about the county fair is the food. And of course, everything is fried. I have nothing against frying, but I usually can’t handle so much of it at once. I had a corn dog, obviously, because where better to eat corn dogs than the county fair? And what better to go with the corn dogs than onion rings and fried green tomatoes?
My favorite fair treat has always been the elephant ears, which are basically just rounds of chewy dough fried, brushed with butter and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. And of course we had to get some sugar waffles, which I had a hard time finding anything out about online, but apparently they’re also called rosettes, French waffles, and carnival waffles, and are traditional in Sweden and Norway. Whatever they are and wherever they’re from, they’re a county fair mainstay in the Midwest.
If all this sounds a bit decadent, well, it is. And for the past few years in particular, I’ve been focusing on cleaning myself up mind and body, minimizing my life, getting back to basics and things that are fresh, new, and simple. But I also want to make sure to remember where I’ve come from, which is why I keep antique knick-knacks and old cookbooks with the handwriting of my ancestors in the margins. And that’s also why I’ll throw out my kale and wheatgrass-eating habits for a day every now and then, to participate in the traditions.
But then I got thinking, and I realized something. Yes, everything at the fair was fried. It’s got a lot of salt, and a lot of sugar, and no one’s going to argue that it’s healthy. But not only is it a tradition, it’s not as bad as a lot of the stuff people eat on a daily basis. At the fair we’re in a small town out in the country, surrounded by farms and fields, walking through barns watching the livestock, winding our way through the vendor stands of barbecue, fried cheese curds and fried veggies, potato fries, homemade ice cream, fresh lemonade. Maybe it’s not the healthiest way to prepare any of these things, but the basic ingredients come from the land, from the local farms surrounding the fairgrounds, and they represent the traditions of the people who live there.
We walked through the buildings that housed prize-winning vegetables, fruits, flowers, pies, cookies, jarred preserves, homemade wine, and even hay. There was a whole category just for buckeyes. None of the goods looked like they came from a chic, expensive bakery; they looked like they came from home kitchens, from family recipes, made by people who care. Like the rides and the games, the food vendors and the competitions, they’re casual. They’re honest. And that’s why they’re perfect.