Fair offers ‘big’ attractions, treats Sept. 26, 2011
By Katelyn Gendron and G. Michael Dobbs
WEST SPRINGFIELD On a damp Tuesday, two reporters combed the grounds of the Eastern States Exposition with individual missions. One was to find healthy eating alternatives to the usual fair fare, while the other pledged to find new attractions at the Big E.
Their reports follow:
When it comes to food at The Big E, all the hype surrounds the fair’s signature creampuffs, éclairs and other deep-fried, calorie-filled treats. But what about those who have to monitor their caloric intake for weight loss or medical purposes? Can they actually locate healthy alternatives? Yes, but you have to seek them out.
Cabot Cheese in the Vermont Building has what they call “Serious Snacks,” which are blocks of cheese totaling 50 calories per bar and 50 percent reduced fat from 7 grams to 3.5 grams per serving.
“We have half the fat, half the calories and half the cholesterol for those who have issues with diet,” Joel “Mr. Cheese” Angelico, product demonstrator for Cabot, explained. “We don’t make no-fat but we do make reduced fat cheese. The majority of our cheese is lactose and gluten-free.”
Cabot touts 50 percent reduced fat cheddar, jalapeno and pepper jack cheeses as well as 75 percent reduced fat cheddar and habanero.
Also, in the Vermont Building are the taste bud-tantalizing flavors of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream. Calorie counters would be well advised to stay away from the ice cream but the company does offer non-fat or low fat frozen yogurts and sorbets. By comparison, chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream racks up 240 calories per half-cup serving (about one scoop) and 12 grams of fat, while the sorbets and sherbets total 100 or 120 calories and zero to one gram of fat per serving.
Ben & Jerry’s also offers low-fat frozen yogurt options with such flavors as vanilla or black raspberry swirl, which have 130 and 140 calories, respectively, and 1.5 grams of fat per serving.
For those who enjoy the sultry spices of chili, there is a healthy alternative located at The Chili Station in the Massachusetts Building. Emu chili made by Jeffrey Belkin of Longmeadow is a surprisingly tasty concoction that people could mistake for a traditional beef chili.
“Most meats have fat on them that allow them to brown up in the pot but emu is so lean that water must be added,” Belkin explained, noting that his chili is made with all the traditional ingredients such as tomatoes, peppers, onions and kidney beans, along with some “secret spices.”
He noted The Chili Station sells between 40 and 50 bowls of emu chili per day. “Every year it has increased [at The Big E],” Belkin said.
Also in the Massachusetts Building is the Federation of Mass Farmers Markets, a non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing partnerships between farmers and sustaining farmers’ markets. The booth offers a variety of fruits including red (King), orange (Kiwi Gold) and yellow (Anne) raspberries totaling about 10 calories per 10 berries. The raspberries are offered in small or large cups costing $1 and $3, respectively.
In the Maine building, fairgoers can find Wyman’s wild blueberry products, which are rich in antioxidants. Their tart and tasty blueberry juice ($2) can be enjoyed for 130 calories per cup.
People often complain that there is nothing new at The Big E. Perhaps, because I (Dobbs) enjoy the fair, I don’t see repetition of certain features as a negative. Instead I see annual traditions.
I love corn dogs and frozen bananas, two of the most delicious food groups served on a stick. Despite my love for them, I eat just one of each every year at the Big E. That is tradition.
Tradition is having the clam fritters in the Rhode Island Building washed down with a Del’s Lemonade. Tradition is buying the sharpest chunk of Vermont cheddar offered by Cabot in the Vermont Building.
Tradition is pondering which new gadget being pitched at the Better Living Center should go home with you. For the record, the miracle knives are great, but the salsa maker has sat on my shelf for years.
Tradition be damned, though. I decided to seek out things new to me at the fair and my first discovery has the power to addict someone: maple kettle corn.
Bureau’s Sugar House (www.maplekettlekorn.com) is making and selling a maple-sweetened kettle corn in the rear of the Connecticut Building. It’s the only kettle corn sold at the fair that is flavored with real maple syrup. It’s amazing.
In the Connecticut building I stopped by a booth that I had seen before just in passing: an area devoted to authors from the Nutmeg State selling their books. I spoke to Peggy Gaffney (www.kanineknits.com) who has done a series of books that instruct people how to knit sweaters with animal designs. She started with dog and cat designs and now has a book with llama and alpacas.
Gaffney said she has appeared at the author’s booth for the past four years and the response has been very good. Another writer, Robert Berton, explained that 80 authors and their work are represented at the fair.
Fried dough is a staple fair food, but I didn’t realize a person could buy it to take home. Brian’s Fabulous Fry Bread (www.fabulousfrybread.com) produces the fried dough served at Fenway Park and Six Flags and is selling in the Connecticut Building.
The man behind the counter, employee Will Bullock, explained the bread could be used for desserts or quick pizzas.
What fat man doesn’t love cookies? This one does, that’s for sure and I spotted a new vendor in the Vermont Building selling cookies that taste home made. The Love Shack (www.vermontcookielove.com), a company from North Ferrisburgh, Vt., is selling baked cookies at the fair for $1.75 each and the dough ready to bring home. I had a “Puppy Love,” a peanut butter chocolate chip cookie was that delicious.
Heather Paine from the company explained a priority was using Vermont-produced ingredients in the nine varieties of slice and bake dough, such as King Arthur Flour.
For those wishing to help Vermonters who had suffered at the hands of Hurricane Irene, there is a booth selling “Vermont Tough” T-shirts and another where donations can be made toward a fund to help Vermont farms that were affected by the flooding.
In the Young Building is an enormously fascinating new exhibit called “A Day in the Life of a Circus.” This collection of vintage posters and photos, as well as free performances, reveal a kind of entertainment that was a staple in the country for more than a century.
I love the many circus posters in the exhibit. Their bold graphic designs were calculated to catch the eye of people who looked forward to the annual visit by a circus to their community. Don’t miss this look at America’s entertainment history.
As mentioned previously, I’m drawn to the various gadgets and gizmos on sale at The Big E so much in fact, I’ve sworn an oath to my long suffering spouse that I won’t buy any more. There was vendor new to me – although it is their second Big E appearance that did surprise me. For $39.99, the folks at Forever White (www.buyforeverwhite.com) will whiten your teeth in a 15-minute session.
The sacrifice to having the procedure done at an inexpensive price is one must not eat anything for an hour afterwards and only drink water truly a challenge at the fair.
Assistant Managing Editor Katelyn Gendron volunteered to try out the procedure, which involved reclining on a chair while a blue light activated chemicals in a tray held in her mouth. The taste wasn’t very pleasant, she reported, but she did notice an additional gleam to your smile.
My conclusion: It doesn’t take much effort to find new features at The Big E.