Only at the Big E: bacon s’mores, pig racing Once again the Reminder Publications news crew took on its most challenging assignment of the year: Sneak off and tour the Big E. The following is this year’s report for our readers.
Glitz and glamour of the circus
By Deb Gardner
I’m a sucker for the circus. I’ve seen them in all shapes and sizes, from a motley troupe performing in a sawdust-strewn canvas tent behind a shopping center – where the ticket seller was also the strong man in the sideshow (yes, it had one) and a roustabout for the flying act – to the glitzy glamour of a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey extravaganza staged with lighting and special effects in a modern arena. But in all the years I’ve attended the Big E, I never made it in to the fair’s free circus – until this year.
The modest tent and small center ring reminded me of that long-ago shopping center circus; the best thing about that show had been how close the acts actually were to the audience. The same is true in the Big E tent. Though the posted capacity is 1,530, it felt like an intimate performance; the acts were just close enough for you to see the chalk fly off the hands of the four Rinny Family Jugglers as they traded Indian clubs with each other with blazing precision.
As I said, I’ve seen many a circus, and jugglers, but never before saw two people juggle hip to hip, one using the right hand, the other using the left, as two members of this act did with grace and ease.
That was not the only act to surprise. The Olate Dogs, former America’s Got Talent winners, were a delight, providing equal measures of clever tricks and charming antics. I loved their human-dog tumbling stint!
Johnny Rocket – the requisite circus clown act skillfully mixed classic gags with some modern updates, such as a tribute to popular music videos that included a brief, muted parody of Miley Cyrus’ much-discussed antics at the MTV Video Music Awards.
I’d also never seen performing camels – their act reminiscent of performing horses – until trainer Ian Gardner Jr. brought out his troupe in this circus. Once again, it was different.
The Sadrak Ariel Straps act seemed a bit stilted, but I saw the circus early in the show’s run, so it could have been a case of unfamiliarity with the space. Trio Bilea took the quick-change act to the extreme – the costume change that occurred in a shower of silver glitter was pretty impressive, and I loved that they closed the show with a variation of a circus standard – someone being shot through the air into a net.
In this case it wasn’t a man shot out of a cannon, but off a giant crossbow. Brian Miser was the Human Arrow, and he carried off his role with just the right amount of bravado.
The Big E Circus performs three times daily at 1, 4 and 7 p.m. It fills up quickly, so plan to arrive at least an hour before show time (earlier on the weekend) and be prepared to stand in line.
Eating your way through The Big E
By Katelyn Gendron
If you want to tell readers how best to eat their way through the Big E you must have a willing, enthusiastic participant with a seemingly bottomless stomach; and that’s what I found in my sister-in-law, Megan Jank, of Swanzey, N.H.
For the second year in a row this Chicago-native has traveled to the fairgrounds in search of tasty treats and she certainly found it! We all hear about the Big Éclairs and the Big E Cream Puffs in the New England Center but Megan, while indulging in those too, was more interested in the lesser-known – and equally delectable – foods.
The first stop was the butter-dipped corn on the cob in the New Hampshire Building along the Avenue of States. Vendors shuck the cob and dip it in melted butter to order so it’s as warm and fresh as possible. For less than $10 you can get a few to share with family and friends.
The next stop was in the adjacent Vermont Building for some “cookie love.” For $5 you can get three mouth-watering Vermont Cookie Love cookies, which are made moist and fluffy. Our personal favorites were the “Puppy Love” (peanut butter and chocolate chip) and “Forbidden Love” (triple chocolate chip). The other flavors, which included chocolate chip and oatmeal, were equally delicious, too. Visit www.vermontcookielove.com for details or to order dough to cook at home.
Continuing along the Avenue of States, Megan stopped for a lobster roll in not one, but two different buildings. The rolls in Massachusetts and Maine are equally yummy for about $5.
What’s also a must for Megan – and me as well – which we circled back for multiple times throughout our day, was the fresh raspberries the Massachusetts Building. For $1 or $3 you can experience a small or large cup of locally grown red, yellow and orange raspberries. This is a must for all fruit lovers.
Others who prefer fruit as a dessert shouldn’t miss the apple pie a la mode in Massachusetts, either. We never do!
Our next stops were for the fried, peppery fare. Food vendors outside of the Mallary Complex offer, in our opinion, the best fried onions, as well as sausage and peppers. For less than $10 you can split a giant – certainly not for just one person – fried onion as well as a sausage and pepper roll. Be sure to bring your antacids, but it’s worth it!
For those who’d rather binge on chocolate or candy, we advise that you opt for traditional cotton candy on the Midway or the maple-flavored version along the Avenue of States. Chocolate lovers can’t go wrong with chocolate-covered strawberries on a stick in the New Hampshire Building, either.
Our top tips for the fair
By G. Michael Dobbs and Carley Dangona
The large attractions at the Big E are pretty apparent – the circus, the Mardi Gras parade, the Avenue of States, the musical performances and the Midway are among the ones that come to mind.
I also enjoy the all smaller things I encounter throughout the fair. The following are some that some that popped up this year.
In the Vermont building, a new exhibitor offered a new taste sensation: bacon s’mores. Vermont Smoke and Cure from Hinesburg, Vt., was offering samples of its tasty meet products and for $4 you could try a standard s’more with a strip of bacon along with the marshmallow and the chocolate. The verdict: not bad! I’m not sure I’m going to replicate the dish at home, though.
Battle of the doughnuts
This year I cooked up a little doughnut war unbeknownst to the Massachusetts and Vermont buildings. Both are offering their version of an apple cider doughnut. I tried both and noticed the Vermont version was denser and lacked any sprinkled sugar. The Massachusetts version, baked by Atkins Farms in Amherst, was lighter and had just a little sugar. The winner? Atkins, by a crumb. Both are fine, but I liked our local take on the fall item much better. The cost is $1 for either version.
Will they work?
Each year, my wife usually administers an oath to me that I will not get any gadgets at the fair. I’m a total sucker for such things and love to hear the pitch. In year’s past I’ve bought the miracle knives – they’re still sharp – the vegetable slicer – haven’t used it in years – a great handmade wok and the salsa maker – never mastered it.
This year, my spouse forgot to renew my promise and I bought something I’ve not seen before: a set of Stretch Lids. Made of silicon, the lids come in various sizes and are designed to fit over a variety of sizes of bowls, and boxes to help keep food fresher in the refrigerator and to cut down on purchase of plastic wraps.
I’ll let you know how much money we save.
I’m not sure how PETA would view this attraction but a group of piglets quickly run through a course several times a day near the Mallary Complex. I’ll readily admit the young porkers appear to have a good time – they clamor at the gate to start the contest and the crowds seemed amused by the idea.
What might have been?
In a somewhat ironic exhibit, those at Hard Rock Casino have brought a traveling collection of rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia from the company’s collection to the Big E – no doubt a foreshadowing if West Springfield had approved the Hard Rock Casino proposal.
The exhibit includes guitars played by rock royalty and clothing and costumes from artist as diverse as Bruce Springsteen, Bono and Elton John.
For me though the coolest item there was a sweater worn by Buddy Holly. Wow!
– G. Michael Dobbs
I spent my formative years in Connecticut and found myself awash with childhood memories as I visited the LEGO and PEZ booths in the Connecticut Building. I don’t know anyone who didn’t spend hours building with LEGO bricks; although, back then they were just plain colored blocks whereas now they are themed sets complete with pirates, ninjas and zombies. And, I don’t know anyone that doesn’t love PEZ.
“Most visitors stop by the booth out of nostalgia,” Michael Lopez, an employee for PEZ, said. He added that it was one of the first candies that people remember from childhood.
Lopez noted at the visitor’s center, 35 Prindle Hill Road in Orange, Conn., patrons could view the private PEZ collection of Shawn Peterson and tour the production facilities. For more details, visit www.pez.com.
A bastion of oral hygiene
This year I stopped at the Sensodyne exhibit. Admittedly, I just wanted free toothpaste but ended up learning something about my teeth. Let alone that I ended up with four tubes of toothpaste, coupons and a sling back backpack.
After entering your name, address and email, you are given two tubes of toothpaste. Since there was no line, I opted to continue to the consultation part of the exhibit. Once inside the trailer, I entered a private booth where I met with a dental hygienist.
She explained that while I don’t have any sensitivity now, some of the foods I eat, although healthy, could lead to acid erosion that will later result in sensitivity. To avoid this, she recommended Sensodyne Pronamel, to re-harden my teeth.
The session took three minutes, if that. At the end of the exit ramp a representative took a brief satisfaction survey – a minute, maybe. Then, I was off, ready to chow down again.
The Big E is not plastic friendly. The majority of the vendors, especially in the state houses, do not take credit or debit cards. There are some vendors that do, but good luck finding them. ATMs pepper the campus, if you’re willing to spend the $3 fee.
I was batting a thousand considering I not only forgot cash, but I couldn’t remember my pin since I had my rarely used “shopping” card. Thanks to a 10-spot from my editor, I was able to eat a cider donut and get some clam cakes. On the bright side, I saved calories and money.
– Carley Dangona