Things I Learned at the Grange Fair

These cows know things are about to get jiggy at the Grange Fair.

These cows know things are about to get jiggy at the Grange Fair.

I took a little trip to the 65th Annual Middletown Grange Fair in Wrightstown, PA. I’ve never been to a Grange Fair, but I figured it was probably a little like a County Fair, and I love a County Fair so I was sold. Plus, there was an article in the newspaper’s weekly food section about the baking contests at the fair, so naturally I was curious.

The baking entries were all lined up on tables and already under plastic covers.  They are kind of hard to see that way so it wasn’t super interesting at first — I was just kind of looking at the blue ribbons to see what won. Then I noticed that some of the entry cards had handwritten comments on them, so I started looking at them more closely. And then I just started laughing.

Now I had to read them all (as best as I could through the glare of that crazy plastic).

The handwritten comments — written in tidy print and cursive like a postcard from your Great-Aunt Agnes — were criticisms! The judges were taking shots at the competitors! Here’s the first one I noticed:

Ouch!  But, you need to know, right?

Ouch! But, you need to know, right?

Yikes. That’s embarrassing.  But, you need to know, right? I guess you also need to know that your bread was undercooked, your jams were under-filled and had a bad seal, and — one of my favorites — the cryptic and ominous, “Something went wrong in cooking.” (Click on photos for larger versions.)

By now I was incredulous, and laughing to myself regardless of who was around.  It was like watching tiny little baking train wrecks happen one by one and I was the prurient rubbernecker. Granted, the critiques all seemed valid; it was the baldness of the publicity that had me cracking up. You think being judged in person by your chef in culinary school is nerve-wracking? Try competing at the Grange Fair. You will need to have nerves of steel. Keep in mind that these entries had people’s names and hometowns printed on them (which I erased or otherwise obscured for this part). So, not only did they not win, but they had the pleasure of receiving their constructive feedback directly on their entry card for all their happy fair-going neighbors to see.

I was mesmerized. Let’s see some more! (Click on photos for larger versions.)

I was jolly well enjoying myself but the next few entries sent me over the edge. I actually thought for a second I might be being punked. Why on earth would people submit burned or under-baked goods for competition? Either bake another batch, or throw in the towel and wait for next year’s Grange to roll around.

I'm pretty sure the dill isn't the first thing I would notice about this entry.

I’m pretty sure the dill isn’t the first thing I would notice about this entry.

I know this photo, below, has a lot of glare on it and isn’t easy to read, but might the judges be sounding a bit exasperated at this point?

A brownie you can barely cut through? Now that's a serious burn.

A brownie you can barely cut through? Now that’s a serious burn.

But it’s the next photo that really, ahem, takes the cake. This one, below, was my favorite comment of the night.

Oh, snap. But pretty funny, right??

Oh, snap. But pretty funny, right??

When I saw this one I knew I was done because it couldn’t get any better than this — such wit! Such audacity! Scratch that — there is one thing that could make it better: if the judges’ notes were in the forms of a limericks.  But, that wasn’t likely to happen so I left the baking section and moved on to other exhibits — things like afghans, and sheared wool, and vegetables. Here are some of the best (click for slideshow):

What I learned at the Grange Fair is that beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder.  I also learned that if you want to compete at the Grange Fair, you need to be prepared to take your lumps. I applaud everyone for entering regardless of the outcome but I admit to being flummoxed by some of what I saw. Perhaps I need some of their moxie.

And the judges. Oh, the judges! To be a fly on the wall of that sampling circuit!  Perhaps I need more of THAT moxie! I thank them heartily for providing me much merriment as I made my way down the exhibit hall.

Oh, wait, there is one more photo: a picture of a winning cupcake. After all this hoopla you’re thinking it must be pretty special, right? Well, the judges certainly thought so. This time you be the judge.

This cupcake won a blue ribbon for its taste and appearance. Appearance? Really?

This cupcake won a blue ribbon for its taste and appearance. I’m sure it tastes divine but I confess I was a little surprised by the high marks for appearance.

Cro-Nots and What-Not

Cro, No-Cro or Faux Cro - -whatever you want to call it, it's a fried croissant

Cro, No-Cro or Faux Cro  — whatever you want to call it, it’s a fried croissant

The air has been rife lately with talk about the Cro-Nut, the Cro-Not, and the myriad of imitators and imposters — what I’ll call the Faux Cro’s.

The Cronut, a cross between a croissant and a donut, was started in New York City by former Daniel pastry chef Dominique Ansel at his bakery, Dominique Ansel Bakery. In May, they trademarked the name and officially added the cronut to the regular menu. What started in New York City in May quickly spread to faux cro’s in  Philly, Baltimore, and all points west with Eater SF covering the San Francisco versions by the first week of August.

Now that’s fast.

I like an adventure and I don’t mind following a gimmick trail as long as it doesn’t entail me standing outside in line for five hours (two hours, yes — love you Totto Ramen! – but five hours for a cross between a donut –which I adore — and a croissant — which I could take or leave? Nah.), so when I read that the knock-off had come to Philly in the form of a Swiss Cro-Creme, I decided to jump on the bandwagon.

The Eater Philadelphia article describing the Swiss Cro-Creme from Swiss Haus Bakery suggested reserving my Cro-Creme up to two days in advance, which I shrugged off. I was just going to mosey on down to Center City Philadelphia (the bakery is by Rittenhouse Square) and pick one up. No big deal. Like picking milk up from the store, right?

But, cronut hysteria seemed to be growing and my aunt, who is a prudent, cautious gal, kept encouraging me to call the bakery first, so to humor her I called the bakery to inquire about Cro-Creme reservations the afternoon before I planned to go down there. And they were full up. Yup. Completely sold out. No more pre-orders. But, I was invited to go stand in line at the bakery on the morning of the day in which I desired my Cro-Creme. Cro-Cremes are ready by 10:00 AM and the bakery reserves a handful for the poor jerks who didn’t make a reservation.

What? Really? But, I didn’t have anything better to do, so I resolved to get up early for the trek.

That’s right: I’m a real Cro-Getter.

So I hoofed it down there at the cracka cracka dawn (9:00 a.m.) from the wilds of Bucks County and found a parking spot smack dab in front of — where else — the Shake Shack! Fate? Probably. I had a good feeling about this. Then, I get to Swiss Haus and NO LINE! Not a soul standing out front. Hurrah! The  faux-cro fates are with me.

The place was so calm and quiet inside that I almost felt foolish. Then, I saw them on the counter looking all sugary and humble as you please. One tray.

What appears to be the only tray of non-reserved Cro-Cremes

What appears to be the only tray of non-reserved Cro-Cremes

As I order, I am told that the maximum is five (five? Who would want five of these? Especially at $5.00 a piece?). The man behind me, also hot on the Cro-Creme trail, asks if he can have the rest of my unused allotment.

Goodness, people, it’s a fried croissant, not the keys to the kingdom.

I took my two boxed up Cro-Cremes and beat it out of there.

Ready for the Big Reveal

Ready for the Big Reveal

Well, so here it is in all it’s glory. I have to say, it was tasty, but very, very rich. It took me three separate sittings to finish mine. Pairing it with a hot coffee would cut the richness and bring a nice balance to it. (Click on photos for close-ups.)

I can see why people are going Cro-Nuts: fried dough and sugar is a tried and true crowd-pleaser however it comes down the pike. This is like fair food for grown-ups. Look for it soon at a Renn Fest near you.

Have you tried it? Liked it? How far would you go for a cronut? Let’s see what the people say (poll below).