We are beginning “Fair Season” in the Tri-County Area. Today the Jefferson County Fair opens and the Clarion County Fair will follow on July 21. The Clearfield County Fair will open on July 28 and the Elk County Fair will follow on Aug. 6 and don’t forget the Sykesville Ag & Youth Fair, which is scheduled to open Aug. 5.
Yes, there are plenty of fairs to attend across our area and they are filled with entertainment, agriculture, animals, food, laughter and fun. From the gardener to the sports fan to the animal lover and the music lover, the fairs offer a variety of choices for spectators. Add in the carnival rides, the booths of vendors and non-profit organizations and there is really quite a lot to see and do.
Then there is also the fair food. I’ve known people who attend a fair the entire week and decide what food they will have each day – from gyros to pizza and sno-cones to cotton candy. I think it is easy to gain several pounds with all the goodies one can find at a fair.
Thinking of the food –especially the cotton candy – reminded me of my own experience in working a food booth. It’s been almost two decades ago now and I was a member of the Penn State DuBois Alumni Society Board. We were raising money to endow a scholarship for adult learners at Penn State DuBois. One of the fundraisers was selling cotton candy and sno-cones during Community Days.
I’ve never claimed to be mechanically inclined but I had a crash course in making cotton candy and sno-cones. My instructors, David and Amy Duke of Clearfield, who owned the ice cream truck that the Penn State DuBois Alumni Society was using, assured me it was easy.
I watched as David demonstrated how to mix the blue- and pink-colored flavoring with a 5-pound bag of sugar. I carefully took notes as he showed me where to put the sugar mix in the cotton candy-making machine, which is a metal tub with a hole in the center of the bottom. This allows the tub to be placed around the heating element that also holds the sugar. A piece of plastic mesh was clamped around the inside of the tub. This would help catch the cotton candy as it began to spin. David turned on the machine and using a paper cone, began to move his arm in a circular motion while holding the cone inside the tub as the cotton candy soon came spitting out from the center.
He quickly and effortlessly made a perfect cone ... then it was my turn. I held a paper cone tightly in my hand and tried to copy what I had seen David do, but watching and doing are two different things.
As the cotton candy came spinning out of the center, I began to move my hand holding the cone around the tub. I was definitely not ready for how fast the spun sugar comes out of the center of the tub. When the machine was turned off and I lifted the cone to see my creation, the top crumpled over as if it was a too-tall ice cream cone on a very hot day.
My problem was not getting the cotton candy wrapped as far down around the cone as I should have and thus it was top heavy. But I was assured that with practice I would have no problem.
I mentioned that the sugar came out awfully fast and a quick check found it was set on its highest level rather than its lowest. With the machine slowed down, I tried once again and was much more successful – more spun sugar ended up on the cone and less up my arm.
As for the sno-cones ... crushing the ice was easy but my first attempt at squirting the flavoring on top, had sticky sweet syrup flowing over my hand and across the counter as I pushed down to quickly on the pump without holding the sno-cone close enough. That too would come with practice, I was told.
The first night of Community Days went quickly and I was making sno-cones and cotton candy for customers. As the humidity seemed to increase that night, I decided to open the driver’s door of the truck to get a nice cross breeze between the two front doors. During a lull in customers I decided to make up some bags of cotton candy and enjoy the cooling breeze. I turned on the cotton candy machine, and with cone ready, waited for the spun sugar to begin spewing forth from the machine that was located between the two opened doors.
As the sugar began to spin around, I moved the cone around the tub collecting the cotton candy. But something was wrong. The spun sugar whirled faster and faster and suddenly it began to climb higher up the tub –over the rim, as if it had a life of its own.
Why was it moving so fast and so high? What had I forgotten?
I quickly reached across my body with my free hand, hunting the off switch, as I kept twisting the cone around the tub in a vain attempt to subdue this cotton candy monster. Click ... the motor dies ... the whirling spun sugar subsides and I heaved a sigh of relief. I checked the speed dials. They were still set on low. I began the machine once more. It began slowly but soon the spun sugar was swirling out of control once more.
It was then that it hit me ... that wonderful cross breeze keeping me cool ... was also catching the fine strands of cotton candy, lifting them higher, spinning them faster. I hit the off switch once more and made one last twirl of the cone to try and collect the swirling strands as they danced in the breeze.
After cleaning my hand and arm of cotton candy, I shut the driver’s side door ... the cotton candy monster was tamed.
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For those readers who read last week’s column and wondered if I’d found my keys to the office, the answer is I did find them. They were where I suspected they might be – in the jacket I had worn a few days prior. I don’t normally have pockets in my office attire and so keep my keys in my carryall bag or my purse. With the jacket, I took advantage of the luxury of slipping my keys into the pockets so they were always close at hand. That closeness, though, only works when one actually wears the jacket.