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Agricultural fairs expand focus but still highlight rural life

Starting out as cattle shows, fairs have changed but they still showcase agriculture and rural life.
wp ag fairs
For many people, the agricultural fair is about the rides and the food.

WESTERN PRODUCER — From late June until the Labour Day weekend, agricultural fairs pop up across the country upholding a tradition that began more than two centuries ago when British settlers brought the idea from their homeland.

“The agricultural fairs, a traditional showcase and recreational outlet for the farmers, reputedly had its Canadian beginnings on May 21, 1765, on Fort Edward Hill in Windsor,” says a stone cairn in Windsor, N.S.

“The fair, authorized when the Windsor township was created in 1764, features livestock, produce and sports, with prizes provided by interested Halifax gentlemen.

“A charter for the holding of future fairs was granted in 1766 and over a number of years the fair was held irregularly, until it eventually ceased. In 1815 a new charter revived the event and since that date the fair has been held with considerable regularity.”

Starting out as cattle shows, fairs have changed since these humble beginnings but they still showcase agriculture and rural life. It is a time to bring people of all ages and backgrounds together for pleasure, education and a distraction from busy daily schedules.

Today the festivities often include farmers markets, dancing and crafts from First Nations groups, milking and horseshoeing demonstrations and fair rides. Over the two or three days one is entertained with horse pulls, every manner of farm animal being judged to find the best of the breed, sewing and cooking competitions and lots of midway food.

When I visited the Saanich Fair on Vancouver Island, the longest continuously running fair in Western Canada, a raft of childhood memories flooded back. The Arcola fair in southeastern Saskatchewan was close to our farm and the fair I attended as a child.

Arcola’s agricultural society held its first fair in 1906. Fairs, horse shows, 4-H events, the RCMP Musical Ride, flower shows, rodeos, ball tournaments and entertainment have taken place over the years. In 2011, it held its first high school rodeo.

In grade school our June projects were to produce entries for the Arcola fair. I especially like drawing so I entered hand-coloured charts showing the life cycle of a toad or butterfly, drawings of native plants and handwriting samples.

If you are attending a fair, plan to unplug and enjoy. Lineups will sometimes be long so don’t go with unrealistic time expectations. The Saanich Fair regularly sees 50,000 attendees. You can imagine the wait to park, pass through the gate and leave.

Who knows? I might enter my baking in a fair next year with this potentially award-winning recipe for white buns. Now that I am more aware of the historical significance of the agricultural fairs, I think I’ll attend more often.

  • 5 tsp. yeast, dry or instant 25 mL
  • 2 – 2 1/4 c lukewarm water 500-560 mL
  • 6 c. unbleached bread flour 1.5 L
  • 2 1/2 tsp. salt 12 mL
  • 2 tbsp. sugar 30 mL
  • 3/4 c. unsalted butter, at room temperature 175 mL
  • 1/2 c. non-fat dry milk 125 mL
  • 1 c. instant mashed potato flakes 250 mL

Using the bowl from your stand mixer, add the yeast, dry or instant, to the water and let bloom for a few minutes. Then add the remainder of the ingredients and knead until a smooth dough. With a stand mixer, it should take five to seven minutes at second speed, and the dough should barely clean the sides of the bowl, perhaps sticking a bit at the bottom.

If you don’t have a stand mixer and are using a bread machine or by hand, it should form a smooth ball.

Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl. Cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel, and allow to rise, at room temperature, until it’s nearly doubled in bulk, about one hour, time will vary depending upon room temperature. Give it enough time to become puffy.

While the dough is rising, lightly grease two 9 x 13 inch (22 x 33 centimetre) pans or a large sheet pan.

Gently deflate the dough and transfer it to a lightly greased work surface. Divide the dough into 24 dinner buns or 18 hamburger buns. By weight the dinner buns are about 2.5 ounces (65 g) and hamburger buns are 3.25 ounces (90 g) each.

Shape each piece into a rough ball by pulling the dough into a very small knot at the bottom, then rolling it under the palm of your hand into a smooth ball.

Place in the pan spacing them evenly. They won’t touch one another.

Lightly spray with oil and cover with a clean kitchen towel. Allow the rolls to rise until very puffy, and now touch one another, about one hour. While the rolls are rising, preheat the oven to 350 F (180 C).

Bake the rolls until they’re a deep golden brown on top, and lighter on the sides, about 25 minutes.

Remove the rolls from the oven, and after two or three minutes, transfer them to a rack. Brush with butter while hot from the oven.

Sarah Galvin is a home economist, teacher and farmers’ market vendor at Swift Current, Sask., and a member of Team Resources. She writes a blog at Contact:

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