It’s the most wonderful time of the year for lovers of all things fall: mums, scarecrows, tractors, haystacks, pumpkins, crunchy leaves, fairytale feasts, and of course, the Bloomsburg Fair!
The 156th Annual Bloomsburg Fair is taking place this week in Columbia County, Pennsylvania. The first fair was held in 1855 after Dr. John Taggart visited a county fair in upstate New York and brought the idea home to Columbia County. Five other gentleman then got together and decided to hold an agricultural fair if they could find enough people to exhibit fruits, vegetables and other products found on a farm. After personally searching for exhibitors, the men organized a one day event and the first fair was held. Admission cost a mere ten cents per person and the fair garnered a whopping thousand visitors the first year alone. The event gradually increased in size and by 1892, the event was operating for a full five days.
Now, over a hundred years later, the Fair still draws thousands of people from all over the country in any weather conditions. Originally held late October of each year, the fair is now traditionally held in September, the third Monday after Labor Day. The fair will take place this year from Saturday, September 25th through Saturday, October 2nd. Over 75,000 people attended on opening day alone and my guess is that 99% of these individuals had something to eat there.
The Bloomsburg Fair is like a huge playground for food lovers, interweaving different ethnic foods from around the globe with signature Pennsylvania specialties. Caramel candy apples, pumpkin rolls, apple and peach dumplings, hearty soups, hot apple cider, church sponsored barbecue dinners, beef brisket sandwiches from hundreds of vendors are all sold at the festival. Here are some highlights of noteworthy fairytale feasts that can be found at the festival:
We’ll start with the cheesesteaks. Yes, cheesesteaks are a dime a dozen all over Eastern and Central Pennsylvania and at the Bloomsburg Fair. But Vince’s Steaks have the longest lines at the fair for good reason – their cheesesteaks are amazing. And unlike in Philly, you’re allowed to ask for peppers or marinara sauce and other toppinon your steak sandwiches here.
The fish and chips were really delicious. The meal was wrapped in newspaper – such an authentic, lovely touch to compliment the food. The fish was not too oily and was perfectly done. With little sprinkle of salt and vinegar and a drizzle of lemon juice, the flaky fish and the roasted potatoes were absolute perfection. In fact, this was the freshest bite I had at the fair. Loved it!
Another favorite Fair treat is the Grotto Pizza. Grotto Pizza is a chain restaurant with locations in Northeastern Pennsylvania and Delaware. While I can technically have this pizza anytime, it’s just too hard to say no to that gooey cheese and sweet sauce so I had to have it. Other people must feel the same way, because the Grotto stand is always crowded every year. And for $2.50 for this single tiny slice of pizza, it better be good!
You can’t visit the Bloomsburg Fair without having some Old Fashioned Birch Beer poured from a barrel!
The Fair features hundreds of different vendors selling food items, home goods, and more. I came across this little stand selling an asortment of gourmet dips and instantly fell in love. There was a sample of each dip displayed in its own wicker basket cooling container ($33). The dips (3 packets for $14) are 100% natural, containing no preservatives. They’re really just dried spice mixes that you can add to cream cheese, mayonaise, sour cream, greek yogurt, etc. (And yes, you can substitute fat free yogurt, etc. to make the dips healthy!) I took home the Excellent Crab, Irish Cheddar & Ale, and Rockin’ Ranch. To visit the website and try these delicious dips for yourself, click here.
The Bloomsburg Fair offers plenty of soup options to warm up the soul. One stand that I enjoy is Nana’s Nook, which serves homemade New England Clam Chowder, Maryland Crab Soup and Cheddar Ale. If you want to try a sample, just ask and they are more than happy to help you.
Another option for soup is the “pot pie” stand. In Pennsylvania Dutch cooking, what they label “pot pies” are really delicious cups of a broth based soup with vegetables, ham or chicken, and homemade pieces of pasta that are similar to dumplings.
One of my longtime standing favorite stands at the Fair is the Baked Potato stand. They do sell complete dinners there, but all I have eyes for are the baked potatoes there. You can order one with your choice of toppings. This one was served with cheese, broccoli and bacon bits.
One of the most prominent offerings at the fair are the many ham/beef dinner stands which serve up hundreds of blue plate like dinner specials and sandwiches.
Anyone from Pennsylvania knows that one of best fall desserts to have is a Pumpkin Roll. I literally die for Pumpkin Rolls – and will blog about them at some point this season. If you are at the fair, you have to try the Pumpkin Roll ($8.75) from the Pennsylvania Dutch Stand near the Grandstand.
You can’t go to the Bloomsburg Fair without getting an apple dumpling. These little bundles of joy are admittedly the main reason why I keep coming here every year. The marriage between autumn and apples is most beautifully exemplified in this distinct dish.
Lastly, if by some miracle you’re still hungry as you’re leaving the fair or you need a little something to bring home, stop by the apple stand near Gate 3. It’s easy to spot – it’s a booth literally carved into the shape of an apple. You can get cider, lemonade and other gluttonous fair-essential treats like fried oreo cookies and or the famous fried apple rings.
Yes, there are other things to do at the fair besides eat – like see the agricultural exhibits that showcase the biggest and best produce and baked goods from the county and beyond. Since I was a little girl, my favorite part of the fair (besides the apple dumplings) has always been seeing the “great pumpkin” (think Charlie Brown) exhibits on display. I just love them and used to think they were the pumpkins that were used to make Cinderella style carriages. They still haven’t lost their magic.
There are still TWO more days to visit the fair this year! Here is some important info to know if you go:
Admission gates are open daily from 7 AM to 9 PM.
Admission is $5.00 per person, with free daily admission for children 12 years old and under.
High school students are admitted free of charge on Friday October 1st.
Parking is $5.00 per car, including free tram/bus service to and from the parking lot and admission gate.