Berks County has proud agricultural heritage. With fertile farmland and a thriving livestock industry, that tradition continues to this day on family farms throughout the county.
And it is that pride that is put on a pedestal every August for the Reading Fair.
Sure there are the unlimited rides on the Ferris wheel, and there are games waiting to test your skill with a ping pong ball or dart in your hand, and deep fried everything along the carnival midway, but that’s only part of the story.
There’s also the competition in the exhibit halls, the livestock on display in the barns, the horsepower on the track and some of the best fair food around, courtesy of the area’s local Grange organizations.
Beneath the Grange tent, you can find anything you could hope for: from staples like hamburgers and hot dogs to deep fried dishes like apple fritters and funnel cake.
Me, I will always gravitate toward the barbecue. In this case, that means a barbecue chicken sandwich, a pile of roasted, pulled chicken topped with all the Sweet Baby Ray’s sauce I want. Add on a side of fries and a pint of Clover Farms chocolate milk and I certainly don’t miss the greasy pizza or over-salted pretzels on the food wagons.
But the fair is more to me than just a place to eat, it’s a yearly chance for me to show off my own culinary skills.
It started with my grandmother’s shoo-fly pie recipe. I started baking the Pennsylvania German dessert about three years ago. I first entered it in the fair in 2012, and last year I took home a second-place ribbon for it.
This year, I entered three items in the baked goods competition, my shoo-fly pie, which again took home runner-up honors (seriously, look at that beautiful pie and tell me how it doesn’t win), a shoo-fly cake, which was good enough for third place, and a pecan pie, which earned a blue ribbon in the one-crust pie category.
All of the baked goods entered in the competition are auctioned off for charity at the end of the fair’s first night, so if you want to try any of my pies or cakes for yourself, bring your wallet next year.
It’s always fun to take a look around at the entries in the other competitions, especially the arts and crafts categories where you will find some very unique pieces.
And of course we have to talk a walk through the stalls to look at the sheep, goats, rabbits and cattle, some of which will end up being next year’s hamburgers.
Out on the track, which hosts a variety of racing events including motorcycle and micro-sprint racing, it was farm equipment on steroids as we watched souped-up tractors (mod-E-fieds as the Dutchy PA announcer called them) pulling a sled down the 300-foot dirt dragstrip.
For 160 years, the Reading Fair has brought together city and country in a celebration of everything that makes Berks County great. Like a fine wine, the tradition keeps getting better with age. Hopefully someone will be writing the same thing 160 years from now.