“Fair Food Exhibits Tempting to Visitors: Passerby Again Must Exercise Self-Control in Looking at Choice Edibles.”
-The Saginaw News, September 12, 1937, p. 32.
The Saginaw County Fair is about gathering, learning, celebrating the bounty of the land, and – of course – about competition. And food is always central to its mission.
The 2023 Saginaw County Fair is the 110th Saginaw County Fair held by the Saginaw Agricultural Society. Although fairs had been held in Saginaw County as early as the 1860s, by the early twentieth century Saginaw County was without one. In the early teens, a fair was held at Riverside Park in the city of Saginaw. Organized by the Saginaw County School and Farm Bureau Association, the 1913 event was billed as the first “school fair in Michigan.” In August of the following year, the Saginaw County Agricultural Society was formed. Their first fair opened on October 6, 1914, on land rented from the Saginaw Driving Club. Located on the corner of East Genesee and Webber, this location was considered far out in the country. The only structure on the property was a wooden grandstand. Horse racing was important, and it was put to good use. Exhibits were housed in tents and unpaved roads became a mire of mud.
Money to finance The Saginaw County Agricultural Society’s event was raised by selling $10.00 shares of stock throughout the county. With a rule of only “one share per customer” and representation from each of the townships, the event quickly grew to become one embraced by and reflecting the entire county and continues to be Saginaw County’s fair.
“The farmers . . . look upon the fair as the medium by which they can exhibit their prowess in coaxing splendid results from the earth, before their own kind as well as their city brothers.”
-The Saginaw Daily News, August 31, 1924.
In 1914 there were eight departments: Horses, Cattle, Sheep and Swine, Poultry, Agriculture, Horticulture, Domestic and Educational. Total premiums amounted to $3,294.20 and many of the winning contestants received merchandise prizes donated by local merchants. At this first event, women’s and youth activities received much less attention. Total premiums in the Needlework, Art and School exhibits amounted to just $181.00. Children were expected to compete with the adults. As the fair grew, the number of departments and prizes increased and reflected the diversity of the community and its interests.
As time passed, the fairground’s location was no longer centrally located and convenient for Saginaw’s agricultural community. In 2001 the last fair was held at the East Genesee Avenue fairgrounds. The Saginaw County Agricultural Society acquired a new site on Peet Road in Chesaning and the first fair was held there in 2002.
Although education and competition are central to a fair, entertainment, and the vitality of the midway - and its food - are crucial to its success.
“Have you ever eaten ‘elephant ears?’
Try one at this year’s Saginaw Fair starting Saturday.
In case you don’t know what elephant ears are or how big they are, it’s a fried dough covered with brown sugar, honey or other toppings. They are as big – naturally – as an elephant’s ears.
Elephant ears will be one of the food fares at the fair. But fair goers can again count on old favorites such as French fries with vinegar and pepper.”
-The Saginaw News, September 5, 1979, p. 13.
Although the 110th Saginaw County Fair is over, we provide a recipe from the midway to extend the fair to your home. Next week the test kitchen will focus on more competitive recipes.
The Recipe: Elephant Ears
Elephant Ears (1915)
Beat 3 eggs. Add a pinch of salt and small tablespoon milk.
Mix very stiff with flour, about 2 – 2 ½ cups. Pinch off a piece about the size of a walnut and roll out very thin.
Fry in deep, hot (375°) oil until brown. About 30 seconds to 1 minute per side.
Serve hot with cinnamon sugar, powdered sugar, or maple syrup.