Barbara Gates knows the Centre County Grange Encampment and Fair isn’t complete without stops for a gyro and sausage and pork sandwiches.
For others, Gross’ french fries or Bonfatto’s roast beef hoagies are mandatory. Those with a sweet tooth might go straight for the deep-fried Oreos or a more traditional funnel cake.
As Gov. Tom Corbett put it when visiting the Grange Fair in 2011: “If you come to this fair and don’t eat something, there’s something wrong with you.”
One thing is for sure: Fair food keeps the crowds coming back. And that promises to be the case when the 140th annual fair opens Aug. 21 at the fairgrounds in Centre Hall.
“Everybody has a favorite,” said Gates, who serves as concession secretary for the fair.
Gates’ job is no small feat: More than 300 vendors will set up shop and offer their treats to fairgoers over the weeklong celebration.
Ask her to name some options, and she has no problem rattling them off — “hamburg, hot dogs, cheesesteaks, gyros ... standard cotton candy, snow cones, ice cream ... milkshakes ...”
“All the standards,” she said.
But part of Gates’ job is keeping up with the trends.
She pays attention to other fairs, even traveling to some, to see what’s new and to try and encourage vendors to bring something unique to the Grange.
Last year, a stand selling chocolate covered bacon was all the rage. Before that, deep-fried candy bars turned heads.
Still, Gates knows that no amount of fair-food innovation will replace the old favorites.
“I’ve got vendors here who either they or their family have been here for 70 years or longer,” she said. “It’s just been handed down. The old-timers love it.”
The fair is big on tradition — tents are passed down from generation to generation and neighbors become like family. It seems that spirit extends to some of the vendors who call the fairgrounds their home in August.
“I have one vendor ... he’s been talking about giving it up, but he says ‘I’d miss the people,’ ” Gates said. “You hear that from more than one vendor. They’ve been here so many years, they look forward to seeing their old friends. And this is where they see them.”
If food vendors aren’t your thing, sweet treats can still be found at the annual bake sale. Contestants enter their cookies, cinnamon rolls, cakes and pies into a competition, and the leftovers are offered up for sale each year.
Last year, 5,700 baked-goods entries were registered. The money earned by the auction benefits the fair’s land fund.