Food & Drink

Learn about farms and food at upcoming fairs and festivals

Bill Freese of Oxford looks at an oxbo hay merger during Ag Progress Days in 2015.
Bill Freese of Oxford looks at an oxbo hay merger during Ag Progress Days in 2015. Centre Daily Times, file

This article ran in 2002 and it is that time of year again. Ag Progress Days starts this week and the Grange Fair is right around the corner.

Like our ancestors who celebrated the recurring harvests of the field, central Pennsylvanians are busy with preparations to honor the farm and the farmer at local agricultural fairs during the month of August. The rustling of the tasseled corn stalks, the bright pyramids of tomatoes and the rows of zucchini nestled together by size all indicate that we are at the height of summer — it’s time for Ag Progress Days and the Grange Fair.

On an early visit to the deserted site of the Ag Progress Days exhibition area, with empty lanes pegged with street signs first through 12th, it was easy to imagine the festive exhibitors rolling in and the food stands lined up ready to serve stir-fried and batter fried vegetables straight from the nearby fields. Though designed to appeal to the active farming community, there is a lot at Ag Progress Days to appeal to the amateur farmer or farming enthusiast. It provides a telescopic view into the farming concerns of the future — and affords a glimpse into the rearview mirror of our agricultural past as well.

The Pasto Agricultural Museum provides the time travel. A visit to the museum brings the realization that it was not so long ago that humans spent most of their time procuring food and satisfying their most basic physical needs. The biggest event of the year was the harvest, because it determined the welfare of the family until the next growing season. Nearly every moment of every day was spent toiling for the good of the household, and every member participated to the extent that they were able. No computers and televisions to distract; no leisure time to worry about filling with vacation plans. Parents, this is a museum you will want to visit with children.

The exhibits in the hall are well designed and include more than 850 implements used for farming and rural life. In the middle of the hall is their current featured exhibit, “Early Farm and Home Pork Processing and Preservation” that honors the late Penn State Professor P. Thomas Ziegler who wrote many articles and books about meat processing, including his best known volume called “The Meat We Eat,” which was published in 1943 and became the first meat processing textbook designed for college use.

Darwin Braund, the volunteer curator at the museum in 2002, explained that nearly every farm produced and processed all the meat that they had available for the year at home and did so without the aid of refrigeration. This exhibit illustrates the methods, and with the visual aids of Styrofoam primal cuts, makes clear how varied the uses of the animal were. This is an exhibit for Homer Simpson, who asked his vegetarian daughter if she was ready to give up pork, ham and bacon, and was told that they are all from the same animal.

Indeed, the pig is that magical animal and provides different tastes depending on how the meat is processed. The magic of salt and smoke make ham, and the combination of sugar, salt and smoke create bacon. The secrets to these cures and more are all in the handwritten script of P.T. Ziegler ready to take you time-tripping at the Pasto Museum when you go to Rock Springs to celebrate your farming roots.

Later this month you can continue your appreciation of agricultural life at the Grange Fair in Centre Hall. It is better to go at the beginning of the week if you want to take a look at the fruit and vegetable first prize winners as well as the winners in the baked goods categories before they go the way of all organic matter. You can also continue your pork explorations by standing in line for one of Scott’s Roasting roast pork sandwiches, one of the premier delicacies offered by the many food vendors. In fact, a lot of State College families purchase a week’s pass to the fair and head out there every night for dinner because there are too many good things to eat in one night.

Ag Progress Days will be held this year for the 41st time at Rock Springs, Penn State’s Research Farms located nine miles southwest of State College on Route 45. Admission and parking are free. The hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday, 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Wednesday and 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Thursday. For more information, call 865-2081 or visit agsci.psu.edu/apd.

The 142nd Centre County Grange Encampment and Fair takes place in Centre Hall, about 10 miles northeast of State College on Route 45. The fair runs this year from Friday until Aug. 27 with the exhibit halls open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. Admission price includes the nightly musical entertainment at the Grandstand. For more information, visit www.grangefair.com.

Anne Quinn Corr is the author of “Seasons of Central Pennsylvania,” of several iBook cookbooks (“Food, Glorious Food!” “What’s Cooking?!” and “Igloo: Recipes to Cure the Winter Blues”) that are available for free on iTunes. She regularly posts to the blog HowToEatAndDrink .com and can be reached at chefcorr@gmail.com.

BROCCOLI SALAD WITH BACON AND SWEET-SOUR DRESSING

This recipe honors the noble pig, done to such a fine turn in our region.

Makes 6 to 8 servings

8 slices bacon

 1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons cider vinegar

1 large clove garlic, crushed

1 medium-size sweet onion, such as Vidalia, chopped in small dice

1 large bunch of broccoli, 3 to 4 stalks, florets and stems separated

1/3 cup craisins or raisins

salt and pepper to taste

1. Dice the raw bacon and saute it over a medium low heat until the fat is rendered and the bacon bits are crisp. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and save the rendered fat for another cooking use, or discard.

2. Whisk together the mayonnaise, sugar and salt in a medium bowl. Add the vinegar one tablespoon at a time, whisking well after each addition to thin it evenly and keep it smooth. Add the diced onion and the crushed garlic. Cut the broccoli florets into small bite-size pieces and cut the stems into thin slices. Stir the broccoli into the dressing and refrigerate for four or so hours or overnight. Stir several times before serving.

3. When ready to serve, stir in craisins and the cooked bacon bits. Taste and add salt or pepper as needed, stir well, and taste again. Serve cold.

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