I love September. I wonder, do all people especially love the month of their birth, as though something reawakens in them when their constellation rises, or is this just a coincidence for this one Virgo? Or maybe my September love is just the coming of the cool weather, the coloring and crisping of the leaves, or the opportunity this allows for cozy sweaters and corduroys. Maybe I'm ready for the variety of shapes, colors, and flavors of winter squash and pumpkins lining the stands at the market, ready for me to infuse both savory and sweet flavors into them. Or perhaps it is the nostalgic excitement of the county fair, which does (wouldn't you know it) happen to always fall on the week of my birthday. Whatever it is, I love all these things and am giddy when it's time to flip the calendar page to that first fall month.
The Cabarrus County Fair
I remember visiting the old fairgrounds when I was a little girl, walking through the craft barn with its dusty red-dirt floor, running my eyes over stitched kleenex boxes and fancy fly swatters and waiting as my parents bought etched glass with a Clemon tiger paw. I was always entertained by the freakishly large vegetables and the pen of goats and sheep there for my petting. We ate country ham biscuits sold by one of the local churches and never left without a candy apple (I liked to pick the candy off and leave the apple), a block of fudge, or an elephant ear with cinnamon and sugar (or sometimes, all three!).
The fair has moved to a bigger location, now, with nice air-conditioned exhibit halls instead of barns and a concrete midway instead of dirt. But I'm still drawn to the same old things: folk crafts, fuzzy and feathered animals, odd-looking vegetables, and sweet things. In all my 27 years, I haven't changed a bit.
After Paul's parents attended my annual Pie Day, his mom insisted that I enter the pie contest at the county fair. Even with a dozen pies, she went back for seconds of my peach-blackberry. It was a sure winner. She printed me off all the forms and some extras for other entry categories that she thought Paul and I both would be interested in. Linda has taken the blue ribbon with her apple pie before. She knows pie. There is something about Linda that reminds me of my Granny, and that makes it hard for me to tell her no.
As the time got closer, I got more and more excited. This year, I was going to be a part of it - not just the one walking the aisles, looking, but the one with things on display, right alongside those kleenex box covers, intricate quilts, and macaroni art. I was so happy that I was going to be a part of this display of community, tradition, and self-sufficiency.
Paul and I entered several categories. We both submitted photos from our travels, and aside from pie, I also entered some Verabelle clothing into several of the sewing categories. When I turned in my sewing, I thought I didn't have a chance. There was some really beautiful work there, by women with many more years with a needle in their hand than in mine.
I didn't turn my pies in until the next week, half-way through the fair, so that they could be tasted and judged on the spot. This was much more nerve-racking than just dropping off my photos and clothing and leaving. The pies had to be perfect. There were no second chances, no seam ripper for pies in my pocket. If the pie didn't come out of the oven looking just right, there would be no time for baking a new one. And since I had to take the whole pie in for judging, I couldn't even taste it! What if I accidently switched my cinnamon and cayenne pepper?! I'd never know! I devoted the entire day to baking my pies, taking my time with each one, reading and rereading my recipes and giving myself plenty of time to prep the ingredients, roll out the crusts, and let each pie cool to just the right temperature.
Besides Linda's favorite lattice-top Peach-Blackberry, I also revised a few of my favorite pies from past Pie Days, and made a new Butternut Squash Pie with Orange-Streusel Topping.