FAIR COMES BACK AROUND: County’s big event returns, and so do crowds

Posted 8/19/22

Standing in his socks, David Olsen slowly pulled the wooden spoon out of his mouth, the taste of blackberry jelly on his tongue.

He looked around, thinking there was only one thing that would make …

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FAIR COMES BACK AROUND: County’s big event returns, and so do crowds

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Standing in his socks, David Olsen slowly pulled the wooden spoon out of his mouth, the taste of blackberry jelly on his tongue.

He looked around, thinking there was only one thing that would make this moment more delicious.

Some chunky peanut butter.

Kitty Gibson and Janine Boire quickly agreed.

The trio — all judges in the “best jam and jelly” contest at the Jefferson County Fair — had found one of the sweet spots of the beloved summertime event that had finally come back, escaping from its coronavirus cocoon of the past two years.

On a folding table in front of the trio sat 11 jars of homemade jams and jellies, and the threesome methodically tasted their way through each jar, one wooden spoonful at a time.

Plum. Blackberry. Strawberry plum. Mixed berry.

A crowd of a half dozen watched the judging Sunday in the fairground’s Oscar Erickson Building.

Boire admitted she came into the contest with a bit of a bias when a jar of boysenberry was opened.

“If that is our go-to favorite, should we disqualify ourselves from that?” she asked.

Olsen dipped a new spoon into a blackberry jam, and the sample scored a double lick on the spoon.

Then came an unexpected entry: fireweed jelly.

“It’s kind of earthy,” said Gibson, the most veteran jelly judge of the trio.

Boire watched Olsen’s reaction.

“Give that the furrowed brow. Very serious,” Boire said.

Olsen approved, though, adding he could imagine it on plain toast.

“Sourdough toast,” Boire offered.

“That one gets marks just for being an outlier,” Gibson added.

Fireweed? What’s that? The judges imagined what the plant looked like, and the color of its flowers.

Watching the judges, Joanna Scheibl, the exhibitor who made the jelly, said it was made from the many, many blooms of the wildflower plant.

“It’s really big in Alaska,” she told the trio.

The judging continued until finally, after trading notes and shifting jars hither and yon until an agreement was reached on the top three, the first-place award in the jam contest went to Mary Rose Stanton for her strawberry plum jam.

A mixed-berry jam of loganberry, blackberry, and strawberry by Hundred Roses came in second, followed in third by a plum jam by Laura Pollock.

Pollock also won in the jelly contest, for her blackberry jelly, and Susan Clary was a winner with her blackberry freezer jelly.

And, to Scheibl’s surprise, the fireweed jelly also scored a win.

“I just won!” Scheibl said as she turned to her family, walking up to the judge’s table after the verdicts had been rendered.

Her family broke into smiles.

“Of course you did.”

“Great job, mom,” came another response.

When asked why he judged the jelly and jam contest in his socks, without his shoes on, Olsen said he’d been rolling with it earlier.

“I was spinning,” he said, motioning to the other side of the Oscar Erickson Building.

He gave a second thought to his judging attire and smiled.

“It might make a difference,” Olsen laughed.

ATTENDANCE BETTER THAN EXPECTED

With three packed days of events, from 4-H animal demonstrations and presentations to music and magic shows, baseball and dodgeball games, 4-by-4 mud drags and Western Games horse events, the Jefferson County Fair marked a sweet return last weekend to Port Townsend.

But like jelly without its peanut butter partner, there were a few things missing as the fair emerged from the shadow of the pandemic.

4-H organizers noted a fall-off in the number of participants. Avian flu kept the chickens and other fowl away.

And some exhibitors also had challenges that kept them out, said Fair Manager Danny McEnerney.

Some had to cancel due to a lack of workers.

“One would sign up; one would get COVID. Literally, we just had one come in yesterday, ‘Can I be in it?’ It’s that chaotic.

“It’s been some work getting this going,” McEnerney added.

Even so, the fair surpassed expectations for its welcome return.

“People just really missed it,” said Don Pruitt, president of the Jefferson County Fair Board.

“We had a lot, a lot of excellent comments and compliments, he said. “The parking lots have been full. We had quite a line at the gate yesterday, with cars down the street.”

“After two years, I think people are ready for it to be back,” Pruitt said.

McEnerney, who took over as fair manager earlier this year, recalled a few of the firsts for his inaugural Jefferson County Fair.

He was a judge in a 4-H contest, he said.

“It was a fashion show for sheep,” McEnerney said.

For the 4-H youth with animals, the fair is a big deal.

“Other kids have soccer championships, ballet recitals,” he said.

For 4-H youth, the fair is a culminating event.

“This is their World Series to show off all their work. It’s been really great,” he added.

Overall, McEnerney said the early estimate was 10,000 fair goers and exhibitors, with about 8,500 being attendees.

“This is just a hair under our 2019 numbers and surpasses any expectation we had for the first year back. We are so thrilled!”

Some of the events were real crowd-pleasers, he added, noting the Washington State Draft Horse Pulls that were part of the fair this year.

“One team pulled more than 7,000 pounds of concrete, with seven people on top,” McEnerney recalled.

TOSS IT ON THE BAR-B

Lines were long, as expected, for the Sunday beef barbecue.

Eric Johnson and a crew of more than a dozen worked the barbecue pit.

This year’s barbecue had 575 pounds of angus top round; 64 half roasts.

“We start on Friday,” Johnson said. “We pick up the meat from the QFC. We bring it here, slice it in half, dry rub it, and put it in the cooler until this morning at 5.”

Johnson said it was enough beef for 500 to 800 portions.

“This is nothing. When we originally started this barbecue 25 years ago, we cooked 1,500 pounds,” he said.

The barbecue back then revolved around a hole in the ground and at least 10 cords of wood.

“We put the roasts in socks and lowered them down into the hole, and let them cook,” Johnson said.

Johnson had the assistance of 15 people during the fair, many of them retired volunteer firefighters or family members.

“We rotate them out, so people can get off their feet,” he added.

FOR THOSE ABOUT TO ROCK

Things were also rocking nearby, at the Port Townsend Rock Club Building.

Mike Stearns manned the Wheel of Fortune as youngster after youngster plopped down 50 cents to take a spin at a prize.

Kids cried out “ooh” after missing one of the four strips marked with a star at the top, which gives the winner the best pick of prizes, spread out on the table in front of the red wheel wonder.

“I was so close to that star,” one boy said, trying to convince his older brother.

Arlie Blankenship stopped by the Rock Club Building, pausing to admire a motorized Ferris wheel made of driftwood, with eight seats filled by tiny cloth people.

Blankenship, a Port Townsend resident, said the wheel was made by his father, George Blankenship.

“I’m guessing — 1969,” he said.

“I was in the service then,” Blankenship added.

His mother had a part in the display, which has been on display at the fair for years and always draws interested looks from folks visiting the rock club’s building. “She made the little people.”

Blankenship, 85, pointed to an old group photo of rock club members in a nearby display case. The group was gathered around a fountain club members had made, and a date of 1969 was written on the top of the photo.

That’s his dad, there, in the plaid shirt, he said.

Blankenship noted his brother Dale is a master jade carver, winning a series of first- and second-place awards with his skills in recent years.

But rocks and gems weren’t his thing, he admitted.

“I don’t know a thing about it. I like to do machinist work,” he said, adding his wife does cross-stitching.

THE CAT’S WHISKERS

Things were purring in the 4-H Cat Building Sunday, with the open cat show, and costume and cage decoration contests.

Skippy John, coming off a Saturday where the feline had won the public vote for “favorite cat” of the fair, was getting examined for the open class show for shorthairs.

Melanya Nordstrom, a former 4-H’er now judging club shows and county fairs, noted to the audience that Skippy John was a pointed cat.

“Usually with pointed cats, as they age, they get darker overall.”

She noted that point coloration on cats is something that is carried in the feline’s genes. Skippy John has seal point coloration, she told the audience.

“He has little white mittens,” she added.

If he was a solid seal point, she said, he would not have any white fur.

“His whiskers would be dark, as well,” she said.

Nordstrom picked up Skippy John and held him aloft on two outstretched hands, to show how he could stretch.

Point coloration comes from Siamese cats, said Nordstrom, adding that Siamese  are the super stretchers in the cat world.

“Siamese cats are supposed to be very long and tube-shaped, as opposed to a Persian,” she explained, “those are short, compact, like a brick.”

Skippy, though, wasn’t really into overextending himself at the fair.

“Skippy John is not a fan of that today,” she said as the feline fussed slightly, drawing a loud laugh from the spectators.

Only nine cats made it down to the Jefferson County Fair this year, an event that has normally had 20 or so feline entries in past years. The double-whammy of two missed fairs, COVID restrictions, 4-H members aging out of the organization, and younger siblings getting exposed to the 4-H fun, were noted as factors in the fall off.

Each cat was judged for trimmed claws, and clean eyes, nose, and ears.

Nordstrom said all of the short hairs were doing extremely well at being handled.

In the end, it turned out to be a good fair for Skippy John, who was picked as a reserve grand champion. Aspen won grand champion honors.

Fuzzy was a close call for second place, but fell short.

“Fuzzy had eye boogers,” Nordstrom explained.

BIG FINISH

All in all, the fair was a surprising success.

“We didn’t know what to expect. We’ve had the biggest attendance, by far, than what we expected. So it’s been really great; lots of happy kids, smiling,” said McEnerney, manager of the fair.

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