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Oversized gourds. Barnyard animals. The smell of fried dough.
It's officially fair season in New England. Fairgrounds that sit barren for most of the year are getting filled up by hundreds of thousands of guests seeking a dose of nostalgia and a serving — or two — of fried food. Small host towns suddenly discover what it's like to have traffic. And there's always a little bit of chaos. But the view from atop the ferris wheel or the taste of that hot apple crisp you've been waiting for all year always seem to make it worth it.
New Englanders have no shortage of options. In fact, this weekend only, the region's biggest and arguably best fairs are all overlapping — from Massachusetts to New Hampshire to Maine.
Where: West Springfield, Massachusetts
When: Friday, Sept. 16 to Sunday, Oct. 2
It's your last weekend to attend this 105-year-old standby. While it may be formally known as the Eastern States Exhibition, the Big E is known for it's stunning array of over-the-top food. It's probably the closest thing we have to rival those midwestern country fairs. There's even deep-fried butter, for better or worse (definitely worse). MassLive has a good rundown of what's actually worth eating — and wait to avoid — here. Apparently, it's also a popular year for pickles. Not interested in the food? Don't miss the Avenue of States, the Big E's immersive showcase of all six New England states.
Where: Topsfield, Massachusetts
When: Friday, Sept. 30 to Monday, Oct. 10
A bit closer to Boston, the Topsfield Fair is just getting started this weekend. Nearly twice as old as The Big E, the Topsfield Fair stakes its name as America's oldest country fair, and it's packed with events, competitions, rides and — yes, obviously — food. This is also the first year the Topsfield Fair will have a liquor license, allowing organizers to set up a beer garden. One other helpful first: tickets can now be bought online.
Where: Deerfield, New Hampshire
When: Thursday, Sept. 29 to Sunday, Oct. 2
I'll admit I'm more than a bit biased here. As someone who grew up just down the road, the Deerfield Fair was an unofficial holiday during my childhood (local school students even have Friday off; Thursday, too, if your parents called in a "dentist appointment"). Billed as New England's "oldest family fair," the four-day event packs a punch. It has pumpkins that break national records, legendary New England accents and so, so many animals. My favorite? It's got to be the pigs.
Where: Fryeburg, Maine
When: Sunday, Oct. 2 to Sunday, Oct. 9
Set in the picturesque shadow of the White Mountains just over the border in New Hampshire, the Fryeburg Fair is quietly massive. Not only is it the biggest fair in Maine, it's second only to the Big E in New England. And it has its own unique flavor. The lineup includes the largest spectator woodsmen’s competition on the continent, as well as a big parade (next weekend) with everything from animals to antique cars. And tractor wheelies? Yes, apparently that, too.
P.S.— Need something to listen to on the drive out to the fairgrounds this weekend? The Endless Thread podcast just capped off its three-part mini-series on the wild world of cryptocurrency. They do a great job of making the complex subject understandable and fascinating. You'll hear about the crypto island paradise that was never meant to be, how one country made Bitcoin legal tender and the children who have practically gone cuckoo for crypto.