February 25, 2020

Get Some Switchel and Bask in the Common Ground Fair

An inquisitive look from one of the horses in the draft horses barn at the Common Ground Fair.

Janine Pineo Photo | An inquisitive look from one of the horses in the draft horses barn at the Common Ground Fair.

• By Janine Pineo •

As I motored up the Airline Friday night, the climbing moon in all its glory played hide-and-seek in the rise and fall of each hill.

My thoughts were more elusive than the wispy ribbon of cloud glowing above the peach-hued orb. I couldn’t quite put into words what was on my mind after spending the afternoon at the 2013 Common Ground Fair, which opened Friday under blue skies and will continue through Sunday in Unity.

This massive display of the might of Mainers who farm, garden and create never fails to impress. A lengthy roster of speakers, demonstrations, displays, performers and vendors means that you can find something to do at every turn and beyond.

Three days really isn’t enough to see everything. This is a good thing because it means all that and more is going on right here in our state, and the organizer, the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, does yeoman’s work in putting on this show every September.

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When I arrived Friday afternoon, music was floating around the Rose Gate on the north end of the fairgrounds, and children on pieces of cardboard were sliding down the outside of the amphitheater rim, their giggles and screams mixing with the blasts from the train that carried people to and from the site.

Yes, there is even a train you can ride in to the fair.

I walked along, admiring the bounty of goods in the farmers market area, and circled up to the Exhibition Hall where everything from beets, watermelons and onions were on display next to pickles and preserves to artwork and crafts. I was especially enamored of the enormous Moon and Stars watermelons.

There really needs to be a watermelon booth.

I then headed for the Maine Marketplace to peruse the goods there and look for some folks I knew were ensconced for the weekend.

May I just say how clever human beings are? How creative? How dedicated? How passionate?

Yes, I can.

I ran into my friend Bev, who has Cleverly Crafts by Beverly and makes beautiful rugs from strips of cloth. And handbags and totebags from sweaters. And fingerless mitts from the sleeves of the same sweaters. And numerous other things that you know you want.

She got a hug, so did her sister and we chatted before I headed off.

The first thing I bought was for my dog, Kai. From the Loyal Biscuit Treat Co. with stores in Belfast, Rockland and Camden, he got pawprint cookies and peanut butter treats. We talked Maine-sourced flour just because I was curious what they used and I might have even helped them learn that Maine is well on its way to establishing grains as a crop again across the state.

Then it gets a little fuzzy what I saw and did next, but I had the privilege of talking again with Holly of Medieval Magic Organic Skin Care. She and I had met at the garden show in Bangor in April where I purchased some of her facial care products. My face has never been happier.

I admired everything from textiles to crafts to foods, purchasing a lovely skein of hand-spun, hand-painted yarn from Maine Woods Yarn & Fiber in the shade Arlyne and Bob call “Downeast.” Yes, it really is the hue of Down East: blues, grays, cream and a shade of pink-peach that feels like sunrise for the Sunrise County.

I talked for a moment with a lovely woman who gave me samples of handmade marshmallows in flavors of maple, blueberry and blackberry. I bought two bags of them, from the very appropriately named Maine Marshmallow in Clinton, and her little helper who might have been 8 years old took my money and got my change for me.

I stopped by Brahms Mount, knowing I didn’t need a handsome new blanket, but I did purchase a linen-wrapped journal with rustic-looking pages. It was a good way to spend a mere $5. I told the man I still was using the lovely throw I had purchased many years ago, remembering I had to carry that thing around all day in the heat because I was afraid it would sell before I got back to it.

A lovely display of vegetable-covered focaccia called to me so I got a piece and a blueberry-rhubarb bar at half price because they were getting ready to close for the night. Remind me, if you will, that I need to stop by Tuva Bakery in Lincolnville Center when next I motor through.

I had a nice conversation with Cody, a baker at GrandyOats who was holding down the tent for the Brownfield business. He offered me cashews in Nori Sesame flavor (Yes!) and I debated which granola to try. I went classic, which was another amazing bargain at just $5 for a 13 oz. container of organic goodness. I sampled the maple granola, just because, and was impressed with the subtlety of the maple. I should have bought that one, too.

Morgan’s Mills had a sign up in the food court for Cornish pasties. I queued but they were sold out of the beef. I ended up with a seafood version presented as an empanada. It was no hardship to eat it.

The one item that made me slightly giddy is a small thing for sale at the Sagadahoc MOFGA food booth. You can’t miss it, with its large Baked Beans sign. For there was the word “Switchel.”

I stopped dead in my tracks and sidled up to the booth. I am sure the kind woman thought I was a bit nuts when I said I was excited to try it.

Switchel, you see, is a drink made decades ago during haying season. Their version substituted molasses with maple syrup, and combined that with water, honey, vinegar and ginger.

Yeah, sounds crazy, doesn’t it, just like the other vinegar-based, homemade beverage called shrubs.

But it was delicious, sweet enough and kicking back a bit with the vinegar and ginger.

For 50 cents, you can’t go wrong. I could have downed a quart of it, so refreshing was its flavor.

That may be what was eluding me as I drove home, the moon aglow over the heart of Maine.

It was a refreshing day, seeing the beauty in the natural world and embracing those who partake of it with creativity and enthusiasm.

Top it with a cup of switchel for good measure and it was a good day in Maine.

For more
Common Ground Fair: Visit the MOFGA site for full details.
Cleverly Crafts by Beverly
Loyal Biscuit Treat Co.
Medieval Magic Organic Skin Care – no website, but email i.holly@hotmail.com. Tell her Janine sent you.
Maine Woods Yarn & Fiber – email mainekids@fairpoint.net
Maine Marshmallow
Brahms Mount
Tuva Bakery – 207-763-4349

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