Assistant Managing Editor Chris Maza put together this alphabetical guide to the Big E while Managing Editor G. Michael Dobbs and Assistant Editor Payton North provided more coverage from the fair’s 101st year.
Animals and agriculture remain a huge part of the Big E, from the demonstrations and animal showmanship events at the Mallary Complex to Camel Kingdom, featuring some rare dromedaries, to the giant pig and the world's smallest horse.
Beer is abundant at the Big E fair as interest in local and regional craft beer has exploded in recent years. This year’s fair includes the local offerings in the Rhode Island, Vermont and Connecticut state buildings, The Spencer Trappist Beer Bar & Experience, the Opa Opa Sallon, the New England Craft Beer Pub, the Harpoon Beer Experience, the Samuel Adams Beer Garden and the Hofbrahaus Octoberfest Bier Garden to name a few.
Cigars are handrolled in the Connecticut building by Connecticut Valley Tobacconist of Enfield. Victoria, who was sitting at the booth rolling cigars said she has no idea how many she rolls at a the Big E every year – she just keeps going until it’s over. Mike Dobbs has more on this below.
Dr. Seuss takes a prominent place directly in front of the main entrance to the Massachusetts Building this year, touting the new museum celebrating the life of one of Springfield’s most recognizable figures.
Exhibits at this year’s fair include Michaelangelo’s Sistene Chapel – The Exhibition, at which reproductions of the famed artwork on the ceiling of the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel are displayed in original size in the Young Building. Eastern States Exposition: A Walk Through History is also open daily at the Hampden County Building.
Food is always a big draw at the Big E – namely big food, whether it be a one-pound meatball, a Flatliner burger, White Hut’s “Garbage Bowl.” Payton North has more on this below.
Grains make an appearance at this year’s fair in a unique way. Maine Grains, located in central Maine, is making its first appearance at the fair with locally produced wheat, oats and other products, providing an interesting addition to the Maine Building from a state not usually known for its production of such products.
Handmade crafts are abundant at the fair, ranging from woodworking, to chimes made from recycled bottles to hats woven from alpaca wool.
Information on the fair is readily available to all with the help of Springfield Elks #61, which has booths stationed throughout the grounds where you can find this year’s official Big E program.
Jellies and jams of the homemade and artisan variety are always a hit and samples are usually plentiful. Black Sheep Mountain Gourmet on Hampden Avenue was a popular spot this year.
Kettle Corn is another always popular fair food with a number of options available including Good Ole Boys Kettle Corn in the Connecticut Building, Carol’s Original Kettle Corn in the Massachusetts Building, and Cloud Nine Delights behind the New Hampshie Building, among others.
Lions Clubs always have a strong presence at the fair. The Agawam Lions Chicken Bar-B-Que is a staple, while across the way on West Road, West Springfield’s Lions Club came out with the exotic Flatliner burger this year.
Maple comes in all shapes and sizes – maple syrup, maple sugar candy, maple iced coffee, maple cotton candy and now maple beverages. SAP! Maple Beverages, located in the Vermont Building, offers maple soda and maple seltzer as well as birch sparkling water. Mike Dobbs has more on this at remindermagazines.com.
Nitro cold brew coffee by Omar Coffee Company of Newington, CT, will keep you going when you’re feeling a little sluggish. It is stronger than a regular espresso. You can find it on Hampden Avenue and in the Better Living Center.
Open now through Oct. 1, the Big E unlocks its gates at 8 a.m. The Avenue of States and Storrowton Village are 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Most exhibits and buildings open at 10 a.m. and close at 10 p.m. Single-day admission is $15 for adults, $10 for children 6 to 12 and free for children 5 and under. This does not include parking.
Potatoes are big at the Big E – in more ways than one. The Maine Building’s baked potatoes remain one of the fair’s most popular foods with long lines while Danny’s Smokehouse outside of the Connecticut Building says it was voted the best at the Big E. West Springfield’s own Billie’s Baked Potatoes is also popular.
Quilters have their work on display – many of them award winning- in the New England Center near the 4-H presentations and performances and the world famous cream puffs.
Rides at the Midway offer fun for fairgoers of all ages. The Midway is open Sunday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Seafood lovers will love the Big E. Whether you’re in the mood for lobster rolls from the Maine or Massachusetts Buildings, smoked salmon on a stick from the Maine Acquatic Association, “stuffies” – those are stuffed quahogs – from Tucker’s Seafood Market in the Rhode Island building or clam chowder from one of the many food vendors, there’s something that will fit your appetite.
Trinkets and tech are big business. Myriad products make for some interesting shopping at the Big E. Whether it’s the EuroBody Shaper – promsing the benefit of an hour-long workout in 10 minutes – the Amazing Tile and Glass Cutter, the Super Shami, the “balloon you can take for a walk” or the locally-made Lo-Bak Trax, rest assured you can find pretty much anything you’d be looking for ... and a lot of things you never knew you needed.
Under the big top, the Circus Spectacular offers the classic circus show with aerial and trapeze performances, live animals and, of course, clowns. The circus performs daily at 1, 4 and 7 p.m.
V-One Vodka’s presence at the Big E continues to be notable. Earlier in the fair they created the World’s Largest Cosmopolitan to raise money for Cancer House of Hope in West Springfield. They also offer fried pina coladas and fried martinis in the Young Building and a martini bar on Industrial Avenue.
Whoopie pies come in all sizes at the Big E, including giant ones – think the size of a large pizza – at Wicked Whoopies in the Maine Building.
Xfinity Theater’s upcoming concert lineup includes Cam on Sept. 22, Smash Mouth on Sept. 23, Night Ranger on Sept. 29 and TwinE Country Fest on Sept. 30. You can buy tickets at www.thebige.com/p/xfinityarena.
Young animals are popular with fairgoers of all ages. The piglets in the Stroh Building provided cute and comedic entertainment during our visit, until they got tuckered out.
Zoom down the giant yellow slide – a longtime staple at the fair – while making your way down Springfield Road.
Ah, September. The leaves begin to change, the crisp fall air approaches and, for most Western Massachusetts residents, thoughts of The Big E begin to creep in. Whether you love it or hate it, The Big E takes over West Springfield for 17 days annually and offers various fried delicacies, or disasters, as well as entertainment. I had the opportunity to go to The Big E on opening day, and I’m sure many of you have noticed as preempted by the name of the event, the focus of The Big E tends to be on size.
When meandering through the fairgrounds and buying up various foods, have you ever stopped to think about what you’re eating, calorie wise or by serving size ratio? I’m sure most people, myself included, enjoy living in an ignorant bliss and not worrying about how many calories of grease we’ve ingested over our time at The Big E.
Before attending the fair I mulled over a list of foods that would be served at the event. Giant turkey legs. An 18-inch bratwurst. Giant Bavarian pretzels. Giant mozzarella sticks. A one pound meatball. Mini donuts, which is probably the only menu item that’s small. The Big Tast-E-Burger. The Big Cream Puff. The Big E-Clair. The BiggiE Cookie. The world's largest Cosmopolitan Martini. I’m sure I’ve missed some, but I think you get the gist.
The giant mozzarella stick comes to about one pound of fried cheesy goodness, or grossness, depending on your tastebuds. According to eatthismuch.com, the average fried mozzarella stick weighs in at 31 grams, or roughly .07 pounds at about 100 calories. Technically, one mozzarella stick at this weight is the serving size. While these are estimates, one could draw the conclusion after doing the math that the one pound giant mozzarella stick is equal to eating about 14 regular sized mozzarella sticks. To ruin the colossal cheese stick even more for you, if you haven’t figured it out already, that one-pound stick is going to offer your body 1,400 calories to process, give or take.
The one-pound meatball, as advertised, is one pound. Thanks to information provided by livestrong.com, the typical meatball serving size is about three ounces, which is generally equal to eating three to five meatballs. Homemade meatballs that come to three ounces worth will cost you about 343 calories, again according to livestrong.com. Three ounces worth of meatballs is equivalent to about .19 pounds. The Big E’s one-pound meatball is five times the serving size recommendation for meatballs. This means, that when you ingest the one-pound Big E meatball, you’re eating roughly 15 to 25 meatballs, which clocks in at 1,715 calories.
While some items are made giant simply for fun, one world’s largest item was made for charity. On opening night V-One Vodka had a ceremonial mixing of the world’s largest cosmopolitan martini on the E Stage, sponsored by Blue Chair Bay Rum. Following the mixing, the crowd was offered individual portions of the beverage sold for $10 per drink, with proceeds going to the Cancer House of Hope in West Springfield.
When I was talking to my mother about all of the massive food offerings I witnessed, she mentioned that she didn’t think this was surprising. After all, a common phrase we use in today's language includes, “bigger is better.” Often we’re reminded of the famous McDonald’s phrase, “supersize me.”
So, what’s the fascination? Why are we obsessed with taking perfectly good portion-sized foods and making them double, triple, 14 times their normal size? I don’t have the answer, because I’m as curious about the giant mozzarella sticks as much as the next person. I slid down the McDonald’s Giant Slide, and I gawked at people walking around the fairgrounds with their enormous 18-inch bratwurst in hand.
Personally, I’d have to say that the idea of making normal sized foods bigger than they’ve ever been is an effort to tap into people's ideas of novelty and the desire to feel like they’ve experienced something that most others have not. Who can say that they’ve seen the world's largest martini in person? The people who went to the Big E on opening night can, of course.
G. Michael Dobbs
I should have been wearing my Sam Spade snap brim fedora with my press pass tucked in the band as I walked around the Big E as I was certainly the case of what was new, different or entertaining. I scribbled in my notebook as Assistant Managing Editor Chris Maza snapped photos and made his own notes.
Camels. I saw a herd of camels in repose near the New Hampshire building. “Camel Kingdom” is the name of this year’s animal act, but I wasn’t there at performance time, which is noon, 2:30 and 7 p.m. daily. The camels didn’t mind being photographed.
Apparently New Hampshire’s culinary claim to fame is Mac and cheese as a sign at the front entrance directed people how to form a line to get it. Variations to pasta and melted cheese included lobster.
The over-powering smell of kettle corn – both a major food group and drug to me – filled the New Hampshire building. I had to leave quickly before I did something bad, like buy a bag or two.
In the Connecticut Building was another of my vices, cigars, and at the Connecticut Valley Tobacconist’s booth was Victoria Michalek demonstrating the art of rolling one’s own stogie – don’t try it at home, folks, she knows what she’s doing. When I asked her how many cigars she makes while working at the fair, she replied that about 100 a day would be accurate. The cigars she rolls go into a sales case, but remember you have to enjoy them at home as the Big E is a smoke-free area.
That’s exactly what I intend to do.
In the Vermont Building, I heard someone say the word, “Sap!” and I thought someone was casting aspersions. Instead it’s a new line of beverages from Vermont “made in trees” as the flyer said. Co-owner Alex Rosenberg explained the company uses sap from maple and birch trees and creates a maple soda, a maple seltzer and a birch sparkling water.
Maza and I bellied up to the bar, so to speak, for a tasting. Both the maple soda and seltzer were both sweet and had a definite maple taste. Maza preferred the birch, as it was slight sweet.
The beverages are going to available at your local Big Y on Oct. 1.
In the Maine Building, Amber Lambke, the president and CEO of Maine Grains, was making her first appearance at the fair. She explained that Maine was once a major producer of wheat and oats, but that part of agriculture died off in the early 1900s with the advent of the larger grain operations in the Mid-West.
Farmers, she said, still grow grains, though as a way to renew the soil in crop rotation programs. Her company harvests that grain and has established a mill for processing. The grain is distributed from Maine to New York City to stores such as While Goods and to bakeries.
Note to lobster lovers: there appears to be a bit of a price war between Maine and Massachusetts on lobster rolls. Maine is $11 and Massachusetts is $10. You can make your own decisions where to go.
The Massachusetts Building has a large display about the new Dr. Seuss Museum that included a chance to pose for a selfie with the Cat in the Hat. I didn’t have time as I had to press on.
There is also a new booth dedicated to Bay State wine producers.
In the Young Building, there is this year’s temporary exhibit, “Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel: The Exhibit.” You’re never going to get to the Vatican, well, the idea of the incredibly huge photographs of the artwork is to give you a taste of it without having your passport stamped.
Also in the Young Building is the St. Joseph’s Abby Beer Experience. If you have not tried the beer made by the monks then you are missing out on a near religious experience – pardon the cheap joke. For $15, you have a 30-minute presentation about the beer and brewery, free ale, free glass and bottle opener. Any true beer lover should make this a stop on their Big E tour.
In the Better Living Center, Dr. Roland Berthiaume is selling his Lo-Bak Trax, the portable spinal traction device. He was happy to note that Walmart, Christmas Tree Shops and Bed Bath and Beyond are the retail outlets for his invention and he also has several national infomercials going as well.
This old reporter can testify his simple device is effective in relieving low back pain.
Berthiaume said the success of his invention is “thrilling … chills run down my spine.”
To end my day I had a celebrity sighting. I was eating a Butcher Boy London Broil sandwich when two guys sat next to me with the same sandwich and one starting talking ands eating into a video camera. It was Daym Drops, a foodie whose YouTube videos have launched a career for him – he has more than 800,000 subscribers. Check out his videos on his YouTube channel. He was a charming and gracious guy whose approach to food warms my heart. I told him about the Flatliner burger and he added it to his list.
You never know what or whom you’re going to find at the Big E.
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