SANDWICH — What would a country fair be without food, and especially the kind of food you don’t want your cardiologist to know about? Huge doughnuts, fried dough, fried corn dogs, fried oreos, even pork belly that’s – yes – deep fried. All those items are on the menu at the Sandwich Fair this weekend, thanks to the more than 100 vendors who travel to this small town to set up their trailers and cook all weekend.
Frank Rowell, the concessions manager for the Sandwich Fair Association, estimated that 80% of the food vendors have been coming to the fair for several years, if not more.
“I don’t know how much money they make, but they keep coming back,” Rowell said.
“The fair is all about the food,” declared Brett Geiger, a Florida resident who spends five months out of every year cooking for Angelino’s Sausage House, a company that is based in Hillsborough and which cooks at fairs around New England.
“This is the last fair of the season,” Geiger said, and he said he’ll head back to Florida once it’s over. “I play golf and detail campers until it starts again.”
But first, onions. At 8 a.m. on Thursday morning, Geiger was cutting onions. Each onion had to be hand-trimmed, then quartered, then put through a punch that cut them into slices. Then he planned to do the same with peppers. His objective was to fill plastic tubs with the vegetables so that he would be ready to cook when the gates open on Saturday.
“Somebody’s got to do it, so here I am until somebody else shows up,” Geiger said.
By the time the fair closes at 5 p.m. on Monday, he expects that Angelino’s will have gone through 500 pounds of onions and 12 bushels of peppers, all served with either steak sandwiches or sausage subs.
“I’m a big people person,” Geiger said, explaining why he enjoys working the fair circuit. He likened people watching to deer hunting, and for him, the vendor’s booth is like a hunting blind.
That is, until people get hungry and start lining up. Geiger’s job is to cook, but he also takes it upon himself to shake up his customers a little. For example, instead of asking if someone wants a sausage plain or with peppers and onions, he asks, “Do you like it naked or dressed… The whole thing is to catch them off guard. Keep them happy, keep the line moving as much as you can, that’s when you get the tips.”
After lunch, fair goers might want a sweet treat, and many of them find their way to Darcy Perreault’s trailer. “Babe’s Apple Crisp” was started in 1987 by Perrault’s parents, Bob and Barbara, and it has been coming to Sandwich almost every year since. The business is now Darcy’s, and she still serves the same apple-based dessert – topped with either ice cream or whipped cream – that her mother concocted more than 30 years ago.
How will she do this year? “Like every fair, it depends on the weather. Hopefully it will be nice and cool and good for apple crisp and hot cider,” she said.
Perreault said the business was the brainchild of her father, nicknamed “Babe,” who was a police officer in Rochester, New Hampshire, and got the idea after working a detail at the Rochester Fair. Her mother resisted at first, but eventually the whole family was working the fair circuit together.
She will have three days to sell her product, but it’s more than a week’s worth of work in order to serve at the fair. There’s travel time – she’s from Salisbury, Massachusetts – and set-up, cleaning, decorating, and food preparation. She’s put in about a full week of labor before she sells her first dish of crisp.
Perreault remembers one year when a customer said to her mother, “‘It must be nice to work only weekends.’ I thought that old lady was going to go through the window and over the counter.”
“It’s more work than anything that you can imagine,” Perreault said. “But it’s the people, the friends that you have here, if you get stuck somewhere in the middle of the night, they’re coming to help you,” she said.
Perreault met the man who’s now her husband while working at a fair. And when they married, many of the people in their wedding were also from the fair circuit.
“The best things in our life are because Dad bought this trailer,” Perreault said.