Friday, August 10th, 2012
Home-cooked food on the menu
By Margie Wuebker
Jerry Laffin, the Unity Grange master, prepares coffee to serve in the group's f. . .
CELINA - Dorothy Buckloh slices a cherry pie into generous wedges as Unity Grange embarks on its 75th anniversary of serving meals at the Mercer County Fair.
Buckloh, 92, said she vividly remembers opening day back in 1937. Some things have changed over the years, but the organization remains committed to serving the kind of meals grandma used to make.
Back then the lunch stand was located below the grandstand on the southwest corner where ice machines now stand.
"We served soup and sandwiches cooked on a coal oil stove," the white-haired woman said with a chuckle. "Soda pop stayed cold in a big horse tank, and later we walked around the fairgrounds picking up the glass bottles because there was a deposit."
Grange Master and Mercer County Commissioner Jerry Laffin points out the stand moved several times before settling at its current location - a stone's throw away from the Junior Fair building - in the 1960s. Several improvements have been made over the years.
"The area where we peeled potatoes and washed dishes had walls but no roof," Buckloh said. "It got really hot with the sun bearing down, and it got really wet when raindrops fell. Now we have a roof over our heads."
Wayne Doner remembers his parents Bob and Leola Doner working side by side with Rosalie Brehm in the kitchen area. Laffin said Wayne's wife Jan in the early '70s learned from the veterans who were beginning to have health issues.
The Doners work as a team - he fries chicken, pork steak and beef steak and she makes the chicken and noodles, meatloaf and dressing. A legion of helpers handle other details from mixing salad dressing to preparing coleslaw.
The menu varies a little from day to day, but the basics remain the same: a choice of meats, potatoes and gravy, vegetables, salads and desserts. Soup and sandwiches are available too.
While entrees alternate throughout the week, the big seller on Wednesday night is liver and onions. Other menu options include fried chicken and roast beef.
The grange purchases fresh pork and chicken from local suppliers while the beef comes from two steers processed in the weeks leading up to the fair.
"We used to bake our own pies," Buckloh said. "That was back when we could work all day and then head home at night to do some baking."
Breakfast - served from 7:30 to 10:30 a.m. - draws the most folks from kids in the livestock barns to campers spending the week at the fairgrounds. Lunch follows from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. with the supper hour being 4:30 to 7 p.m.
Hundreds of people visit the stand throughout the day. Some eat and rest under the large tent adjacent to the stand. Others order at the takeout window and dine elsewhere.
Laffin remembers a time when Unity Grange was one of three granges operating food stands at the fair. Hopewell still provides meals, maintaining a tradition that spans nearly 60 years, but Montezuma Grange has disappeared from the scene.
"A lot of people enjoy coming to the Mercer County Fair because they can still get a good home-cooked meal here," he added. "Our goal remains serving a good meal at a good price and there is no reason to change after 75 years."
Events listed for Mercer County Fair:
Bear Hollow Wood Carvers and Freedom Train on the grounds all day
6 p.m. - crowning of pork queen in junior fair tent; rabbit show in Adrian DeBrosse Arena
6:30 p.m. - Go Kart qualifying at grandstand; and cakes, pies and produce auction in entertainment tent
7 p.m. - Town Team Class A horseshoe tournament; swine carcass show in Coldwater Young Farmers Arena
7:30 p.m. - Junior Fair Queen and King pageant in junior fair tent; Sandy Hook in beer garden; Go Kart Grand Prix races in grandstand
Saturday (Motor Sports Day)
Bear Hollow Wood Carvers, Granpa Cratchet and Freedom Train on the grounds
• 9 a.m. - County horseshoe pitch; poultry in Adrian DeBrosse Arena
• 9:30 p.m. - Swine showmanship and hurdle show in Coldwater Young Farmers Arena
• 10 a.m. - Baby contest (0-3 months) in entertainment tent; special interest project fun fest in junior fair tent
• 11 a.m. - Baby contest (4-8 months) in entertainment tent
• 1 p.m. - Rides and games open; baby contest (9-12 months) in entertainment tent; 14th annual pie contest in junior fair tent
More information on this year's fair can be found at www.mercercountyohiofaircom.