Posted by: Josey | July 19, 2008

Day Trips from NYC: Orange County Fair, Middletown, New York

by Josey Miller

Imagine what it would be like to attend a county fair in the Hamptons: chic urbanites in their tailored bermuda shorts, short-sleeve button downs and Jimmy Choo wedge sandals… wandering from merry-go-round to animal exhibit with their Stepford children while nibbling on baked goods courtesy of Ina Garten herself… I bet they’d even cast the carnies.

The New York Orange County Fair is nothing like that.

Most county fairs are nothing like that.

But they’re still a great way to spend a summer Saturday―if you manage your expectations. Here’s the reality of most fairs:

A 6’4″ burly-looking man sporting a tank top and several tattooes hunches over to hold the hand of his pig-tailed two-year-old as they slowly walk from the Jalopy Junction ride to the Bounce Around. Goth teenage girls wander by the ubiquitous stands selling hot tubs and cell phones, devouring Italian sausage and funnel cake as they enjoy an authority-free day in the sticky July heat. Competitive dads challenge each other at carnival games on the midway, such as Basketball Shot and Ball Toss to win their kids stuffed animals… or not. [Note: Since when does each attempt cost $5 instead of $1? Jeff thought he saw one dad pulling out his credit card. Check out this guide on how to beat the odds.]

The 4H elders serve up fresh mac-n-cheese next door to the stables where the Holstein dairy cows and other livestock are on display, alongside their blue ribbons. [Here’s a fun fact, courtesy of one 4H-er: Did you know it’s perfectly normal for certain breeds of sheep to have up to six horns? The judging rules only dictate that they must have an even number.]

Those animals are the highlight of any fair for adults and kids alike. I even paid fifty cents at a “step right up”-type tent to pet a three-foot-tall, doe-eyed miniature horse a la Thumbelina. The racing pigs are always entertaining. And while a fair is not a fair without a petting zoo complete with goats, sheep and llamas, I’ve never before seen a giraffe-feeding area. Kids delighted in watching their long, black tongues stretch and squirm to reach carrot sticks. (Parents: Don’t leave home without your camera and Purell.) I did, however, miss the Disc Dog-a-Thon we caught a few years back at the New Jersey State Fair.

Anh and Baby Garrison feeding a giraffe

Just for fun, Jeff asked the cheerful woman at the lemonade stand―the wife of the Beer Bottle Alley game host (naturally)―for their recipe… though consider yourself warned: Both she and her husband were missing most of their teeth.

County Fair Lemonade

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup Realemon

3 cups water

1 lemon, quartered

(Serve over crushed ice)

More Middletown-Area Tips:

  • Grab a slice of small-town Americana in nearby Pine Bush, New York by dining at Restaurant Repast (72 Main Street). There’s even a retro homemade ice-cream stand down the street with picnic-table seating for a post-dinner treat.
  • One of New York state’s few remaining drive-in movie theaters, Fair Oaks Drive-in, is located in Middletown. It’s one of the closest drive-in movie theaters to New York City.

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