The Thurston County Fair has all the attractions of any festival - rides, food, music, crafts and entertainment for kids - but it's the exhibits and contests that set it apart.
“The focus of our fair and probably the primary reason that most people attend the fair is the exhibits,” said fair manager Rick Storvick. “Some people love to walk through and see the art or the quilts. A lot of people like to see the animals.
“The core is your local community, your neighbors, your friends, showing off what they can do.”
And it’s not too late to show your own creativity there either – at least when it comes to food.
Although exhibited items ranging from paintings and models built with Lego plastic building blocks to cows and pigs are scheduled and in place before the fair begins, the fair’s daily baking contests can be impromptu affairs.
Those who compete get free admission to the fair, and anyone who watches the contests gets a taste of what happens at an old-fashioned fair.
“In the old musical ‘State Fair,’ they do some judging and the experience is just like that,” Storvick said. “It’s right out of the good old days. You have the people who have baked sitting there watching very closely, trying to determine whether the judges like theirs better than their friend’s.
“It can be a little bit nerve-wracking as a judge sometimes.” He judges the chocolate cake contest, which happened Thursday.
Today’s contest is cookies. Saturday’s is berry pies. On Sunday, the item of the day is coffee cake.
The key to a winning pie? Judges can tell whether a crust is homemade, said Constance Kimmons, who is vice president of the fair board and organizes the cookie, pie and coffee cake contests.
Also, pies with more than one type of berry or pies that combine berries and other fruits stand out.
And, oh yes: Don’t bake the pie right before you head out the door for the fair.
“Pies that have been chilled or have maybe been baked the day before usually have a better chance of winning, because they’ve set,” she said. “If somebody brings in a hot pie, 9 times out of 10 that pie is not going to make it past pre-judging because when you cut it, it runs all over the place.”
And if that makes you hungry instead of eager to cook, good news: Baked items are for sale after the judging ends, and proceeds benefit the Thurston County Food Bank.
The best pie will be auctioned off – with the slice the judges tasted missing, of course. “We’ve gotten as much as $50 for a winning pie,” Kimmons said.
Slices of the other pies, as well as coffee cakes and cookies, are sold for $1 each. Look for them in the late afternoon at the Expo Center.
Among the exhibits of special interest this year are the art, which was created by neighbors from across the Atlantic.
“The City of Lacey has a sister city relationship with a place called Minsk-Mazowiecki in Poland,” Storvick said. “There have been a lot of student exchanges.”
Storvick went along as a chaperone on a trip last year and connected with an art teacher in the city, who sent drawings, scratchboards and batik by students ages 7-12 and watercolors by a high school student.
“The international art is there along with student art from all over Thurston County, as well as adult artwork,” he said. “This adds a new dimension.”
This year, there’ll be an exhibit on women’s suffrage in Heritage Hall, where home arts and quilts also are shown.
There also will be some car shows for the first time in a few years. On Saturday, Mustangs will be on display, and on Sunday, it will be Corvettes.
“With the forecast being sunny and nice, it should be a fun atmosphere for that,” Storvick said.