In 2001, the cookbook from the Los Angeles Fair marked the 25th anniversary of this prestigious recipe book—and the 81st anniversary of the L.A. County Fair! This year, 2011, should be the 91st anniversary of the L.A. County Fair
From the L.A. County website we learn, “In 1921, a merchants exposition held along the Southern Pacific Railway in downtown Pomona set the stage for things to come…at the time, Los Angeles County did not have a county fair, and local businessmen saw this as an opportunity to bring recognition to the city of Pomona. A reporter for the Pomona Bulletin overheard two Lions Club members discussing the idea and put it into print. One of those men, was a local music store owner who had been involved with fairs in Iowa. He was asked to present his plans to the Pomona Chamber of Commerce, which then took the idea of a fair to the city council.
Although half a dozen attempts to bring a fair to L.A. County had failed, the board set out to start the first L.A. County Fair. A fair board was formed. The city of Pomona agreed to purchase a 43-acre beet and barley field from the Ricardo Vejar estate for use as a fairground. Research revealed that the name “L.A. County Fair” was not registered. Afflerbaugh contacted Sacramento and the name was adopted at once.
The inaugural L.A. County Fair opened Oct. 17, 1922, and ran for five days through Oct. 21. Fair attendance in 1925 topped the 100,000 mark for the first time (102,991). It also marked the first time the Fair was held in September instead of October. The L.A. County Fair has an illustrious history but it should be noted that the fair closed down in 1942, due to
World War II, and was suspended for six years. The grounds played an important part in the war effort as they were taken over by the U.S. Army. The grounds were converted into a motor base in January, and headquarters were established in the home arts building. ..”
For some years, beginning in the 1980s, Bob and I made a trip to the County Fair in September, spending a night at the wonderful Sheraton Fairplex Hotel, (which provides a separate no-line-entrance for fairgoers) and in general, just having a ‘really good time’. We spent most of our time in the Home Arts Building, admiring all the beautiful quilts that were on display, the hand-created gowns and dresses, hand-crafted dollhouses and homemade breads, cakes, cookies, jams and jellies. The theme for 2001, “A Tapestry of Tradition” included a quilt show with more than 250 quilts from “A Tapestry of Tradition” quilt competition, which also included a display of antique quilts.
There are woodcarvers and table top displays, exhibits of hand-decorated Christmas trees, a wide variety of recipe contests which always includes the Weber barbecue contest and homemade beer and wine competitions—and for the past decade or more, a SPAM® recipe contest. One of the recipe contests 2001 was a 1970s type one-dish cooking contest, which was inspired by the 25th anniversary of the L.A. County Fair cookbook. There was also a spaghetti eating contest and a savory cheesecake contest, a pie eating contest and a butter churning contest.
The Los Angeles Fairgrounds in Pomona has, on site, a huge greenhouse and garden center called the Flower and Garden Pavilion. It offers one of the most spectacular floral exhibits on the west coast and, the fair people say, has delighted fairgoers with its various themes and décor for more than 50 years the many floral displays are always breath-taking beautiful. Behind the greenhouse, there are many vast decorated gardens to explore—or for fairgoers who tire a bit from the crowds and bustle, you can sit on the grass or on a park bench and rest a while under the trees.
There are dozens of carnival rides and a petting zoo, pig races, and more than 250 food concessionaires offering everything from oversize fried onions to a deep fried Snickers bar.
We enjoy walking around, drinking freshly made lemonade and eating hot dogs, while admiring the many different displays. There are always huge model train displays assembled by a model train club in the area, and thousands of vendors selling everything under the sun, from kitchen utensils to hot tubs.
We stayed at the hotel whenever we went to the fair, so that I could return to the room and rest periodically, and that evening, our friends Pat & Stan who lived in Covina, would meet us at the hotel and go with us to dinner at the hotel restaurant. It was wonderful and a delightful way to end the evening.
One of the main reasons I wanted to go to the fair was—to buy a stack of the cookbooks, which I liked to give out as presents at Christmastime. I became enchanted with the L.A. County fair cookbooks in the late 1980s, at which time I also began entering some of my canned foods and winning some red and blue and pink ribbons. Then, I began searching for earlier L.A. County Fair cookbooks. I’ve been successful in finding all but one of the early cookbooks and have a few duplicate issues to use as bargaining chips to find what I am missing.
In 1978, workers at the Los Angeles County Fair were besieged with requests for copies of the winning recipes. The people in charge decided it might be a good idea to put together a little cookbook collection. The woman responsible for compiling that first cookbook was a lady by the name of Nadine Lowery, who was the home arts coordinator for the L.A. County Fair from 1971 to 1986. In an interview for the Los Angeles Daily News (September 3, 2003), Lowery recalled, “…then the requests for the recipes started. Oh, so many people wanted them that we decided to put together a little cookbook collection. I don’t remember the actual size of the first one but it was pretty small…”
I have a copy of the first L.A. County Fair Cookbook and can tell you – published in 1979, the first cookbook proudly boasts, “LOS ANGELES COUNTY FAIR FIRST EDITION OF AWARD WINNING RECIPES, COMPILED BY THE HOME ARTS DEPARTMENT”. The recipes were a collection of the 1978 prize-winning recipes and the little book, (even though the pages are unnumbered and the recipes un-indexed) reflects the prize winning recipes of the 1970s with a heavy emphasis on home baking – home made breads, pies, cakes, and cookies. (As a yardstick for comparison, the 1978 prize winning cookbook contains 23 winning recipes for preserved foods…the 2002 issue contains over 70 recipes! – and if I were to go back and count, I’m sure I’d find that the cookbooks of the 1990s, which contained first, second, and third place winning recipes, would have a far higher total).
“With our first cookbook” said Nadine Lowery, “we sold out in four or five days. We had no idea back then that this was going to be so popular…”
The 1980 Fair cookbook, titled “Blue Ribbon Recipes” reflected the winning recipes from the 1979 fair and also was a small un-indexed cookbook. By the time the Ls Angeles County Fair Award Winning Recipes published in 1983, reflecting the winning recipes for 1982, the Home Arts Department had produced a much better cookbook and it was indexed. And, a few years later, by the time the Home Arts Department published “Award Winning Recipes – Discover America – L.A. County Fair September 7-30, 1990 (for the winning 1989 recipes), the cookbook had become a best seller, a big thick cookbook with the price remaining at $10.00. And by the mid 1980s Bob & I had begun to enter jams and jellies, pickles and other canned items into the L.A. County Fair.
In past cookbooks, the top three winning entries were published in each category, but the collections became too big. (Well, this is what the Fair people say. I love those big thick fair cookbooks!). As reflected in the 25th anniversary edition, only 2002’s first place winners are listed. Even so, the cookbook provides 297 pages of recipes which gives you some idea of the magnitude of the Los Angeles County Fair, considered the largest county fair in the entire USA.
Fair cookbooks are, I think, regional Americana at its finest. I was addicted and began collecting regional fair cookbooks and state cookbooks. But the L.A. County Fair remains my favorite.
My L.A. County Fair cookbook collection ends with the book published in 2005, offering the winning recipes from the 2004 Fair. Even though only the first place winning recipes are in the book, there are over 300 recipes – demonstrating how popular our fair cookbook has remained over the years.
You can visit the Los Angeles County Fair’s website at http://www.lacountyfair.com The 2009 winning recipes are available, free, as a PDF file.
If you are interested in collecting fair cookbooks – wherever they are and where ever you are, much can be found just by googling “fair cookbooks”
A few years ago, my younger sister and I were in San Diego for a few days with one of our nieces and we found many San Diego cookbooks at a used cookbook store there. The three of us loaded up on many of our favorites.
I’m hopeful that by NEXT year I will be able to enter some of my prize jellies and jams or pickles in the Antelope Valley fair! And perhaps we’ll be able to go back to the L.A. County Fair as well.
Happy Cooking and Happy Cookbook Collecting !