I’m not sure which was more exciting, attending the L.V.I.S. Fair on Saturday or being asked to work at the fair. At the cakes, cookies, jams, and jellies booth, no less! I have attended this fair almost every single year of my life, many times with my grandpa, then with my son. The Mystery Booth, cookbooks, and Rosita Medler’s iconic beach plum jelly have always been my priorities. I arrive at 10 on the dot and plot my strategy like General MacArthur. One year I scored a brand new fishing rod for $20. Another year, a first edition James Beard cookbook.
This year I donated some sticky toffee date cakes for the baked goods booth and a French bistro cooking lesson for the silent auction. Then I thought it would be fun to write about the experience. Then I realized, “Hey, what if nobody buys my cakes or bids on my delicious dinner for four to six people?!” Uh oh.
The required uniform for volunteers at this event is a white dress, green apron, and straw hat. You have to earn the green apron, however, so I showed up wearing an old butcher’s apron that tangled around my ankles. I surveyed the goods with my co-workers, Nancy, Susan, and Barbara. Cupcakes, bear claws, brownies, sour dough breads, pickles, chutneys, heaven! But where was the beach plum jelly? Not there yet. A good number of the items are homemade; many are donated by such companies as Eli Zabar’s, Panera, Breadzilla, and Levain Bakery.
We got busy . . . fast. Thankfully, Barbara was the banker. I cannot add 4 plus 4 plus 3 on my feet. Seriously. But I am a good carny and I know my product. “Try these sticky toffee date cakes,” I crowed. No takers. It was breakfast time. By 1 o’clock we had sold most of our goodies, at 2, everything was half price. This gave me a chance to wander around and sample other wares. The booth with sandwiches and salads had gazpacho made by Terry O’Riordan, the former Suffolk County health inspector who struck the fear of God in every restaurant kitchen out here. It was delicious! Some of the salads were prepared from original recipes from the “L.V.I.S. Cookbook,” such as a delicate tarragon chicken salad with grapes. There were goodies from the Maidstone Club, Seafood Shop, and awesomely moist cornbread from Arthur at Smokin’ Wolf. Another booth had pizzas from Fierro’s and Pepperoni’s in East Hampton and La Capannina in Wainscott.
I checked the silent auction table. Only one bid on my super delicious, extra special French bistro dinner. Oh, dear. I wandered toward the back, where some of our town trustees were shucking clams. Dr. Russ, Joe Bloecker, Fred Overton, and I discussed clam chowder secrets. I was mostly straining to hear Mr. Overton as his clam chowder served at the Largest Clam Contest every year is one of the best. Joe and Fred agreed that a little bit of leaf thyme is good. Fred uses plenty of clam juice. Joe enhances his with Vidalia onions and a bit of warmed cream at the end.
The clams, donated from Duryea and Sons and hailing from the Great South Bay, were tiny, briny delights. There were four sauces to accompany them, provided by a company called Goumba. They have entertaining names like Elvis’s Favorite, Key West’s Favorite, Montauk’s Favorite, and the Devil’s Balls. The Key West sauce was tart with key lime juice. The Montauk was slightly sweet and mild. The most popular and most spicy was the Devil’s Balls. At this pronouncement, much jocularity ensued.
Next stop on the walkabout was visiting Bob Schaeffer, president of the Lion’s Club, as he supervised the grilling of 450 whole chickens, a gazillion pounds of new potatoes, 1,000 ears of corn (donated by the awesome Ian Calder-Piedmont of Balsam Farm) and more. A huge amount of the food for the barbecue came from the supplier J. Kings, at a very generous discounted price.
At 3, I wound back around to the silent auction area. Yahoo, my dinner was now up to $350! Granted, I did browbeat two friends into bidding on it, but now complete strangers were willing to let me cook for them!
And what about the beach plum jelly? Eight jars magically appeared at 10:30 a.m., and were sold out by 10:32. I got mine. Cute Albert Fierro scored a few as gifts.
The Ladies Village Improvement Society is now 118 years old. What began as a small group of women trying to keep the dusty streets of East Hampton clean and beautiful has grown to over 300 volunteers who give scholarships to local students, maintain all the precious trees and greens of the village, and much more. Times have changed, but the spirit of preservation and volunteerism in our community has not.