All those contests and exhibits…

By on July 25, 2018
Little Eleanor Brossman Hartranft, shown here with older sister Amelia, first served as an apple judge when she was just 10. She would then go on to serve 60 years with the Ephrata Fair.

Little Eleanor Brossman Hartranft, shown here with older sister Amelia, first served as an apple judge when she was just 10. She would then go on to serve 60 years with the Ephrata Fair.

Into the second half of the 20th Century, the Ephrata area was a major producer of fruit.

There were three large apple orchards; Snyder, Brubaker and Brossman each growing a dozen or so cultivars ranging from the tart Winesap to the sweet Delicious.

They and smaller growers all submitted the best of their harvest for judging at the Ephrata Fair. At its peak in the early 20th Century, there were hundreds of apples on display in the garage behind the Gerhart Brothers Lumber Company office building (on the site which is now the Ephrata Borough Hall). The best would go on to the January Pennsylvania State Farm Show in Harrisburg. Among those showing was a 10-year-old Eleanor Brossman. She was in her teens when she was asked to supervise the apple section at the Ephrata Fair. Eleanor (now Hartranft) was involved for the next 50 years, finally assuming responsibility for all of what are called the “Uptown Exhibits.” The display of the harvest and products of the community grew with time. What started as a hardware store window display has grown to four large venues displaying items grown or made by hundreds of the Ephrata area’s citizens.


Through the early 1960s, almost every home had at least remnants of its World War II Victory Garden in the backyard. It was common to have a couple of fruit trees and a grapevine as well. Before the era of the supermarket, this was the source of many of the fruit and vegetables consumed at the family table. Neighbors would look over the fence and compare product. The only way to know for sure was to enter the Fair. And there is a lot of opportunity — at the 100th Fair there will be 174 different vegetable, 14 different fruit and 12 nut categories in which to enter, including 13 kinds of potatoes and 13 kinds of tomatoes. If it has been a good year and you are up to the challenge, you can go for the bigger prizes with one of the six basket displays. The competition is always intense but in good humor.

Floral Exhibits

One of the wise older men who hung out in the cattle auction at the Green Dragon used to say, “If you have land plant potatoes, not petunias. You can’t eat pretty!” He does have a point but there are many who would feed the eye and the soul rather than the stomach. God bless them, we all enjoy the bursting colors of a flower garden in bloom. It is for this reason that the 145 categories for entry in the floral exhibits is second only to vegetables and fruits. The passion which goes into the nurturing, selecting and arranging of these displays is obvious in the presentation. Most particularly are the roses which range in both specie and color. There are cacti, succulents, grasses, and conifers. Of particular interest to the uninitiated, are the 13 types of Artistic Arrangements including “Roadside Flowers” (wildflowers), “Bountiful Harvest” (fruit, vegetables and flowers) and “Waste Not, Want Not” (using recycled materials). The floral exhibits are truly a feast for the eyes and they can be enjoyed in the banquet room of the Pioneer Fire Company.


While in Peace Corps training in southern Africa, an Ephrata resident received instruction in quilting. It was felt this was a skill to be passed to indigenous persons. The instructor regularly referred to the skills of the people of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The needlecraft of the women in our community is known worldwide. From the very beginning, the Ephrata Fair has provided a showplace for the skillful renderings in cloth, thread and yarn. Again, there are a lot of opportunities with 173 categories, ranging from Aprons to Wearing Apparel – Knitted.

There are 25 divisions under the heading of quilts. Every year there is a Quilt Block Contest. Specific colors are given and a winner chosen. The blocks are then sewn together and quilted to be sold at silent auction the following year. Like all exhibits, the needlework has moved over the years. For many fairs, it was in the tent with the produce on the parking lot between what was the Borough Hall and the Main Theater (now the Good Building and the Brossman Building). This made for difficulties if it would happen to rain. When the railroad station was renovated, the needlecraft found a home there. Finally, it was moved to the Borough Council chambers in the new Borough Hall.


There was a time, not so long ago, when if you wanted peaches at Christmas, you had to can them yourself. Many disdain the commercially tin canned products, “It doesn’t taste real.” This was directly tied to the backyard garden. What you harvested had to be canned, dried, picked, preserved, or frozen, if you wished to eat it after the growing season. Of course, skilled cooks and wise women devised a myriad of ways to put back for another season.

These efforts found their way into competitions at the Ephrata Fair. Some of these are beautiful to behold. Fruit is carefully selected and stacked in the bottle just so. Beans are stood on end and arranged like soldiers in line. The liquid is clear and the color so bright, it makes your mouth water. With 36 different fruits and vegetables which can be entered, there is a place for everyone who has the knack and the time. Pickled cantaloupe and spiced watermelon rind was a staple on our Thanksgiving table. Pickle and chow-chow recipes were often filed under the name of the ancestor who passed it on. Juices were bottled, fruits and vegetables were dried, sauces were canned and all are entered into the Ephrata Fair. And then there are the 44 different kinds of honeys, butters, jams and jellies which take their place in all of their glory on the shelves at the Ephrata Fair office. For the uninitiated, it is exciting just to observe the human creativity on display. And finally, there is the preserve among the oldest known to humankind: wine. Local amateur vintners bring their brews to be sampled and graded. With 15 different wines on offer, a good time is had by all.

Baked Goods

In the late 1950s, a defensive end on the Ephrata High School football team also enjoyed baking. Every year at Ephrata Fair he would enter a cherry pie. It always griped him that he had to enter in the category “Girls 16 and under.” But he held his tongue, and every year he won a blue ribbon. An even greater joy than claiming the ribbon was picking up the pie on Monday night after football practice and eating the whole thing on the way home. In those days, the baked goods were displayed in the window of Eitner & Hoffman, a furniture store on the corner of West Main and Church streets. Since, this department has expanded greatly and moved to the Ephrata Fair office building.

There are 43 different types of breads and cakes which can be entered. Ten different pies are judged along with 19 varieties of candy and cookies. For the enthusiastic, there are two divisions for noodles and one for potato chips. If the baker wants to go for the big time they can enter the statewide competitions which offer an opportunity to compete at the State Farm Show. There are four categories: Chocolate Cookie, Brownie or Bar Baking Contest, Chocolate Cake Baking Contest, Blue Ribbon Apple Pie, and Angel Food Cake Contest. First prize for these contests is $25 with the possibility of winning $500 at the State show. Redner’s Warehouse Markets sponsor the Ephrata’s Best Cheesecake Contest with a first prize of $75.

Over the years there have been many judges of baked goods at the Ephrata Fair. Current longtime holder of the position is Elsie Tagg, a home economist with both the skill and the knowledge to fill the position. It is said that one talent is the ability to taste a hundred pastries and not get a sick stomach.

No longer would our football player get to enjoy his pie after practice. At 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday morning, after the judging is complete, there is a bake sale in front of the Ephrata Fair office building. Everything is sold with the proceeds going to the Ephrata Farmer’s Day Association. Winning items are so marked and priced accordingly. The slice which was judged is retained to be exhibited to Fair goers.


Arts and Crafts

The talents of the residents of the Ephrata area extend far beyond the land and the kitchen.

Our earliest residents at the 18th Century Cloister were known across the fledgling country for their exquisite printing and beautiful fraktur. Several well-known artists and many skilled craftspeople have lived in our community. It was only reasonable that their work should be a part of the Fair. Twenty-two different categories of art are accepted including oil, acrylic, watercolor, drawing, and mixed media. In order to keep up with the times class 05011 is Computer Art.

Photography is a unique form of art and is judged as such. With the photographic capabilities of the cell phone, this is a growing field of interest. Those who are expert in the field have divided it into 22 categories equally between black and white and color. Portrait, candid, and landscape are differentiated. I would encourage anyone interested to have a look at the entries hung with the rest of the art in the banquet room of the Pioneer Fire Company Hall.

Of course there are as many crafts as there are craftspeople. Each person puts a unique mark on that which they make. In attempting to account for the wide range of talent among our fellow citizens, the Ephrata Farmers Day Association has established 30 different crafts with 65 specific entry areas ranging from bead work to woodcraft. For example, 12 different types of woodworking are judged. Your writer enters carving, lathe work, whittling, and inlay.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *