Some people think of this as autumn. Other folks think of it as fall. To a very vocal majority, it’s football season. But, to me, it’s fair time! Yes, I realize that some state fairs take place in the summer and some are in the winter. For whatever reason, I will forever associate a drop in temperatures and the turning of leaves with state and county fairs and a heap of fried foods.
Now, I generally have a super healthy diet. I get my five servings of fruits and vegetables a day without the benefit of V8 juice. I get my salad dressing on the side. I rarely eat anything fried. But a day at the fair is a time to throw dietary caution to the wind and indulge in things that truly have no place whatsoever in a balanced diet! I hereby dedicate this edition of the Campfire Chronicle to the deliciously decadent and wonderfully weird fair foods we have all come to love.
This is one time when we won’t focus only on the West (although I am mighty partial to Western cuisine). I mean, what is more unifying and American than people from all over the country attending fairs and paying exorbitant amounts of money for foods that bring a moment of happiness and night of indigestion? (Cue the patriotic music! It’s time to eat your heart out!)
Food on a Stick
There was a time when fair food was pretty much limited to caramel apples, cotton candy and corndogs—or, as I like to refer to it, food on a stick. There’s a lot to be said for food on a stick. It’s portable. It’s on a stick. Okay, so that’s about all there is to be said for foods on a stick. Across the country, you can still find the traditional foods on a stick, but these days you can find some wilder choices, as well.
It seems that states take pride in the number of foods on a stick their state fair has to offer. While most states have a fine showing in the food on a stick challenge, it appears that the winner is the Minnesota State Fair, with seventy unique foods on a stick. The good people of Minnesota have brought us such foods as deep-fried lobster on a stick, shrimp dogs, alligator sausage on a stick, teriyaki ostrich on a stick and deep fried olives on a stick. I must admit that none of those options sound remotely tempting to me, but they are creative! For this, I give the people of Minnesota props.
Happily, there’s still plenty of room for the classics! Fletcher’s Corny Dogs have been a staple at the Texas State Fair since 1942. Texas Monthly has called the Fletcher’s Corny Dog the “magnum opus of fair food.” If you disagree, you need to check out the lines at the Fletcher’s Corny Dog booth. During a 24-day fair season, approximately 630,000 Fletcher’s Corny Dogs are consumed by people trying to get their annual fix of cornbread battered, deep-fried, wieners on a stick! They go through 21,000 pounds of oil, 1,500 gallons of mustard and 800 gallons of ketchup.
If You Fry It, They Will Come
You know you’re at a great state fair when you can smell the grease, which brings me to the fried foods category. As you’ve probably already gathered, there’s a lot of overlap in the fried food category and the food on the stick category.
The Texas State Fair offers fairgoers such treats as fried Sirracha balls (brought to you by the same person who created fried beer), fried butter, and fried bubble gum. This year, you can partake of a deep fried Texas bluebonnet, which isn’t actually a fried wildflower. It’s a battered, deep-fried, blueberry muffin that is stuffed with cream cheese and white chocolate and topped with whipped cream, white chocolate morsels, blueberries and blueberry sauce. Yes, please!
It’s no secret that Texans can “chicken-fry” anything. This year, an award winning Texas State Fair food is the chicken-fried loaded baked potato, which exemplifies the true goal of fair food: Take an everyday food and fry it until you can hear your arteries clogging.
California offers plenty of healthier choices, like organic salads and fruit stands. They also serve up artisanal breads and locally produced cheeses, which aren’t even fried. Don’t worry, though. For people who aren’t interested in bypassing future bypass surgery, they also have more cholesterol-rich choices, such as deep-fried White Castle Burgers. Yes, the burger is battered, in its entirety and plunged into a vat of grease. Deal me in!
Note: Iowa and other states also serve up fried butter. Iowa gets special recognition for serving it on a stick.
Bite Off More Than You Can Chew
Some fair foods are all about the shock factor. They’re generally for people who say, “I’ll try anything once!” For those people, the Arizona State Fair is the place to be. In past years, they have served up such oddities as caramel apples rolled in mealworms and chocolate-covered scorpions. Whyyyy?! Whyyyy?!!!!
Even the promise of chocolate cannot tempt me to consume a scorpion. And, if I want protein added to a caramel apple, I will choose chopped nuts, not mealworms, thankyouverymuch!
The California State Fair offers deep-fried Kool-Aid balls, which appear to be psychedelic donut holes. If you’re in Florida, you might wish to try the fried ice cream cheeseburger, which is a bacon cheeseburger with a scoop of cinnamon and cornflake coated flash-fried ice cream. Meat a’ la mode, anyone?
The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread
I took an unofficial poll among friends from all over the country. I was rather surprised to learn that cotton candy, funnel cake and elephant ears still top the list of “must-have” fair foods. In case you aren’t familiar with elephant ears, since it’s a regional thing, they are essentially flat, fried bread—sort of a non-puffy sopapilla. It just goes to show that you can’t beat a classic.What about you? What’s your favorite fair food? Do you indulge in the wacky selections or head for the old stand-bys? What is the strangest fair food you’ve ever tried? I’d love to hear from you.
I leave you with a little Rodgers and Hammerstein ditty. Everybody sing along with Pat Boone in this video clip from the 1962 film!
Our State Fair is a great state fair,
Don’t Miss it don’t even be late.
Its dollars to doughnuts at our state fair
It’s the best state fair in our state!