The State Fair always has a unique combination of disparate elements: fried foods & BBQ, slightly rigged games, rides with an okay safety rating, and a celebration of agriculture (pictured above). Every year, farmers compete to have the largest produce imaginable. The first picture shows pumpkins ranging from 221 pounds to the blue-ribbon-winning 376 pounds. If those pumpkins were made into jack-o-lanterns, I'd be afraid that they'd eat little trick-or-treaters. In the watermelon picture, the melon on the right in the foreground was about normal size, if not a little large, and the one of the left was just monstrous. The Japanese may be making square and heart-shaped melons, but we're making them the size of Godzilla. These giant sizes also extend to other squash. It is difficult to have some perspective from these pictures, but the butternuts in the back are the size of a large baby. Also at the fair were prize-winning sweet potatoes, snow peas, and apples, as well as Oreo cows, mules, mini-donkeys, cows for milking, sheep, a sow with her piglets, ducklings, and chicks. For city folk like me and my friends, this was a nice foray into the agricultural world so we can see not only where food comes from, but also the amazing power of selective breeding and genetics.
As they said in Charlotte's Web the movie, "a fair is a veritable smorgasbord." And whenever I go I do glut like Templeton the rat. If push comes to shove, the fair can be described in two words: fried food. I wish I new how to combine two photos into one, but for now the above pictures show what one stand was selling in terms of the deep-frieds. One problem about going to the fair is you cannot eat everything you want, otherwise your stomach might burst. One tip is to bring friends with you with whom you can "share" or "pawn off" your food.
For starters, we had to get some protein in us. One of my staples at any fair is the foot-long corn dog. There's something beautiful about a hot dog on a stick surrounded by cornbread and dipped into ketchup and mustard. The smoked turkey legs, if you can handle them, are also a must at least once in your life. They exude a delicious smokey flavor that you almost don't mind shoving your face into a huge piece of meat. But don't fill up on any one food as there is an entire world of flavors yet to be sampled.
Sweet potato fries are absolutely wonderful no matter where you get them. Other fried sides that have become staples are French fries, funnel cakes with any number of toppings (from cinnamon apples to maple syrup to chocolate), and elephant ears. Many stands just say they have "fried dough," and nothing could be simpler or sweeter than the warmth of sugary dough with some powdered sugar slowly melting on it.
Fried candy is one of my favorite items at the fair. Every year they unveil a new, wonderful fried food. This year's newest feature is fried Ho-Hos (pictured above bottom). They were pretty good, if not a little difficult to eat, but my favorite fried snack cake will always be the Twinkie with it's plume of warm vanilla flavor. Also pictured above are fried Oreos, which become softer after being fried and nearly melt in your mouth. Lastly is fried PB&J, which is, in reality, a fried Uncrustable, but that does not mean it was not one of the greatest things since fried sliced bread. Then again, I am a sucker for peanut butter. They also had fried cheeseburgers and fried pecan pie, both of which sounded good but a little too much for us to handle at that point in the day.
Keep your eyes open at the fair because there is food and fun to be had that most people don't see. On our way through the fair, we came across a stand selling apple fritters in an ice cream cone. Intrigued we bought some and they were marvelous. They were fried apple strips that tasted of apple pie in one bite.
Chocolate also has it's time in the limelight at the fair. Chocolate-covered bananas are a little difficult to eat because they are frozen first, but it was pretty good. I think they can't let the bananas get too ripe for fear of falling apart, but it still tasted good. Cheesecake also works wonderfully when dipped in chocolate and shoved on a stick. It helps that the cheesecake was from Cheesecake Factory, but the chocolate added another layer of sumptuousness. One note is that not everything at the fair is good. One over-popularized item was pig lickers (chocolate-dipped bacon). I think this suffered from a lack of trying: pre-cooked bland bacon covered in a lackluster chocolate sauce. The two flavors never actually melded. I may have to try this one at home just to show that it can be done.
Lastly, the local 4H clubs have competitions in many categories including sewing, canning and baking. Pictured above are some of the awesome cakes that were showcased, including the winning box-of-chocolates cake. I wish I had known about this when I was a teenager.
The state fair was, simply put, awesome. Word to the wise, do all the rides you want before you chow down on fried foods and play games before you leave so you don't have to carry a giant moon/banana around the park (what can I say? I'm just good at the water shooting games). If you've never been to a state fair, you've not enjoyed America at its best with deep-fried, capitalist, fast-paced fun.