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Fair Food

July 27, 2011

Summer is a lot of things, not least of which is fair season. Well, unless you grow up in Miami, because then it’s in the spring. Going to a fair in the heat of a Miami summer would be suicide.

The Miami Dade Youth Fair was always one of the highlights of the year; from the time I was seven until I left for college at eighteen. Sure, the midway held plenty of memories, and I always enjoyed the games of skill, but the flavors and smells were an inextricable part of the experience.

Upon walking into the fairgrounds, you were immediately overwhelmed by the smell of corn in their husks roasting over open coals. The leaves were pulled down, and used as a handle, and the ear was lowered into a vat of melted butter. Everyone was walking around with these juicy, greasy, sweet and smoky treats.

Just yesterday, I took the kids to the Bedford County Fair. And while it might not be quite so grand as the fair of my youth, I think the children got a memorable food experience out of the event.

Perhaps it’s unfair to blame the grandparents, because this was all my doing.

In some ways, I think I totally failed. It’s really hard to navigate the food vendors at a fair with three hungry children and four adults, each with different needs and preferences. So I went for some quick-fix slam-dunks for the kids.

Young Master Fussy loves gyro meat. Little Miss Fussy loves pizza, and she’s not nearly as picky as her father about the quality of the slice. So we totally missed the guy selling barbecue pork sandwiches with coleslaw. And we also seemed to miss the stand that was selling popcorn sized buckets of fries topped with what seemed like baked potato fixins. I was also tempted by the pierogi vendor, only to be shuffled away by a cranky LMF in need of pizza.

Sometimes you have to pick your battles.

The difficult thing about being in a different region of the country is that sometimes your old-reliables aren’t so reliable. My one quintessential fair food had always been Italian sausage sandwiches with onions and peppers. Maybe my problem isn’t being in Pennsylvania. Perhaps it is finally living in an area with a rich Italian-American food heritage where sausage with onions and peppers is serious business. Suffice it to say, none of it looked good enough to eat, so I took a pass.

Gyros and pizza do not make for lasting food memories. So instead this visit to the fair was going to be marked as the day of multiple desserts.

That meant funnel cake, sno cones and cotton candy.

We tore through the funnel cake and actually had to get a second one. This, by the way, is how funnel cakes should be eaten. It’s madness to order two at once. They must be consumed as hot as tolerable, because when this fried treat cools down, it’s not nearly as good.

With sticky fingers it was off to see the animal barns: cows getting milked, a baby calf, the swine stockades, horses, goats and sheep. By then it was time for the demolition derby. If you’ve never seen one of these, I’d highly recommend it. But it’s louder than you might expect. The losers are also unceremoniously removed from the field.

Afterwards it was time for dessert numbers two and three.

It got hot in those grandstands watching the automotive carnage, so that set the stage for a sno cone. The flavor choices were red, blue and green. So naturally, we chose blue. And with blue tongues and chins the last few rides of the day were taken.

You end on cotton candy, because leaving a fair is sad, and a little lingering sweet has a magical way of taking the sting out of the departure. Surprisingly though, you can’t buy a single spool of the stuff anymore. You have to get it in the bag. And that’s a lot of cotton candy.

The children couldn’t discern any meaningful difference in flavor between the pink and the blue varieties in the bag. Still, they happily munched away on it, as the sugar turned into a bright sticky mass in Little Miss Fussy’s clenched fist.

We rinsed our hands with a bit of bottled water, and headed back to the farm for one last taste of cotton candy before bed. Teeth were brushed, baths were given, beers and scotches were had (by the weary adults) and we closed the chapter on another successful day of making lasting memories.

This will go down into family lore as The Day of Three Desserts.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. July 27, 2011 7:53 am

    I just read an interesting article on “fair” food. It said that most of what you think of as main stream American cuisine (not really cuisine per se, but day to day stuff) derives from fair/street food. Hamburgers, pizza, fries, soda, ice cream, deep fried other stuff, etc… were originally “a few times a year” type offerings. But no, this was not good enough for us, we took these foods away from the fair and off the street and demanded them daily. That has taken us down a bad path.

    Imagine being a young boy from rural PA., let us say 75 years ago. You got to go to your State/County fair once a year for an ice cream. That was the only ice cream you had all year. Imagine how good that must have tasted?

  2. July 27, 2011 11:17 am

    One quibble: I would call it games of chance instead of games of skill. Who can really get a ring around the bottle neck? And if you want great pierogi/varennyky, the ladies of my church in Troy can’t be beat. We don’t make them in the summer (too hot), but will gear up again at the end of September. Let me know if you want to try them!

  3. July 27, 2011 7:06 pm

    I used to get really excited about fair food but the older I get, the more disappointed I am when I actually eat the fair food.

    I wish fair food was still exciting to me. Or maybe I don’t. It’s probably for the best.

  4. July 27, 2011 9:35 pm


    I supervised the funnel cake stand at a certain amusement park in Lake George one summer while in college. That was over a decade ago, and to this day I still can’t smell a funnel cake without wanting to yak.

    I will say, though, I made a DAMN good funnel cake. :)

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