As summer winds down, state fair season ramps up in the United States. Prepare for an old-fashioned dose of root beer floats, blue-ribbon bunnies, high dive shows and warm-nosed cows to pet – plus a whole lot of food sizzling in oil.
Fried coke and donut burgers
If you fry it, they will come. That seems to be the fair food credo. Fried Coke, fried butter, fried guacamole – genius minds are at work all over America, determining the next big food to take the plunge.
Take fried Coke – impossible, right? Not if you're the Texas State Fair (24 September to 17 October, 2010) To be honest, it's not actually soda, but Coke-flavoured batter that's deep fried and plopped into a cup. Coke fountain syrup, whipped cream and a cherry layer are poured over the top. Thousands line up to fork in each year – even Oprah sang its praises when she visited for her show.
The Texas fair also introduced the world to fried butter. Not to be outdone, the Wisconsin State Fair (5 to 15 August, 2010) responded with fried cream cheese – as well as fried cream cheese with bacon. And then the Dairy State added what many consider its masterpiece to the oeuvre: the donut cheeseburger. A sliced glazed donut cushions a beef patty topped by cheese and – wait for it – chocolate-covered bacon. Homer Simpson would be proud.
Meet the animals
Livestock plays a big role in the fairs. At many, like the Illinois State Fair (13 to 22 August, 2010), visitors can get up close with pigs, cows, sheep, goats and horses in the animal barns. Each is filled with watchful creatures nibbling in their stalls, and they don't seem to mind hands reaching in gently to pet them. Often the owners are there giving scheduled demonstrations, say on sheep shearing or cow milking. And sometimes guests are lucky enough to catch impromptu demonstrations on matters like how to ready a cow for the blue-ribbon show (hairspray and tease its tail, and then brush its coat until it gleams).
The butter cow
Perhaps the only thing more remarkable than a hairsprayed bovine is one made out of butter. At the Iowa State Fair (12 to 22 August, 2010), a warmly dressed artist enters a 40-degree cooler and sculpts 600 pounds of shortening into a life-size dairy cow. A companion piece joins it. Past years have seen a buttery Elvis, a replica of local boy Grant Wood's American Gothic couple, and a Harley Davidson motorcycle standing next to the bovine. The butter cow, by the way, isn't exclusive to Iowa. It's a fixture at most state fairs.
No trip to the fair is complete without riding the tilt-a-whirl, Ferris wheel and other thrills that flash and beckon from the carnival area. High Dive shows grace many events, in which divers twist, flip, horseplay and freefall from sky-scraping platforms into small pools of water. Illinois has pig races, Iowa has rooster crowing contests, and Minnesota (26 August to 6 September, 2010) has lumberjack shows, where brawny men square off atop rolling logs in a tank of water. The guy left standing wins.
Check the State Fair Directory for links to individual events.