Every year, something magical happens during the summer and early fall all across the country. One day there’s this large expanse of land with a few empty structures scattered around and the next a fairy-tale like place of lights, sounds and smells seems to have sprung out of thin air.
It’s State Fair time! And, with each state’s version of this American tradition comes what we have come to know as fair food. It may not be the kind of culinary creations we usually find on the plethora of cooking shows that flood our cable lineup, and no one will ever label it as “healthy”, but, oh how we love and look forward to it!
The first state fair was in New York, in 1841, and most states currently hold fairs every year, lasting an average of two weeks. The Texas State Fair draws the most attendance, usually around 2 million, annually, but it also runs for more than three weeks. Some people look forward to the entertainment and hope to see their favorite country singers; other can’t wait for the carnival rides, midway games, livestock shows, craft tents and racing events, which involve everything from horses to pigs and llamas.
You couldn’t pay some folks enough to get them on a ride that turns them upside down, and others have zero interest in canned goods or freakishly large vegetables. What everyone agrees on, however, is how much they look forward to the food!
We live in a world where everything tries to be big, better, faster, scarier or more shocking. Food vendors at the state fairs have gone down that route. There isn’t anything they won’t batter and deep-fry. Fried Oreos may be delicious, but they’re no longer new, just like fried ice cream. Now there’s fried beer, Pepsi, eggs, jelly beans, python and even fried spaghetti and meatballs. Python? Shudder! There are burgers with Krispy Kreme doughnuts for the bun and pickles soaked in Kool Aid. There will always be those attracted by the weird and outrageous, but, many of us still look for the favorites that we have enjoyed all of our lives.
Classic State Fair Foods
When it comes to classic fair food, there will be some considered traditional favorites in one part of the country that are different from other regions, like Minnesota’s beloved fried cheese curds. Even if you do find a stand for them in someplace like Mississippi, most folks may just walk on by. Overall, though, there are classics that are fairly universal unlike Missouri‘s and their Governor’s ham breakfast. Some of the more common state fair foods include:
- Foot-Long Hot Dogs
- Funnel Cakes
- Elephant Ears
- Candy Apples
- Fried Chicken
- Real Lemonade
- Popcorn and Kettle Corn
- Cotton Candy
- Snow Cones
- Turkey Legs
- Cones or Buckets Full of Cookies
Sound a little tame? Not what you race for when you get to the fair? Believe it or not, the explosion of new and different options in fair food did not happen until about 30 years ago. The Oreo didn’t make it into a fryer until 2002, and the wildly popular fried butter made its debut less than 10 years ago. There are now deep-fried versions of everything on our list of classics, as well as pretty much anything else you can think of. Aficionados of all things fried can be fairly confident in finding new things dipped in batter and finished off in hot oil waiting for them to sample every year.