Saturday, September 3, 2016

My Fair Share

I took a step away from my garden last month and headed to the Minnesota State Fair for a bucket list moment … how much fried food-on-a-stick could my guy and I eat? Turns out we managed to eat 25 different foods in 12 hours. We started the day with fried cheese curds and ended with deep fried pickles — in between we snacked on fried … peanut butter cups, tomatoes, corn fritters, a twinkie, bacon, baklava, donuts, cheese … and that was just in the morning.

Any state fair is a smorgasbord, but not just of food. What really draws me to the fair is the reason state fairs began. Agriculture. Farming. Livestock. A celebration of the rural life. 

As a gardener, I want to see the 14 rows of dried corn cobs showcased in the seed exhibit. It means something to me that 700,000 bushels of corn are grown in Anoka County, where the fair is every year; that 100 bushels of corn produces approximately 7,280,000 kernels. It’s these kind of facts and figures that keep people coming back each year. 

That and the deep fried grilled cheese sandwich bites.

There are fragrant and aromatic livestock barns filled with cows and pigs and horses. One entire  barn is devoted to chickens, geese, turkeys, ducks, pigeons, pea hens and rabbits. An utter bonding of coop animals. Each animal has its own 4-H’er who’s hoping to win the blue-ribbon-best-of-show prize. Camping out in the stall seems to be part of the process. Not sure why they have to wear white pants. That seems to be a real walk on the wild side choice. The barns were full of nose-holding gawkers drawn to the fair for this tip toe through the sawdust moment.

And the deep fried baklava.

The Great Minnesota Get-together, as it’s called, was named by USA Today in 2015 as the best state fair in the U.S. I discovered the secret to its success — the Princess Kay of the Milky Way butter sculpture. I stood rooted to a spot outside a glass-walled refrigerated room and watched a woman turn a 90-pound block of Grade A butter into a life-like effigy of the reigning Princess Kay as she sat bundled up in clothes fitting for the worst of a Minnesota winter. Each of the 11 in her butter court get their own butter head. The best part? They get to take them home, where apparently many have butter parties! Talk about knowing which side your bread is buttered on. The dairy industry is brilliant! If only I could butter up a princess and get invited to her butter party. That would bring me back.

That and the deep fried cheese stick.

In a corner of the Creative Activities (aka as Home Economics) building I found nirvana. The canned food display. Hundreds of jars filled with the best a summer garden has to offer. Jams and pickles ruled the day, but tucked in between were the best efforts of applesauce, sauerkraut, tomato juice and fruit butter — not fried, but still looking delicious — makers.

My heart swelled in harmony with my fellow canners. At least I think that’s why.

It could, of course, have been the deep fried rueben sandwich I had just eaten.

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