The dog days of summer are here kids. Which typically means that we are all sweating and hating it but this summer has been more like getting rained on and hating it. At least that’s what happening here in D.C. for the most part. In the midst of the August heat come those nostalgic, 2/3 really fun, 1/3 exceptionally questionable state and county fairs. I think that when you are from the Midwest like me, reminiscing the days of cotton candy and gravitrons go hand in hand with blue ribbon contests for pigs, pie judging, a showcase of canning skills. And let us not forget that since we witnessed the delicious Ryan Gosling hang from a ferris wheel in The Notebook we haven’t looked at one the same since.
I grew up going to the Hillsdale County Fair and Jackson County Fair (where I saw a Destiny’s Child concert in 1997 for $15) in Pure Michigan. Both reeked of the unadulterated Midwestern bliss that comes with farming and simplicity. That and hormonal teenagers. And cow manure. Living in the city, I probably won’t have the opportunity to make it to a fair this year but if I did, I’d try to hit one of the big ones. The kind that have been around for over a century and have morphed into an “only in America” campaign where a highly coveted prize is winning the creativity trophy for a new conception of food on a stick. Or deep fried food on a stick. Here are 5 iconic American State fairs:
Iowa State Fair: Held since 1854 and spread of 445 acres, the Iowa state fair is one of the largest in the country. It’s almost hard to choose the best thing available at this fair. Perhaps its the monster arm wrestling or cow chip throwing contests. Or the 600 exhibitors to see. Or the cow that is entirely sculpted out of butter. Or the nearly 65 food items available on a stick like a bacon-wrapped corn dog, deep fried Snickers bar, Twinkie Log (frozen Twinkie (WHERE did they find said Twinkies?!) dipped in white chocolate and rolled in cashews), or the bacon-wrapped riblet. All available sans plate.
Minnesota State Fair: Trailing only behind Texas in terms of attendance, the Minnesota State Fair, or the “The Great Minnesota Get-Together,” has been kicking since 1859. Check out Machinery Hill where, yep you guessed it, can see one of the largest displays of farm machinery in the world in addition to motorcycles and lawn mowers. Before heading over there, see livestock exhibits or an art or cooking show. A food item of this fair that’s really intriguing in a whaaaat the—- sort of way is the corn dog pizza. However, I am not doubting at all that it’s culinary genius.
State Fair of Texas: We all know that everything is bigger in Texas. Sort of. But really the state fair, held annually since 1886 is the highest attended fair in the country and no joke. This year, Dallas will gratefully welcome back its fair mascot, Big Tex, who caught on fire last year. Other highlights include livestock, a garden show, and the historic Red River Rivalry football game between Texas and Oklahoma. Fried options include deep fried jambalaya and a deep fried bacon cinnamon roll.
Great New York State Fair: The oldest state fair in America, this celebration has been pleasing fairgoers since 1841. Here, you can view contests for antique tractors to farm products, Midway rides, extreme log makeovers, and butter & cheese sculptures. There’s also Pan-African and Iroquois Indian villages to tour and if you’re hungry you can try the deep fried macaroni or the long john donut hot dog dipped in maple syrup.
Wisconsin State Fair: America’s dairyland has held a state fair since 1851. Play bingo with the Potowatomi Bingo Casino Road Show or educate yourself in the Wisconsin State Fair History Museum. There is also a white tiger discovery exhibition where keepers feature the last remaining five species of tigers in the world. Naturally, there’s food on a stick you can try like the cajun frog legs, breaded oysters, or deep fried cheesesteak. The most popular food item at this fair, however, is the cream puff, a delicious cream filled pastry served since 1924.