The Indiana State Fair. Can my words describe much more than what’s communicated in the photo above?
I have fond memories of the fair. Until last night, the whole of those flashbacks were based on the state fair in Mississippi — which, as it turns out, isn’t a whole lot different from the one here in Indiana (although I don’t remember any four-story tall, three-dimensional reproductions of American Gothic, nor do I remember quite as much emphasis on things dairy). The fair memories of my childhood/teen highlight reel include standing in line for free molasses biscuits, standing in line to get on rides that came in on a flatbed and were put together in a matter of hours by men who seemingly don’t own shirts, and standing in line deciding whether to get the elephant ear or the funnel cake (I always went for the funnel cake).
All of these things were a normal part of my childhood, not unlike Santa Claus or summers at the YMCA. When October came, you went to the fair. It wasn’t until I had about 20 years distance, and then revisited last night, that I realized just how bizarre it is. Beautiful and bizarre.
Of course, being the person I am, we went with food in mind. And again, being me, we chose to visit the fair on Two-dollar Tuesday (entry, rides, and many food items were only $2 all day). I learned last night that there are both perks and drawbacks to Two-dollar Tuesday: a perk being that everything is cheaper, so you can afford to throw caution to the wind, follow the sign’s orders, and “Try the Muddy Pig!” (that would be vanilla frozen “custard” served in a styrofoam cup with individual plastic tubs of bacon, almonds, and chocolate syrup to top — a two dollars not well-spent). The main drawback is that there are a whole lotta Hoosiers in this state just as cheap as I am, and they were all at the fair last night.
Which, of course, adds to the aura. All those sweaty, sticky people, eating things on sticks. Things that would get any of us strange looks if we were to cook them up at home an offer them on a party tray. But at the fair? Normal is definitely relative.
The plan was to stay focused in our food forays (with the exception of the aforementioned Muddy Pig — the moment got away from me, and my judgment was clouded): we were there for the corn dogs.
In a conversation earlier that day with a friend, I voiced my concern that, after my 20-year hiatus from fair food, I would find all of it repulsive, that all of the nostalgia would have dissolved, gone the way of Santa and happily-ever-after. But she insisted that I would be fine, especially if I got a corn dog. She said they make the batter right there, with fresh Indiana corn, and batter and fry it before your eyes. The nostalgia had not left me: I commenced with salivating.
Eight hours later, we found ourselves in an electrified sea of no less than 75 vendors selling corn dogs. With little to go on other than what we were told by way of hand-painted sign, we chose four: two straight-up dogs, and two turkey/tenderloin dogs.
I confess that I didn’t think there’d be much difference between these battered meals-on-a-stick (yes, we did watch them being fried, but I don’t remember seeing anyone shucking corn in the trailers). What we discovered was that there seems to be two schools of thought on creating the perfect corn dog: there’s what I’ll call the Classical School, which focuses on the corn part. There is thought and pride taken in the batter, not unlike a search for the perfect corn bread. The corn-to-dog ratio might be a bit heavy, but that’s ok, since it’s the corn that matters. The second school is what I’ll call the Meat-Is-More school. These guys are all about the meat, and use a lot of it. The corn-to-dog ratio is much smaller, but — and this is the sticking point for me — the batter is sickeningly sweet. There’s corn in there, but I’m putting money on their dumping a 50-pound bag of Jiffy mix into a Hobart and calling it done.
Because when I call it a meal-on-a-stick, I don’t necessarily mean that it has to include dessert. Especially when you end up feeling like you’re eating a hot dog wrapped in a doughnut. Which, apparently, some people find appealing:
But before I judge, I must also confess: I did succumb to temptation, and tried two deep-fried sweet treats of my own: fried butter, and fried cookie dough. We can file that under the “you only live once” category (if not the “ensure that you’ll only live once” category).
And in case you’re wondering which one won the taste test? Let’s just say I should’ve stuck with nostalgia, and gone for a funnel cake.
Krispy Kreme pic cred goes to the DesignHER Momma — you can read her take on the fried butter experience here.