Outside of Baseball, Chevrolet, and Apple Pie, it is hard to get more American than a county fair!
Where I grew up, the county fair is the 3rd full week in September. We take the annual event serious. It is a double blessing for school kids as the school board generously cancels school on Friday to let the youngsters compete in a variety of races and games during the day and pay half-price for carnival ride tickets that night. It seems like the perfect time of year for the fair. The days are warm but the nights give hints of fall that is just around the corner.
Can you smell the warm funnel cakes? A friend has told me that these don’t exist in county fairs above the Mason-Dixon line. If true, my northern friends (and Southern too) can make their own plate of heaven. Check it out: http://www.southernplate.com/2015/04/funnel-cakes.html While we are the subject of food, I can’t leave out the candy apples http://allrecipes.com/recipe/21134/candied-apples-ii/, cotton candy http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/jacques-homemade-cotton-candy-recipe.html, and some of the best hamburgers. The best burgers come from those booths where the local community or civic clubs are selling food!
I am not sure which state has the craziest food at the fair, Texas or California. Texas has the Smoky Bacon Margarita, Fried Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich, and Fried Bubble Gum. While California has Chocolate Covered Bacon, Deep Fried Bacon Wrapped Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, and Frozen Cotton Candy. I have to mention Iowa with its Apple Pie on a Stick, and Toasted Coconut Caramel Cluster. When you are at the fair, the carbs don’t count. If you don’t believe go over to the house of mirrors. If you look in the right mirror, you will look thinner than ever before!
Of course, the county fair is about community. Where kids, moms, and grandmas enter their best art, crafts, and foods to take home the blue ribbon. I love seeing those handmade quilts that are sure to be a family heirloom. And, we can’t forget the livestock. No really, you can smell them from the Grandstand. Where else can a cow and a young lady win a beauty contest on the same night? Speaking of those pageants, it seems like we have one every age group. Baby, Toddler, Little Miss, Pre-Teen, Teen, and finally, Fairest of the Fair. There may be one for the “more mature” folks as well.
Before we leave, we can’t forget the carnival. After the funnel cake, candy apple, and hamburger, where else to go but the Tilt-a-Whirl! Yeah, I’m feeling sick too. There are the traditional rides like the Ferris Wheel and the Carousel, but the teens love the Graviton, Round Up, and the Zipper. My all-time favorite has to be the Himalaya. It had the best music and, once it got full speed, made sure that you and your date were as close as possible.
Now that I have the guys reminiscing some, just how much did we spend on those rigged games? I learned two important lessons at the fair in my teen years. I was terrible at shooting basketball and you will gladly spend $20 to win a $2 stuffed animal for a girl. Pride and women can be very expensive. Yes, ladies, you are worth it.
The county fair was a block party before block parties were cool. So, how did this all get started? According to the Encyclopedia of Chicago (http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/345.html), “The American county fair developed in the early nineteenth century when agricultural reformers in the northeast United States organized local exhibitions to promote modern farming.”. Well, the folks in York, PA don’t exactly agree with that. You see, they claim there county fair dates back to 1765. (http://yorkfair.org/about/our-history/) The have even trademarked the phrases “America’s First Fair” and “America’s Oldest Fair”. (Someone must have a lawyer in the family.) Hold on there. While they may not have the trademarks, Fredericksburg, VA claims to have started their fair in 1738 by government decree. (http://www.fredericksburgfair.org/about-the-fair/history/) To whichever Yankee community that was first, this Southern boy says “Thanks y’all!”.
I encourage you to take a break from life’s stresses and escape your busy schedule. Take a day to stroll through the exhibits of dried flowers and children’s water color paintings, grab a corn dog or two, head to the grandstand for a tractor pull or a pig race, get a candy apple and some popcorn, throw three balls for a dollar to win a stuffed unicorn, have an ice cream cone, ride the Himalaya and the Ferris Wheel, let a man try to guess your age and weight, then enjoy a concert before heading home. Now that my friend is living. Even if it is not the fair in your hometown, the memories will take you back home again.
Want to know when your county fair is coming to town? Check out this great site that list all the details about every fair in the country. (http://www.carnivalwarehouse.com/directories/fairs/fairsAlpha.asp?state=FL)
Share your memories of State ans County fairs. Tell us about the food, displays, rides, and laughter!