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State Fairs or “Of Carbs and Carnies”

Oct 8 2013

by kim holloway

At the first state fair I attended outside the South, imagine my distress upon ordering a corn dog and being served something that could have come from the grocery store. Listen up fair food vendors, when I order a corn dog, I want y’all to HAND DIP that weenie. And then brush on the mustard for me. Don’t provide a giant jar of off-brand French’s and expect me to coat the thing myself.

Um, where was I? Oh yes, state fairs.

When I was a kid, we could never enjoy the fun fair stuff (rides, games, food) without first trekking through the livestock exhibit. Now maybe this would be exciting for a kid from Manhattan or Los Angeles, but by the tender age of five or six, I’d already seen more than my share of cow patties. Still, we had to tromp past all manner of familiar farm animals and their assorted aromas. Whee! I’m still not sure why this was a requirement, unless it was my dad’s way of teaching me the lesson that is still ingrained 30 something years later: “You are responsible for where you put your feet.”

I’ve been to all kinds of fairs and festivals in California and Seattle, but I am still partial to the Mississippi State Fair. Perhaps I’m peering through the rosy-hued lenses of nostalgia, but I really do think Southern state fairs are better. Why? In a word: food.

At any fair, you’ll find the same rickety rides operated by dentally challenged carnies. You’ll find the same rip-off games where you’re lucky to win a goldfish that won’t live to see next Tuesday. Livestock is livestock wherever you may be. But the food? Hoo boy, where do I begin?

First, there are the free biscuits. Let me repeat: Free! Biscuits! With cane syrup that’s made on the spot while you watch (that is, if you enjoy watching mules walk in circles for hours, but you’ve gotta do something to pass the time in the long-ass free biscuit line). You’ll find the usual collection of fried stuff on sticks, but in the South it just tastes better. We’ve perfected the art of deep frying. And, yes, it really is an art. There are the aforementioned hand-dipped corn dogs (affectionately known as “Pronto Pups” which sounds a lot better than the “Krusty Pups” you find in Puyallup, WA). If you’re lucky, you’ll happen upon some “skating rink” style pizza. Of course, you’ll encounter all kinds of barbequed delicacies. And you’ll even find Mississippi-style Chinese food. Yum!

As I walked along the midway this Sunday with my sister’s family, I encountered foods the likes of which I’ve never seen in the wild: Gator on a stick, Krispy Kreme cheeseburgers, red velvet funnel cake, and–I kid you not–fried Kool-Aid. There were also nachos made with pork rinds in place of tortilla chips. And every kind of deep fried dessert, from Twinkes and Oreos to Snickers and cheesecake. My favorite had to be the sign that skipped all effort at pretense and offered “Fried Dough.”

After striking out for umpteen years, I finally got to see the pig races. Which, as it happens, consists of four pot-bellied pigs making one loop around a track. Or half-way around in the case of number 3, who couldn’t be bothered keep trotting toward the finish line. Frankly, it was sort of a letdown. Certainly entertaining, but I’d always imagined there’d be more squealing and less napping.

And the highlight of the event? No, not the gorilla woman or two-headed cobra baby. You can’t really find a good freak show these days. The highlight is Malone’s State Fair Taffy. Beware. It is highly addictive, and you will never find any other taffy that compares. Lord knows I have tried.

In case you’re of a mind to go, the MS state fair runs through Sunday, October 13. Have a caramel apple for me!

What are your favorite fair memories? Please do tell!

Stop for a visit and discuss all manner of Dixie delicacies and doo dads atStuff Southern People Like.

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