Wednesday, October 7, 2009

State Fair: A Photo Essay.

The Arkansas State Fair is a magical time of year for me. It's like an affirmation of autumn, a time to consume things you'd never choose to eat otherwise, a place to enjoy the sting of fall's first crisp breezes amidst the chaos and wonder of a midway, to see the dreams of kids who have worked hard to create or nurture their entries to the contests and rodeos. It is indeed a place of splendor.

It does come with its sins... many of them food related. Steaming meat from the gyro guys is both an audio pleasure and a temptation on a pita, once it's served.

Perfectly rational people who'd never order chili cheese fries or nachos on a normal day will bow to the gods of cheese sauce for a Fairtime splurge.

Some become primal, searching out turkey legs to knaw, savoring each dark bite with a relish unknown beyond the grunting of hunger and the gnashing of teeth, displaying carnivorous appetites until the bone and sinews are met.

Others must find the foods of their youth and bring them close, dental work be damned. Caramel apples, popcorn, cotton candy... all there for the munching.

The carnival is awash in colors that only emerge at State Fairs and 80s rock videos, a parfait of supertechnicolor and squeem for the eyes.

I find my own joys in foods brought here from other parts of the United States -- such as toasted ravioli from Saint Louis (affectionately known as T-Ravs)

or fried Cheddar cheese curds from Wisconsin... straight out of the fryer and so hot it burns your mouth, but oh so good.<

It's also a marvelous time to be a kid... with all that sugar and all those options. The hyper child that will result from this combination of frosty beverages will likely also be the child passed out on a parent's shoulder as the Fair is left behind.

There's something about sticks and Fairs that go together... meat and cheese and even pastry will find its way to a piece of wood and onto a griddle or into a batter vat and into the deep fryer.

Of course, that's not a new phenomenom. The corn dog is the original "on-a-stick" item you'll find at the Fair... and it's been around for decades. Somehow, it keeps getting longer.

Regional items are also popular, such as fried catfish, fried frog legs, fried jojo potatoes... this year fried jalapeno chips and fried pickle chips will be added to that menu.

Amazingly enough, even soft drinks have made it to the fried realm, such as Fried Coke and Fried Dr. Pepper. Surprised no one's come up with Fried Hot Chocolate or Fried Buttermilk yet. Maybe I should just be quiet; at last year's fair, there was a contest called "Fried at the Fair."
When it comes to contests, nothing quite beats the Arts & Crafts competitions. Never quite know what you'll find in the A&C building.

Plenty of concerts at the Fair... making evenings loud and proud. Try getting a Fried Twinkie at your local concert venue.

Ah yes, weird food abounds at the Fair. Last year it was the Pig Licker -- chocolate dipped bacon. I am actually looking forward to trying the Elvis Sandwich -- the peanut butter, strawberry jam and banana sandwich battered and deep fried -- with friends, of course.

The Hall of Industry is always packed with lots of folks and lots of things to try. Hot roasted nuts, anyone?

This photo should be self-explanatory.

Best deal on drinks -- the iced tea stand. Purchase a jug and get $1 refills. Pass along the jug to folks who attend the Fair later.

I don't understand the allure of trying to win a live bunny. Seems like too much work for more work ahead.

I also don't understand the big deal about having your name put on a grain of rice. Must be me.

Best place for breakfast at the Fair... the Pork Chop Shop near the Swine Barn. No joke.

Take some time out and go see some of the junior competitions. These kids have worked very hard to bring their animals to show.

Age is no limit.

Those are some big melons, eh?

I'm always amazed how folks can be so interested in baby animals.

I thought this was just cool as all heck.

I participated in last year's Rice Cooking contest... didn't win, but it sure was fun.

I entered kheer, an Indian rose-scented rice pudding.

Did watch the judging... and boy, that's a lot of rice to judge.

These two sisters picked up several of the prizes and Best in Show. Way to go!

Among the best free things to do at the State Fair: sign up to help judge in the Arkansas Commercial Wine Competition. Lots of free samples.

The Pig Races will be going on throughout the fair, just to the right of the main gate. Lots of silly fun.

These junior livestock handlers are something special.

Of course, there are carnival games.

Scenes from the Midway.

By the final Friday of the Fair, if the weather is nice, the crowds are hoppin'. Everyone wants a chance to enjoy the fun, and with all the different ride band days and promotions there's usually a bargain way of doing things.

The closer you get to the end of the Fair, the more likely people are to brave whatever sort of weather gets thrown their way.

By the closing days of the fair, the smell of charred meat and burned sugar is everywhere, along with the scent of sweat from thousands. But if you get close enough, you can still be lured in by the allure of turkey legs and barbecue.

My final act at the State Fair each year is to find and consume a funnel cake. Usually this act is committed with friends or family. Can't wait to share my daughter's first official State Fair funnel cake this year.


Be kind.