County fairs and state fairs are in full swing by this time of the summer. I am planning on attending one to try what sounds like a horrible, wonderful treat, the deep-fried Twinkie or, even better, the deep-fried Oreo. I keep hearing how delicious they are. Fairs specialize in food that is bad for you, but hard to resist. Some of the items on tap at fairs around the country right now include deep-fried butter, spicy chicken-stuffed dill pickles smothered in blue cheese, fried jelly beans, and a hot beef sundae (just like an ice cream sundae, only made with mashed potatoes and beef sauce instead of ice cream and syrup), and fried beer.
I relayed all this information to our seniors here at Live Oak Adult Day Services, and it sparked many to reminiscence about county fairs of their youth. Bill enjoyed all the animals, especially the roosters. “I saw one that was as big as a turkey!” he recalls, and goes on to mention that it was required of kids in 4-H to show their animals at the Texas fair near his home. Marie loved the county fair near her house in Idaho. She sampled all the food, from funnel cakes to cotton candy, but has no memory of the more creative fare typical these days. “Deep-fried butter? Really?” she asks in disbelief.
Lisa was a teacher, and several of her students raised livestock to show at the fair. She always attended to show her support. Tim used to raise cows to show at the Santa Clara County Fair. He recalls that it was very hard work, but a good learning experience for kids his age. Plus, he got his investment back and made a profit when he sold his cows at the end of the fair. He liked the cotton candy and corn dogs he would nibble on between events, but actually thinks that fried beer would be worth a try. We puzzled over how one would go about frying beer, and decided as a group that it must be frozen in cubes first and then fried so it doesn’t melt.
Other Live Oak seniors remembered all the collections displayed at fairs, from hand-sewn quilts to shot glasses from Las Vegas casinos. “People collect things that I would never think of saving,” said one man, “like matchbooks and spoons.” I told them about a woman I knew who won a blue ribbon for her postage stamp quilt, in which each quilt piece was the size of a postage stamp. She worked on it for more than a year, and fairgoers marveled at her patience for such an intricate project. Others here fondly recalled the food pavilions full of homemade jams, jellies, cakes and pies, many proudly displaying their own blue or red ribbons. Pie-eating contests were often held in that area of the fairgrounds, and we all decided that blueberry pie would be our favorite for stuffing ourselves with.
And all the fair rides were memorable, too, from the tilt-a-whirl ride, to the spinning teacups, to the merry-go-round. One woman vividly recalls feeling nauseous riding on the Ferris wheel. “It looks so gentle, but that drop from the highest point back down to the ground made my stomach feel like it was dropping, too.” Just imagine if she had boarded the Ferris wheel after a meal of deep-fried jelly beans and a hot beef sundae, all washed down with deep-fried beer.
“Do they even have county fairs anymore?” she wondered. That question would probably give nightmares to fair organizers.