Yesterday I introduced my dear English husband to a beloved American institution: The State Fair. And not just any State Fair, folks…the biggest, the greatest, the bestest State Fair in the land. Yes, I am talking about the one, the only IOWA STATE FAIR! Cue brass band as the audience goes wild.
He wasn’t terribly impressed.
‘Well, it’s just like the Great Yorkshire Show isn’t it?’
‘NO!’ I protested, horrified. ‘The Iowa State Fair is much bigger.’
‘I doubt it,’ scoffed he.
In fact, the Iowa State Fair is twice as big covering a space of 445 acres to the Yorkshire Show’s 250. In 2011 1,080,959 people attended the Iowa State Fair as opposed to the Great Yorkshire Show’s near record attendance in the same year of 135,086. The comparison is not fair however (pardon the pun) as the State Fair goes for two weeks and the Yorkshire Show lasts three days.
‘And there’s a Goosey Fair near where I grew up,’ he continued dismissively.
‘Sorry? Goosey Fair?’
So named because it began as a festive trade event for geese, the Nottingham Goose Fair is now known for its amusement rides and games. It has been running nearly continuously for over seven-hundred years, cancelled only due to Bubonic Plague and two World Wars. The Iowa State Fair has been operating since 1854—the oldest State Fair in America. Unsurprisingly, The Great Yorkshire Show is older, but only by seventeen years. Both also closed during World War Two. Sadly, the famous Scarborough Fair no longer exists.
What The Iowa State Fair lacks in sixteenth century plague anecdotes, it makes up for in sheer size, scope and variety. The Midway alone covers ten acres—ten dizzying acres of puke-inducing rides and cash-gobbling carnival games. Several stages host everything from historical recreation performances, a National Anthem singing competition a strong woman demonstration, circus acts, both traditional and contemporary music. We just missed a women’s rubber chicken throwing contest. I was devastated.
What we did not miss, what no one should miss is the world famous Butter Cow. It’s a cow…made of butter! First sculpted in 1911 to promote the dairy industry, the Butter Cow is an Iowa State Fair institution. Over the years the Butter Cow has been joined by various butter farm scenes, a butter replica of American Gothic and (my personal favourite) a Butter Last Supper.
‘But, but…how?’ sputter folk when I attempt to spread the word.
Simple: refrigerated display case.
‘No,’ he smirks. ‘We have no corndogs on sticks. You’re far more likely to find Real Pie Company stands made with fresh, local ingredients,’ he boasts, trying to take the high road in a sea of deep-fried wonderment.
I found evidence to the contrary. The Great Yorkshire Show may celebrate the joys of Wensleydale and fifty different ways to stuff a sausage casing, but fair grub pretty much means hot dogs and burgers on both sides of the Atlantic. So there, ha!
It is impossible to escape Fair Food at the Iowa State Fair. It’s everywhere. It’s invariably deep fried and you can get it on a stick. Fried chicken on a stick, deep-fried cake on a stick, deep-fried pickle on a stick—all with an added bacon option. Apparently you can get salad on a stick at the fair, but I’ve never seen it. I suspect it might be rumour.
Nothing says Iowa State Fair like a hand-dipped, deep-fried corndog.
For my British readers, corndogs require explanation. Cornbread is a staple Yankee dish made of cornmeal (which is a bit like polenta), milk and eggs. Southern recipes add sugar to the cornbread, but this Yankee prefers a more savoury taste. Cornbread can be baked but traditionally should be fried in a cast iron skillet.
To make a corndog, the hot dog is skewered, dipped in cornbread batter then deep fried to golden perfection.
I like to drizzle ketchup on one side and mustard on the other. My daughter thinks they are the greatest invention since bacon. Wait a minute…bacon corn dog? There’s a bacon corn dog stand! And you can get it on a stick!
Serve generously with Lemon Shake-Up on a stick followed closely by antacid on a stick.