Aug 4 2012
Going viral is a good thing, when writing for the Internet, and my biggest success in that regard happened three years ago. The topic: chocolate-covered bacon. Tens of thousands clicked on the story, and I was stunned.
“God bless state fairs,” the editor wrote later. “Thanks for reminding me about the appeal of culinary wackiness at state fairs across the country.”
State fair menus in Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota routinely challenge the imaginations of chefs to fry cooks while daring us to compromise digestion and ignore heartburn.
Chef Aaron Fidder of the Machine Shed restaurants was the guy who matched bacon with chocolate in 2009, and this remains a food-on-a-stick choice for the 2012 Wisconsin State Fair. Staff in Pewaukee expect to prepare 25,000 portions this year.
“Usually the shelf life of a trend is two or three years, but this one’s still strong,” says chef Kurt Wagner, Aaron’s successor. Gone is the restaurant’s deep-fried butter on a stick, introduced in 2011. Kurt says fairgoers didn’t like having the food spurt with the first bite.
New to his fair booth is firecracker chicken, slices of skewered breast meat dipped into a jalapeno-spiked and slightly sweet cornbread batter. Also new but not on a stick is cubed pork with apple-raisin stuffing and an apple-whiskey glaze.
What else is new and delectable or outrageous at the Midwest’s three liveliest state fairs? Here are a few items that caught my attention.
Wisconsin State Fair, West Allis, Aug. 2-12 – Lakefront Brew Pub and Eatery serves Fat Elvis on a stick, a peanut butter cup deep-fried in a banana batter with bacon. Ultimate Confections offers chocolate-covered cheese (a link of mozzarella dipped in chocolate and topped with sea salt).
Other oddities: deep-fried stuffing from Rupena’s, deep-fried and bacon-wrapped tater tots from Jayme’s Chipstix and “brewtons” (deep-fried won tons that contain cream cheese, pepper jack cheese and jalapenos) from Water Street Brewery. wistatefair.com, 800-884-3247
Iowa State Fair, Des Moines, Aug. 9-19 – Campbell’s introduces the double-bacon corn dog, a bacon-wrapped hot dog that is deep fried, then doused in a bacon-bit batter and fried again. The Nothing Spared Fair Square (marshmallows, crispy rice cereal, pretzels, potato chips, Oreos, toffee and M&Ms) is sold at the Fair Square stand.
Also new: German chocolate funnel cakes from The Best Around, carrot funnel cakes from Westmoreland Concessions and chocolate-covered, chocolate-chip cannoli on a stick from Dipped in Chocolate. iowastatefair.org, 800-545-3247
Minnesota State Fair, St. Paul, Aug. 23-Sept. 3 – Tejas serves chicken nachos on a stick, but the big talkers are in the Taste of Midtown Global Market, where beef tongue tacos are offered Aug. 27–30, then camel burger sliders on Aug. 31 to Labor Day.
Also new: mashed sweet potatoes on a stick from Mr. Potato and Sweetie, bacon-maple ice cream from Rainbow Ice Cream and lamb (testicle) fries from Holy Land Deli. mnstatefair.org, 651-288-4400
Let’s not forget the proud agricultural traditions that are at the core of state fairs.
Two 60-foot-long murals depicting farm life in Wisconsin have returned to the State Fair for the first time since 1948. Look for the restored artwork at the State Fair History Museum display in the Exposition Center.
A team of artists was commissioned to create murals for the 1948 Centennial Exposition, to show changes in farming between 1848 and 1948. After the event, the murals were rolled up, stored and forgotten until ag writer John Oncken of Sun Prairie inquired about their whereabouts.
The Kohler Foundation helped make mural restoration possible. Some of the original 14 works remain missing. For more: wisconsinhistory.org/museum/statefairmural.
Write a line or two on my Facebook page (facebook.com/roadstraveled) about your favorite state fair foods or memories for a chance to win a copy of the 2011 “Creating Dairyland” by Edward Janus ($26.95, Wisconsin Historical Society Press) or the new “Wisconsin Farm Lore” by Martin Hintz ($16.99, The History Press). The deadline is Aug. 18.
The subtitle to “Creating Dairyland” does the great job of summarizing the content: how caring for cows saved our soil, created our landscape, brought prosperity to our state and still shapes our way of life in Wisconsin.
The author is a former Soldiers Grove farmer whose writings and oral histories are widely published.
“Wisconsin Farm Lore” takes a more folkloric approach to sharing the tales of our agricultural heritage and history. Consider the book’s subtitle: kicking cows, giant pumpkins and other tales from the back forty.
The author farms near Milwaukee and a former newspaper journalist who has written more than 100 books, many about the Dairy State. The 10th edition of his “Off the Beaten Path: Wisconsin” book ($11.99, Globe Pequot) was released in June.