The Iowa State Fair: Pleasure Island of Tawdry Food

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The first time I visited the Iowa State Fair, I arrived armed with an annotated map.

My friend Leah, whose father is the Executive Director of the Iowa State Fair Foundation, grew up attending the fair. When she heard I was going for the first time in 2006, she told me she had a set of places she liked to go. At her cubicle, she used a marker to identify the best booths and the best food.

“Only the Campbell’s corndogs,” she said. “Look for the blue hats. Don’t eat any other kind. And there are lots of mini donuts, but you want the ones from the church, not the other kind. Also, the cheese curds are the best you will ever have. They’re here,” she said as she put an x marking the spot. “They’re in this triangle near the Agricultural Building.”

Leah did not steer me wrong. Of course, like an amateur, I tried to get through her entire list of food recommendations in my first hour and a half on the grounds. Do you know what happens when you do that? You can’t feel your feet for the next hour. Yes, those of you who are physicians, you SHOULD be alarmed by that symptom.

But that has not scared me off from going again. And again. And this year, thanks to the Greater Des Moines Partnership, I won a trip to Des Moines that, to my delight, will coincide with the 2010 Fair’s first weekend. This year’s fair runs from August 12-22, 2010, and I am already making my list of food to eat and checking it twice. The Iowa State Fair requires strategic eating, people. I will not be denied.

This year’s list of foods available on a stick is already published, and though I will avoid the Potato Lollipop this year, I will avail myself of corndog(s), quite possibly the pineapple on a stick -- fried in funnel cake batter? Yes, please! -- and possibly, for purposes of cooling down the mouth, a pickle on a stick. Not a fried pickle, mind you, although I probably wouldn’t turn one of those down if it hit me in the face.

I will not, however, be eating the Salad on a Stick that appears on the aforementioned list. The Iowa State Fair is not a place where one eats salad. The Iowa State Fair is where one eats things that are NOT salad. That are the opposite, nay, the antithesis of salad. The food one eats at the Iowa State Fair takes salad, stomps on it and then goes out for a beer milkshake.

“My personal favorite part of the fair is the FOOD,” said Kristin of Iowa Girl Eats in a post about last year’s event. “All diets go out the window when it’s fair time!” Check out her photos of the the fried cheese curds, which might be my very favorite thing to eat on the fairgrounds.

Though I do have my favorites, I will admit to succumbing to the lure of the forbidden when at the Fair. It is like Pleasure Island of Tawdry Food, after all. No one there will judge you. In fact, they will cheer you on as you down one thing after another.

But some dishes just don’t sing me a siren’s song. At the 2008 Fair, Patti of Worth the Whisk checked out the Hot Beef Sundae, which, though I may be a meat-lover, has never quite tempted me.

A presentation in the state fair food pavilion, the little sign said it was funded by the Iowa Beef Producers. It did not win a blue ribbon, and that’s a shame because it certainly promotes beef in a way most people like it – with potatoes and gravy. Here is the description from the showcase, which featured packaged foods, yet easy to replicate with fresh-cooked ingredients, I think.

But no matter what, I will take advantage of the once-a-year opportunity to eat a Bauder’s peppermint ice cream bar. This treat is only served during the Fair’s annual two weeks. Judith of Shortcut to Mushrooms gave the bar a try at the 2007 Fair, and had this report:

The next food stop was at the Bauder ice cream booth, where I tried this Peppermint Bar, listed as a State Fair favourite. The bar was made up of peppermint ice cream, chocolate syrup, and crushed Oreo cookies, and it was good if not spectacular.

I’d call it spectacular. I’d call it worth throwing caution to the wind. And to call it worth the calories? Well, that’s more than Fair.

Genie blogs about gardening and food at The Inadvertent Gardener, and tells very short tales at 100 Proof Stories. She also tells stories with photos at 5x52.

Photo credit: Genie Gratto





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