It’s fair season! The 2012 South Carolina State Fair opens Oct. 10 and runs through Oct. 21, drawing thousands of fairgoers into a visual kaleidoscope of neon lights, colors and patterns, juxtaposed with live music and an irresistible mingling of unique aromas. Everyone enjoys the rides, exhibits, culinary competitions, celebrity concerts and shows like the singing sea lions and squealing pigs who race for ribbons and Oreos. But surveys show that fair food wins the sweepstakes as one of the event’s top draws.
The variety of fair food choices includes traditional staples like barbecue, corn dogs, pizza, funnel cakes, giant turkey legs and cotton candy (also called fairy floss). Trendier treats include Krispy Kreme hamburgers, deep-fried Kool-Aid balls or fried butter.
Fair Food Highlights
Local concessionaires and restaurants will sell many of the foods offered at the fair this year. Other foods will be sold by popular out-of-state vendors, who travel across the country to different fair locations every year. Fiske® Fries are a top-pick from the out-of-town concessionaires. Packaged in styrofoam cups, the tasty French fries are served with salt and malt vinegar or ketchup. Michigan resident Jerry Price says that his grandparents started selling Fiske Fries in 1938, and they are in high demand at 68 annual fairs nationwide.
Nancy L. Smith, assistant manager of the South Carolina State Fair, says a tasty lineup of new foods will be available this year. Carousel Foods will serve a novel sandwich of fried chicken stuffed into a split raspberry jelly doughnut. “The Elvis Burger, sometimes dubbed ‘the half pound hunka hunka of burning love’ will be topped with a slather of peanut butter, crisp bacon slices and banana. These creative sandwiches debuted successfully at several state fairs this past summer,” Nancy says. Carousel Foods will also sell juicy giant turkey legs and savory fried pork chops.
Cheese curds, also new, are popular at Midwestern fairs, especially in Wisconsin where they originated. Soft, fresh Cheddar cheese is cut into peanut-size shapes then dipped into batter and deep-fried. Fresh cheese curds should “squeak” when eaten. Fans say that they are addictive; it’s hard to eat just one.
The fair is a melting pot of foods from diverse cultures. Asian specialties include teriyaki chicken, tempura and egg rolls. Besides Italian and Polish sausages, there are also gyros, souvlaki, pita-wrapped sandwiches and baklava from The Greek Garden. For the first time, Columbia’s San José Mexican Restaurant will serve deluxe nachos, soft and hard tacos with salad and beef, chicken or steak quesadillas.
Hearty offerings from the Meatball Factory will include London broil, shish kebabs and chicken pita. Netterfield’s Lemonade will dish up Philly cheese steaks, hamburgers, chicken tenders and cotton candy. The Leaning Tower Pizza, run by Brett Wilson, owner of LaBrasca’s Pizza on Jackson Boulevard, will sell pizza favorites.
Fair snacks also include embellished and plain popcorn, roasted peanuts, pretzels and caramel corn. Anything coated with caramel is always a hit, even bacon or fruit.
Another in-demand food category is skewered items like fried bologna or chicken-on-a-stick. Nearly any food can be skewered –– including cheesecake, candy apples and chocolate-dipped, frozen bananas –– making them portable and easily eaten as diners stroll around the fairgrounds. Corn dogs were a hit in the 1940s and are still one of the most popular stick foods. The hot dogs are dipped into thick cornmeal batter then deep-fried. Pronto Pups are similar but dipped into pancake batter. This Oregon specialty was first served at fairs around 1941. Area vendors Bailey’s Pronto Pups and Cliff Daley’s Corn Dog Stand will sell these fair favorites.
Fairgoers also love anything and everything deep-fried, including mushrooms, Snickers, Oreos, cookie dough, Twinkies, Pop Tarts and fizzy soft drinks, for starters. Deep-fried butter? Absolutely!
Sweet treats include strawberry shortcake, mini doughnuts and glazed funnel cakes from Eric Timmons of Timmons Concessions in Spartanburg. Eric has switched to trans-fat free oil for frying. Try Dippin Dots (ice cream pearls flash-frozen in liquid nitrogen), elephant ears (sometimes called “fried dough”), snow cones, Trudy’s ice cream, ice cream milk shakes, chocolate éclairs, Golden Gate cinnamon rolls and candy.
For dieters, the sweet temptation of foods that are battered, breaded and fried may be scarier than a roller coaster ride. However, there are plenty of options for healthy eating. Choose carefully and avoid mindless grazing, splurging only a little to minimize the damage. Choose a salad but limit the dressing. Snack on roasted peanuts, soft pretzels (wipe off the salt), roasted corn or corn on the cob, slaw, mini burgers, lean bison burgers, grilled chicken, kebabs, frozen yogurt, fresh or frozen fruit and pasta. Even ice cream, cotton candy or a candy apple can fit into a healthy diet on fair day. Split a decadent treat with several friends. Bottled water, sports drinks, iced tea, coffee, sugar-free lemonade and Diet Pepsi® are also better choices.
Novelty is the buzzword for state fair foods these days, and the race is on to create the next extreme food. Some of the more bizarre items on the fair circuit include chocolate-dipped scorpions or candy apples rolled in crunchy whole mealworms, but those haven’t made it to South Carolina. Maybe it’s safer to simply have a double-dipped, deep-fried, bacon-stuffed Twinkie and a frosty pickle pop!
Visit the Cookie Kitchen in the Moore Building to purchase two hot from the oven Spunkmeyer Cookies for $1. The cookies will be fresh-baked daily, and proceeds benefit the S.C. State Fair Scholarship Fund.
McLeod Farms from McBee will be selling fresh produce, artisan jams, jellies, breads and more in the Cantey Building. All items are made from products off their farm.
Keeping South Carolina’s Agricultural Roots Alive
The South Carolina State Fair traces its origin back to 1855 with the organization of the State Agricultural Society. In 1861, Confederate authorities used existing fair buildings for the manufacturer of war munitions; in 1865, General Sherman burned them to the ground. When the society was reinstated by 1869, the buildings were rebuilt through the sale of life memberships and funds from the S.C. Legislature. A statewide fair was established on Elmwood Avenue, but it outgrew the space and was moved to the present location in 1904.
The Agricultural Society evolved into the current State Agricultural and Mechanical Society of South Carolina. Private and self-supporting, the association retains full responsibility for operating the state fair and distributes proceeds throughout the state to other charitable organizations. Over the past 10 years, the fair has returned over $1 million to educate South Carolina youth.
The State Fair is an agricultural expo at heart, begun as an attempt to provide better farming practices and to encourage farmers to adopt scientific farming methods. From 1898 to 1914, farmers experienced a period of rare prosperity known as the “Golden Age of Agriculture,” with advancements in agricultural marketing, food refrigeration, canning, farming technology and science.
There were displays of farm equipment and competitive exhibitions of livestock, handicrafts, baked goods, jams and jellies. The addition of the midway brought carnival rides, entertainment and food concessions.
Each year the fair hosts competitive exhibits in the Home & Craft Department. In the Baked Goods and Canning Divisions, some of the state’s best traditional cakes, pies, breads, jams and other homemade goodies will vie for ribbons. Within the Special Baking Contest Division, exhibitors will compete in two Karo® Corn Syrup contests, two Spam® Best Recipe Contests, two King Arthur Flour® Baking Contests and a special new contest, “Dress Your (Hot) Dog,” sponsored by the S.C. State Fair and the S.C. Beef Council.
Three hundred years of rich agricultural history have culminated in the 2012 S.C. State Fair, where people will gather to shine a spotlight of appreciation on the state’s farmers, craftsmen, food vendors, home cooks and bakers, local chefs and food artisans.
Sidebar to this section
From Field to Fair
Since the fair’s focus is agriculture and food, a new program, “From Field to Fair,” has been implemented to highlight the importance of agriculture to South Carolina. The state’s largest economic sector is agribusiness, generating more than $34 billion yearly for the economy and creating more than 200,000 jobs, according to David Winkles, S.C. Farm Bureau president. At the fair, visit the exhibit and view dozens of signs that explain the mysteries behind winning those iconic blue ribbons. Since April, the State Fair has worked with the S.C. Radio Network on radio spots and live on-air presentations discussing agricultural products and the paths they take from farm to consumer. The entire 26-week series can be heard at http://scstatefair.org/fair/field-to-fair/general-info.php.
On the State Fair website is a section for kids in the “From Field to Fair” program. It provides entertaining games that teach pre-K through fifth graders about sustainable farming while meeting curriculum standards in math, science, social science, English language skills and health. The program gives a child the chance to be recognized as an official Ambassador of Agriculture. A passport stamp is awarded for each of 15 games won. When the series of challenges is complete, the child is eligible to collect a commemorative photo and blue ribbon at the fair. To begin the journey, visit http://scstatefair.org/fair/field-to-fair/kids.p
The Second Annual Famously Hot Chef Showdown!
After a wildly successful 2011 inaugural event, the Second Annual Famously Hot Chef Showdown takes place Thursday, Oct.11, from 5 to 7:30 p.m. on the WLTX-TV stage at the fairgrounds. The Iron Chef-style contest features three Columbia-area chefs who will have 60 minutes to prepare a three-course meal, using a mystery basket with 10 Certified S.C. Grown sustainable ingredients. Prizes and the title of “Famously Hot Master Chef” will be awarded to the winner.
Master of ceremonies and head judge for the event is cookbook author and celebrity chef Darren McGrady, the former royal chef to Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Diana and Princes William and Harry. Regional judges include Executive Chef Blake McCormick from North Charleston’s EVO; Patricia Moore-Pastides, author of Greek Revival; and Charlotte’s Chef Troy Gagliardo of FOX Charlotte’s Tuesdays with Troy. There is no charge to attend the event.
Bring the Fair Food Home
Blue Ribbon Corn Dogs
Corn dogs, the all-American snack, are popular around the world and are celebrated every March on National Corn Dog Day. This recipe comes from the files of the South Carolina State Fair and is shared by Nancy L. Smith. Kick up the flavor a notch by topping your corn dog with mustard, ranch dressing, barbecue sauce, hot sauce or catsup1 quart oil, for deep-frying
1 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup yellow cornmeal
1/4 cup white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons bacon drippings
1 egg, beaten
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 pounds hot dogs
Heat oil in a deep-fryer to 365 degrees. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt. Stir in melted bacon droppings. Make a well in the center, and pour in the egg, buttermilk and baking soda. Mix until everything is smooth and well blended. Pat hot dogs dry with paper towels so that the batter will stick. Insert wooden sticks into the ends. Dip the hot dogs in the batter one at a time, shaking off the excess. Deep-fry, a few at a time, until corn dogs are as brown as you like them. Drain on paper towels.
Chocolate Popcorn & Peanut Clusters
Here’s an addictive popcorn creation that’s worthy of a blue ribbon.
6 to 8 cups freshly-popped popcorn, very lightly sprinkled with sea salt, if desired
3 to 4 tablespoons cake mix, to taste (French Vanilla, Butter Recipe Golden or Funfetti ® flavors)
3/4 cup roasted peanuts
6 ounces quality bar chocolate, with a cocoa percentage of 60 percent
1 teaspoon shortening or unsalted butter
Sprinkle warm popcorn with cake mix, to taste. Spread over a large baking sheet. Sprinkle with peanuts. To melt the chocolate bar, break it up into small pieces and place in a medium bowl. Add shortening. Microwave one minute, stirring after 30 seconds. If necessary, continue microwaving at 15 second intervals. Stir until smooth. Drizzle popcorn and peanuts with chocolate. Let the mixture stand about 3 hours until set. Break up into small clusters. Serve at once or store in a container with a tight-fitting lid.
Crispy Fried Cheese Sticks
Tasty fried cheese sticks will satisfy your craving for fried cheese curds when you can’t buy them at the fair. Panko is a type of Japanese breadcrumb product used to create delicate, crunchy coatings. The cheese sticks must be very cold so chill them in the freezer for a few minutes before frying. Or bake the tasty snacks quickly in a very hot oven. Serve with salsa or other dipping sauce.
all-purpose flour, as needed
1 egg, beaten with a fork
panko bread crumbs, as needed
string cheese, Cheddar or mozzarella sticks, well-chilled
vegetable oil for deep-frying, if desired
Put the flour, egg and panko separately into three shallow pans. Dust cold cheese sticks with flour; dip into beaten egg and shake off the excess. Roll cheese sticks in panko until completely coated. Heat oil to 350 degrees. Fry cheese sticks about 30 seconds, turning for even browning. Remove when the coating is crispy and golden brown. Serve at once.
Quick Cheese-Topped Soft Pretzels
Soft pretzels are of German origin and came to the United States with immigrants. Baked, hand-twisted soft pretzels are not difficult to make at home from scratch, but to save time, try one of the brands of ready-made pretzels from the grocer’s freezer section. Warm and delicious pretzels can be made within minutes. To embellish their taste, line a baking sheet with parchment paper then arrange the frozen pretzels on top. Sprinkle each one liberally with shredded sharp Cheddar or spicy Jalapeno Jack cheese. Heat in a 350 degree oven 5 minutes until warm and the melted cheese becomes golden brown. Serve with a favorite mustard. For a sweet version, omit cheese and brush warm pretzels lightly with melted butter or coat lightly with vegetable spray. Dip each one into a large bowl with granulated sugar flavored with cinnamon. When nicely-coated, serve at once.
The Walking Taco
The Walking Taco first appeared in Knoxville, Tenn. at the 1982 World’s Fair. In keeping with the fair’s energy theme, the dish came in regular, premium and super-premium sizes. The Walking Taco or “Taco-in-a-Bag” also goes by the name Frito® Chili Pie. It has become a hot draw at many state fairs. Warm chili and toppings are spooned inside bags of Frito® chips. The portable dish is especially fun to eat during sports events or picnics. Individual portions can be served outdoors but at home, prepare just one large casserole. The crunchy-soft chips covered with warm chili make a winning combination. Add favorite taco toppings: shredded Jack or Cheddar cheese, sour cream, chopped tomatoes, shredded lettuce, sliced pickled jalapeños, sliced green onion, sliced olives, salsa and cilantro leaves. Don’t forget the hot sauce.
For individual servings, use one small- or medium-size bag of Frito’s® Corn Chips, per person. For each serving, cut open a bag of Frito® chips to form a container. Leave the chips inside the bag then spoon hot chili, preferably homemade, over the top. Garnish with shredded cheese and sour cream plus any of the toppings suggested above. Serve at once.
Joan Williamson’s Sweepstakes Pound Cake
Karen Williamson gently nudged her mother-in-law Joan Williamson of Lugoff to enter this recipe in the S.C. State Fair in 2005. She won a blue ribbon for the cake in a prior contest but this time, she won the top Sweepstakes Award for Best Cake. Condensed milk is an unusual ingredient in a pound cake and could be considered Joan’s secret ingredient. It keeps the cake moist, tender and rich. The judges agreed that this is the quintessential pound cake.
1 pound unsalted butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
6 large eggs
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated milk)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
3 sifted cups all-purpose flour (sift then measure)
Coat a large tube pan with about one tablespoon butter and sugar; set aside. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. In a mixer, cream 1 pound of softened butter with 2 cups sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in the sweetened condensed milk and vanilla. Add salt and flour, a little at a time. Blend ingredients just to combine well. Put batter into prepared pan. Bake for 2 hours. Let the cake cool about 10 minutes before removing it from the pan.
Note: The recipe adapted from the blog susanslacktasteofcarolina.wordpress.com. There you will find additional recipes for prize-winning fair foods under the category Blue Ribbon Fair Recipes.