The competition in selling food at fairs and carnivals is tremendous. Vendors seek publicity for the newest and most outrageous recipes to draw crowds. And since the fair is a once-a-year event for most people, they don't mind trying something new, even if it costs an arm and a leg and seems dangerous to one's cholesterol level. Here are some of the foods you might see at a fair near you.
Atkins, Arkansas has been known as the "Pickle Capital of the World" for many years, as a pickle-packing plant dominated the town's industry beginning in 1946. Bernell "Fatman" Austin owned a restaurant just across the street from the pickle plant. In 1963, he developed a recipe for deep-fried dill pickles as a publicity stunt -one that worked, as celebrities sang its praises and the town began hosting the Picklefest in 1991. Austin died in 1999, and the pickle plant shut down in 2002, but his family still makes fried pickles for the fair every year. The recipe has found its way into other fairs, as well as restaurants and homes.
Bubblegum is not food -it's a flavored toy you play with in your mouth. But a recipe for Deep-fried Bubblegum won the 2011 State Fair of Texas Seventh Annual Big Tex Choice Awards anyway. However, it's not really bubblegum. It's a bubblegum-flavored marshmallow dipped in pink bubblegum-flavored batter (if they can make toothpaste and medicine taste like bubblegum, they can flavor anything). The concoction is then deep-fried, rolled in powdered sugar, and topped with a spritz of icing. So go ahead and swallow it! Image by Ron Heflin/Star-Telegram.
It's not a drink dipped in batter that is fried, but the batter itself -which contains Kool-Aid powder. The creator of Deep-Fried Kool-Aid, “Chicken” Charlie Boghosian isn’t sharing the exact recipe, but it involves flour and Kool-Aid powder. And a deep-fryer. And possibly sugar. The ball-shaped sweet treats sold like hotcakes at the San Diego County Fair this year. Boghosian was previously responsible for the deep-fried Klondike bar and the deep-fried Pop Tart. Image by Jonathan Horn.
The ultimate in artery-clogging indulgance is Deep-fried Butter. Fair food veteran Abel Gonzales Jr. took his creation to the Texas State Fair a couple of years ago. His recipe uses the same trick as Deep-fried Ice Cream: coat and freeze the butter first, then fry it really fast. Gonzalez offers his butter balls in plains and in garlic, grape, or cherry flavors. But it's not really a new idea. Paula Deen had a recipe for Deep-fried Balls of Butter in 2007 (which contain cream cheese), although that may have been the result of a dare. Image by Kevin Brown/State Fair of Texas.
Deep-fried foods are popular because of their flavor and decadence, but putting food on a stick is downright practical. After all, it's hard to find a place to sit down and eat, much less a table to put your food on, at a crowded fair. It's also hard to find a place to wash your hands before and after eating. Something you can eat with one dirty hand while walking makes fairgoing much easier. A patent for fried foods on a stick such as the corndog was filed in 1927, and the idea spread through fairs over the next couple of decades.
French Fries On A Stick
The next step beyond a corndog would naturally be to include the entire meal on a stick. This French Fry-coated Hot Dog wraps a wiener in potatoes after it is coated with a batter that glues everything together. It was found in Seoul, South Korea, but should be offered at your local fair. Or you could make one yourself.
Deep-fried Stuffing On A Stick
Another recipe from Paul Deen puts a holiday staple into the realm of fair food. Deep-fried Stuffing On A Stick was a part of her show called Deep Fried Thanksgiving, which also included deep-fried cranberry fritters and deep-fried mashed potatoes with bacon.
Deep-fried Twinkies On A Stick
Now a fair staple, it is believed that Deep-fried Twinkies were developed by Christopher Sell of The Chip Shop in Brooklyn about ten years ago. Sell experimented with many sweet treats to go with the fish and chips in which his shop specializes (they were dipped in the same oil the fish was fried in). The experiment that held up the best was Twinkies. Clint and Rocky Mullin took the recipe to fairs, where it was put on a stick and became a hit. Here's a recipe that doesn't call for anything to do with fish.
Deep-fried Peanut Butter and Jelly On A Stick
Fried peanut butter and jelly sandwiches aren't exactly new, as people have made them for kids along with grilled cheese sandwiches and Elvis' grilled peanut butter and banana sandwiches. But dipping them in batter and deep-frying PB&Js broke into the fair scene a couple of years ago. And they are served on a stick because they are hot and can be messy. Here's a recipe you can try at home. It only lacks the stick, which is pretty easy to add if you want to eat them while walking.
There's no end to the odd dishes available at fairs, mostly fried and conveniently skewered with a stick so you can keep your dirty hands from getting any greasier.