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Food at the fair

Aug 2, 2012 - By Steven R. Peck

There's nothing else like it, so indulge yourself this week

The smells alone are reason enough to find your way to the Fremont County Fairgrounds this week -- and no, we don't mean what you'll whiff in the poultry barn or the beef show ring.

No, it's the wafting invitations from the food trailers that are the olfactory draw. There's just nothing else like food at the fair. So here, more or less in repetition of an annual tradition, are 10 good reasons to visit the fair on an empty stomach.

10. Funnel cakes and frybread -- Depending on whether you get yours through the tiny window of a trailer at the carnival or from a local vendor outside the rodeo arena, this delectable deep-fried dough says "county fair" with every bite. Sprinkle with powdered sugar, spread with butter, or drizzle with honey.

9. Cotton candy -- Which of us hasn't taken the first bite of this melt-in-your-mouth confection, marveled at its apparent lightness, and then eaten so much of it we felt sick just in time to get on the Tilt-A-Whirl? You know the feeling, and you still can't help yourself.

8. Corn dogs -- More deep-frying here, this time cornmeal encasing a hotdog. Most importantly, it's on a stick -- and anything on a stick is prime-time eats at the fairgrounds. (We're still waiting for the arrival locally of the deep-fried, bacon-wrapped Twinkie ... on a stick.)

7. Snowcones -- One of the few good things about the blistering heat that often accompanies the fair is the opportunity for a guilt-free snowcone. With more flavors available than Baskin-Robbins ever dreamed of, the snowcone can keep you cool right down to the last slurp of syrupy goodness at the bottom of the cup. And you'll have purple lips for hours.

6. Popcorn -- Fairgoers in self-denial tend to view this as their vegetable for the day, complete with enough coconut oil to clog a whale's arteries and enough salt to make an ancient Roman emperor blush. Crunch away, fairgoers. This passes for high-fiber health food at the fairgrounds.

5. Dill pickles -- We're not talking about the little kosher dills from the jar. These are the giants, the biggies, as thick as your little sister's forearm and almost juicy enough to suck through a straw.

The little paper bag they come in serves as a dainty barrier for about five minutes. After that your fingertips carry the briny reminder of your snack long after the pickle itself is gone.

4. Honey candy -- We wrote about the Colva family's bee booth in Wednesday's Ranger. If you visit their bee corner in the ag exhibit hall at the right time, you can score a handful of the little sweets so fresh and good you'd swear the drones worked overtime to make them. They go fast, so make a beeline -- heh, heh, heh -- to the honey booth as soon as you arrive.

3. Ice cream -- Your local newspaper staffers have one of the luckiest jobs in the world during fair week, judging the annual ice-cream "freeze off." This year's winning entry featured blueberry with a touch of lemon. We newsies got the first taste, but there was plenty to go around if you were smart enough to show up.

2. A tie between Indian tacos and greasy burgers -- We're not sure if the Fremont County Fair delicacy known as the "Indian taco" can trace much history to ancient tribal ways, but for modern-day fairgoers it's hard to beat. A hot piece of frybread (or is that funnel cake?) piled high with beef, beans, lettuce, diced tomatoes and a bit of sauce to hold it all together ... it's outdoor eating at its best. Just get plenty of napkins.

As for the burgers, when a volunteer at the rodeo or demolition derby concession stand flips a steaming patty off the greasy grill on to your paper plate, when you accessorize with a fresh bun, some pickle slices, onion, ketchup and/or mustard, and when you complete the transaction by chowing down on your burger in the big grandstand while watching cowboys with names such as Cleve, Bo, Cash and Stub try to ride bucking animals, and you've got a near-perfect eating experience.

Think of it as dinner theater, except you don't have to worry about the putting your elbows on the table -- because there isn't one.

And No. 1? The pie -- You owe it to yourself to have at least one lunch or dinner this week at the 4-H lunchroom -- now called the Little Wind Center -- just so you can top it off with a piece of homemade pie.

While it's true that a certain number of the pies are made by kids who still lack certain crucial pie-making experience, much of the pie at the lunchroom is the product of longtime fair-going farm and ranch wives who are as expert with the rolling pin and the paring knife as any brain surgeon with a scalpel.

Again, timing can be critical. If you can get to the lunchroom about an hour after the county commissioners have judged the pie contest, chances are the winning creations will have been carried over to the lunchroom for that night's dinner.

Enterprising piehounds have been known to watch the pie judging, then follow the pie from the judges table to the lunchroom. This is pie the way God intended, with real lard and apples sliced with the same knife Great-Grandma used.

There's lots going on at the fairgrounds. The days can be long. Make sure you're well-nourished.

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