Around these parts, the State Fair is a Big Deal.
You know this is true even if you don’t live in Minnesota, because it is impossible to exist in social media without coming across the much-heralded list of new (fried) foods to eat, followed by dozens of pictures of people eating said foods. It’s also likely that you’ve heard of Princess Kay of the Milky Way, even if you didn’t know her name. She’s the one carved out of butter.
I first went to the State Fair with Joel and Claire a couple of years ago, before I had even agreed to move here. I ate fried cheese curds for the first time – scalding, greasy, salty, delicious – and marveled at the all-you-can-drink milk for $1. Plain or chocolate! It’s a real steal! Claire was at an age where she got bored easily, begged for us to buy inflatable toys/stuffed animals, and got flustered at the crowds. We lasted about two hours, at which time the skies cracked open and poured on us for 10 minutes before the sun emerged and everything was muggy and stifling once more.
No experience including a Fair-fried corndog could possibly be terrible, but I don’t remember it being an especially fun time.
I have never been much of a fair person. I grew up in Springfield, Mo, and they had a decently sized one, but all I remember about it is that it was too expensive for us to go – at least, if we wanted to eat all the foods and ride all the rides. Speaking of rides, I don’t really do them. I’m scared of heights, get motion sickness easily, and don’t trust an apparatus that gets taken apart and reassembled dozens of times in a summer by people working for minimum wage. Also, I get annoyed in crowds and don’t like to be hot. So. You can see why fairs and I aren’t on great terms.
This year, we bought tickets to see Joan Jett and Journey at the grandstand on the last night, a Monday. Our initial plan was to arrive a couple of hours early to eat nasty-yummy foods and then go to the concert. But then Miss Claire intervened. Suddenly, she was DESPERATE to go to the State Fair. So we got roped into going on Saturday, too.
This particular Saturday happened to be a record-breaking day for attendance. More than 252,000 people were at the fairgrounds that day, and let me tell you, by the time we left in the late afternoon it felt like we had shoved past every single one of those people in order to get down the street. Luckily, we arrived at 10AM and parked in University of Minnesota parking several blocks away. We had maybe an hour of enjoyable fair time before the masses started arriving and we didn’t get stuck in a traffic jam like Claire’s poor mom, who sat in traffic trying to park for an hour around noon.
Our primary objective was to eat. Well, that was mine and Joel’s priority. Claire’s priority was to go on the giant slide, which she did later after meeting up with her mom.
We started our day off with Blue Cheese & Corn Fritz from the Blue Barn. When I was a kid, my mom used to make the most amazing corn fritters, but hers never had blue cheese in them. Turns out, the blue cheese is EVERYTHING. This is probably the most delicious thing I ate at the fair on both days we went. According to this article, these fritters are supposed to be a staple on the menu of this chain of restaurants. I’ll be damned if I could find them on any of the menus, though. I’d definitely drive out of my way to eat them.
Next up: cream puffs. I would personally never give these a second glance, but Joel has a serious whipped cream problem, and these are about 15% pastry/85% fresh made whipped cream. There is so much whipped cream that it’s impossible to eat without making a mess, as seen here. Claire and I both had a bite or two, but Joel took most of this down on his own. (He also ate one after the Journey concert on Monday night.)
Claire spends most of her playtime with friends dressing up like she’s an extra on Little House On The Prairie, so as soon as I saw the old-timey picture booth, I knew we had to do it. The problem was that all the girl costumes were super girly. The options were Victorian (with giant feathered hats and satin gowns), Civil War (with an odd lace parasol), Western (saloon girls), Formal Western (like Victorian with different hats), and Roaring 20s (flappers). Claire didn’t really like any of those girl costumes, so we decided we would all be outlaws.
Real quick, we were in line behind a woman and her daughter, both in the saloon girl costumes. When Claire was dressed, the little girl – probably about Claire’s age – turned to Claire and said, “I look pretty, not silly.” I was so taken aback that I just pulled Claire away. Little girls are so mean!
Anyway, we had so much fun doing this. It’s stupid expensive to get prints, and they have a total racket going on “accidentally” printing extras that they’ll sell to you for a “reduced price,” but it was worth every penny. Claire was really into making sure we all did the non-smiling old-timey pose. Look at her face! I was so amused I at least had to smirk, which Joel says makes me look like I’m very pleased with my wacky family.
No fair would be complete without a corn dog. I love corn dogs! And though you can’t tell from this picture, these are gigantic. Eighteen inches, I think. It’s so much corn dog that even I, a corn dog enthusiast, had to abandon the cornbread wrapper toward the end in favor of eating the naked hot dog. Claire ate all of hers.
And after she ate that corn dog, Claire went on this bungee jumping thing. It was probably a blessing that we had a 20ish minute wait before her turn, as I was honestly fearful of her losing that corn dog all over the trampoline. Because she’s so skinny, Claire was in line with a bunch of much younger kids. They all kind of pussed out with the jumping, but Claire wasn’t afraid to really get up there. (She was too afraid to do the backflip she was bragging about, but who can blame her?)
By the time Claire got off the bungee jumper, the crowds were starting to get crazy on the midway. We hightailed it out of there and went to see the livestock. I was never in FFA, but I have always admired how handsome all the animals looked at the fair and feel a little regret that I never asked my parents to let me raise something all on my own when I was a kid. (Sporadically feeding the cows you named after the meals we would eat them for doesn’t count, mom.) After several failed attempts at petting nervous horses, Claire found a friend in this fine looking little goat.
I would normally never drink anything this orange, but I am a sucker for an old-fashioned soda and extra fond of the orange cream variety. We met up with Claire’s mom at the goat barn and conducted a kid handover, so Joel and I got to roam around a bit by ourselves. All that walking makes a girl thirsty, so our first stop was Spring Grove Soda. Our second stop involved getting a water, because nothing this sugary can ever quench your thirst.
How stinkin’ cute is this Minneapple Pie stand? It was easily the most adorable structure at the fair, and even if Andrew Zimmern hadn’t told us to eat one of these hand pies, I would have eaten anything with such good branding after all the other garishness I had seen all day.
Joel and I both opted for the pumpkin pie with vanilla ice cream. The pie was hot and crispy and totally delicious, and I’m not going to lie, we went back to Minneapple Pie on Monday to try the apple. (Pic of that in the next post.) I’ll definitely be looking for Kemp’s cinnamon ice cream next time I’m at the store. I bet it would be delicious on chocolate pecan pie for Thanksgiving!
I have learned that no one in my family loves roasted corn on the cob as much as I do. I love it a lot, and getting a freshly charred, buttered, salted ear is one of the other positive things I remembered from my first visit to the Minnesota State Fair. I insisted on getting one this trip, and it was just as good as I remembered. We found a seat on a ledge right next to the stand, so close that ash from the fire rained down on our heads as we ate. I also ate this again on Monday. (And let me just point out, I had corn on the cob twice and my darling man had the cream puff twice. That pretty much sums up how we eat at our house, even if I do also have a sweet tooth.)
Around 3:30PM, the crowds became so terrible that everything moved at a snail’s pace. The morning cloud cover gave way to a blistering sun, and after learning that the wait for the Skyway across the fairgrounds was at least 45 minutes, Joel and I gave up and began the slow slog back to the car. At the last minute I spied a string of photo booths in an open-air arcade, and we slipped in for one last picture.
Just two days later we were back for more food and some fine classic rock, but that’s another post.