With the 2021 Poweshiek County Fair in the books, it’s time to look ahead to the Iowa State Fair, which returns Aug. 12 – 22, following a year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last year’s state fair cancellation was only the sixth time in state fair history that the annual event has been canceled. There was no fair in 1898 due to the world’s fair in Omaha and the Spanish-American War. The fair was also a wartime casualty for a four-year span from 1942-45. Last year was the first time that the fair was cancelled due to a pandemic.
I’m looking forward to the fair’s return and spending time with my family in the campground all while searching the fairgrounds for benches to take short naps. Of course, the state fair has special meaning to me as it was where I met Debbie in August 2003. We will celebrate our 17th wedding anniversary on Sept. 25.
Some of my favorite fair foods are at Beattie’s Watermelon Stand. In addition to the watermelon, the family-owned business serves huge tenderloins and some tasty ham and roast beef sandwiches. I’m not a big tenderloin fan, but the ham and roast beef is hard to beat.
Another favorite of mine is a polish sausage stand located on the southside of the Varied Industries Building. My mother-in-law told me about the food stand a few years back. It’s hard to beat a polish sausage with fried onions and mustard. Top it off with an extra-large iced tea and all in the world is good.
My favorite place to visit at the fair is Pioneer Hall. I always enter antiques in the fair and have won a number of ribbons through the years. I enjoy visiting the antique booths and listening to the music.
Back to food, according to the state fair website, 70 percent of fair attendees come for the food. With an average of 1 million attendees, that is 700,000 plus people who bring a wallet full of bills to feed the family fair food.
There are currently 69 food items served on a stick offered at the fair, as noted on the fair website. This includes bologna on a stick. Being from the south, I’ve never had bologna on a stick, but I have enjoyed many fried bologna and cheese sandwiches with a slather of mayo between two slices of bread. It’s hard to beat a fried bologna and cheese sandwich.
One thing I didn’t see on the list was fried butter on a stick. I did find an article that it was first served at the fair in 2011. I can’t imagine biting into a whole stick of butter on a stick dipped in a cinnamon honey batter and deep fried, coated in a sugary glaze.
Anyway, there is the famous Butter Cow, one of the main attractions of the Iowa State Fair. Sarah Pratt of West Des Moines is the current butter cow sculptress and only the fifth person in state fair history to sculpt the butter cow since its beginning in 1911. She spent 15 years learning the trade under the late Norma “Duffy” Lyon of Toledo before taking over the job in 2006.
According to the state fair website, the butter cow starts with a wood, metal, wire and steel mesh frame and about 600 pounds of low moisture, pure cream Iowa butter. Once inside the 40-degree cooler in the Agriculture Building, layers of butter are applied until a life-size butter cow emerges - measuring about 5.5-foot high and 8-foot long. Each year, much of the butter is recycled and can be reused for up to 10 years.
A real dairy cow weighs more than 1,000 pounds, but the butter version comes in at around 600 pounds. Did you know the butter cow would butter about 19,200 slices of toast and take an average person two lifetimes to consume?
If fried butter doesn’t tantalize your taste buds, there are plenty of other foods on a stick to try. They include pickle on a stick, peanut butter and jelly on a stick, apple pie on a stick, loaded tators on a stick, deep fried Twinkies, cookie dough in a waffle on a stick, caramel dipped pecan pie on a stick, deep fried cherry pie on a stick, bacon wrapped riblet, salad on a stick, smoothie on a stick and funnel cake on a stick. And of course, one of my favorites, pork chop on a stick. There is also pork belly on a stick and pork on a stick.
The state fair unveiled a new list of fair foods in an email I received the other day. They include a chicken bacon ranch ball on a stick, Barney’s beef ribs, rattle snack sausage, rattle snake corn dog, Nashville fried chicken sandwich, Maytag bleu cheese dip, peel and eat scrimp, bacon, tomato and avocado egg salad with Indian fry bread chips, flaming hot Cheeto funnel cake, Tennessee Twinkies, cowboy beans, bacon pickle mac n’ cheese, pickled spicy eggs and a large Duke’s Quebec style poutine. Poutine is a dish of French fries and cheese curds topped with a brown gravy. Another new fair food this year is Waygu beef hamburger made from a Japanese beef cattle breed. I like hamburgers. I might have to try one.
I hope you can take time from the busyness of life to enjoy the state fair with your family and friends. There’s plenty to do, to see and to enjoy from the entertainment to the food. It’s also good place to make new friends and relive family traditions.
Have a great week and always remember that “Good Things are Happening,” every day and always.