Amanda: In years past, Vermont's Champlain Valley Fair was one of the highlights of my summer vacation. For just over a week, the fairgrounds filled with midway rides and goofy games, prize-winning heifers and preposterously large pumpkins. There were always booths hawking various crafts, causes and products...and best of all, food!
I was especially attracted to foods on a stick, both for the novelty factor (mom always served dinner on plates, how boring) and for practical reasons: There was no time to waste sitting down for a meal, with so much to see and do, after all! There were ponies to pet, balloons to win and "talking cars" to visit. (That was a simple trick; a two-way radio and a guy hiding somewhere in a booth, but it sure did intrigue me.)
Corn dogs, caramel apples, chocolate-covered ice cream bars and cotton candy were some of the portable snacks I loved best. There was also a "maple sugar shack" which was pretty much heaven on earth: sugar on snow in paper trays, maple milkshakes and maple candies, maple coffee and donuts. The best of the best was the cotton candy spun from real maple sugar.
This week, a friend told me about a new kind of food-on-a-stick, spotted at country fairs in Indiana: Deep-fried Pepsi (there's at least one YouTube video about it). Even as a kid, I think I could have resisted that one!
Lisa: My childhood was pretty much the opposite of Amanda's. Okay, my mom also served dinner on plates, and we sometimes went to the county fair—but it was the Los Angeles County Fair. Not exactly a center of agriculture, at least by the time I was growing up.
It wasn't until I moved to rural upstate New York that I experienced a true country fair. I was a new reporter at a small-town newspaper, and I was asked to write a city slicker's perspective on what was one of the biggest local events of the year. It was a revelation. The baby pigs on display were born at a farm just down the road, not trucked in from who-knows-where. The drive to the fair went through beautiful rolling farmland, not along a congested freeway. Food was provided by the 4-H Club, the volunteer fire department and local farmers, not just traveling carney trailers.
So, although I understand the appeal of fried things on sticks, the fair foods I get really excited about are the down-home treats: home-baked berry pies, apple cider slushies from the local orchard, and fried green tomatoes with a batter of fresh-picked corn.
In fact, as I approach the fourth anniversary of my inaugural visit to a country fair, I have to wonder if it was that first delicious taste that sealed my future. Instead of just passing through on the way to bigger and (I thought) better things as I had planned, I moved somewhere even more rural. As we speak, I am in the process of buying my first house. It's an old farmhouse with a few rolling green acres that will be perfect for planting my first garden—as soon as I figure out how to do it.
Ed. Note: As an added bonus, we have a photo gallery of delicious foods from the Wisconsin State Fair taken by our web producer Cheryl Carlin with captions by her sister Jessica.