Paula’s County Fair

As y’all may know, I just adore animals—especially the little ones. There’s nothing sweeter than watching a calf learn to stand on wobbly legs or a fuzzy duckling dawdle after its momma. But I hold a special place in my heart for piglets, and I’m not saying that just ‘cause I love bacon. They are the funniest little creatures. Like me, they get so excited. I get a kick out of their happy, high-pitched squeals. And let me tell you, those little buggers are smart and fast. You can cuddle up with them for a minute or two, but if they wiggle outta your arms, you can bet you’re gonna get a workout trying to catch ‘em again—a game my family seems to enjoy watching.

One of the best ways I know to get up close with adorable animals is to make a trip to the county fair with your family. It’s one of my favorite summertime activities. The local farmers show off their wares and the 4-H kids proudly parade their animals to a panel of judges, hoping to earn a ribbon. When I was growing up, I remember meeting the biggest hog I ever laid eyes on at a county fair. She must’ve weighed a ton. And was she a beauty! Her owner had scrubbed up her pink skin and buffed her hooves. You could tell from the way that sow was batting her long eyelashes that she new she had it going on. She strutted her stuff for the judges and won “Best in Show.”

‘Course you can’t have a county fair without the food, and you know the kind I’m talking about—deliciousFunnel Cakes dusted with powdered sugar and hand-cut curly fries covered in cheese. But as a little girl, my favorite was checking out all the wonderful pies and cakes that were waiting to be judged. Those homemade piecrusts were baked golden brown with a light egg wash that made them shine and it nearly killed me to see the fruit filling peeking through. I’d have given my right arm just for a taste, which is probably why Momma kept such a tight hold on me.

All this reminiscing got me thinking about creating some county-fair inspired recipes of my own. Many are new twists on old favorites, like my Outrageous Caramel Apples and Old Time Chocolate Fudgethat are sure to win “Best in Show.” And there’s nothing better on a summer day than a tall glass of lemonade, but for a real thirst-quenching showstopper, you’ll want to try my Sparkling Sweet Cherry Lemonade.

The county fair, with all its furry friends and food, is a timeless, American tradition that I hope never goes away. It’s a refreshing taste of small-town fun that always leaves me with a bushel of memories, a full heart and an even fuller belly.

From Paula Deen

Do you ever get to a county fair? What are you favorite things to do there? What’s your favorite thing to eat? Isn’t the people watching great?

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14 Responses to Paula’s County Fair

  1. Jenny says:

    I’m excited for the fair! My list of foods are: Getting a cheeseburger platter from the church stand. Yum they are the best! Corn dog, cotton candy, sno-cone, maybe some kettle corn if they have it. I will probably go more than one day to fill my list! Maybe a gyro, fried green beans…who knows I will have to see what I feel like when I get there. 😀

    • Joy says:

      You little piggy Jenny!! I can’t wait either. I want the fries and a taco. I love the ice cream in the dairy building too but I can’t have that.

  2. Sue says:

    Mmmmm, fair food!!!!! The dairy stand is the BEST! I love those shakes! I will also get something fried, but IDK what yet. Come to the 4-H food stand on Thurs from 3:30-7:15pm and Trinity and I will serve you up something good 🙂

  3. Vicki says:

    I have to patrol at the fair on Wed evening till the wee hours of the morning and then we put on a stick horse show on Sat. afternoon for the kids so i’ll be there 2 or 3 times this year…I plan on eating a corn dog for sure, im not sure on anything else, we’ll see. 🙂

  4. Laura says:

    I was ridiculously disappointed in our County Fair this year. To be fair, ours is a tiny town (maybe 6000 people), and we’re the County Seat. I don’t think there are any towns in our county that are bigger, and we’re very rural. As a result, our Fairgrounds is very small, too. So the fair, by definition has always been small. But every year previous – and I’ve lived here about 6 years, gone to probably 5 years worth of fairs – has been “compact”. They’ve fit enough stuff into that small space. A midway with a bunch of different vendors, mostly the carny ones (funnel cakes, “fresh squeezed lemonade”, popcorn), but we had our share of local guys come out, including the Pork Producers, the Beef Industry, and the Dairy Assn. We also had the games… ferris wheel, of course, and a haunted house. A bunch of carny games that the kids loved. And then there were all the judgings – cattle, dogs, sheep, goats, fowl, etc. Horses happened off-grounds, and on days before the Fair. And we had the 4H building and the Industries building where the local Party People all gathered. You could walk through there and make a lunch out of all the Pampered chef and Tastefully Simple tables!

    This year? What a pathetic showing!! We walked in, and walked right back out again. There were 6 rides, 3 games, and 1 food booth, selling funnel cakes. Our town people were there, sort of, but there was NO Midway, and the Industries building was practically empty. I don’t know what happened, but it was ridiculous.

    The sad part is, a LOT of people were very disappointed in it this year, and others have been saying it’s been going downhill for years. How do you recover from that? It’s going to take a massive effort, I fear, to dig out of this hole…

  5. Laura says:

    I have, however, been to the Iowa State Fair twice. Now THAT was a good time. I’d like to go back again. It’s HUGE, and hard to see everything.

    My favorite thing isn’t the food, believe it or not… there’s too much, it’s too hot, and I never know what to get, so I always end up getting something light, and then regretting later that I didn’t try something bizarre.

    My favorite thing is the Draft Hitches. They have one evening where everyone gathers along the streets between the stables and the show arena, just to watch the hitches come in. (if you want to actually sit in the arena, you have to purchase your tickets by about 10AM, or they’re sold out) They start with 4-horse, and work their way up, through the evening, to 8-horse hitches. And by the time they get to those? The ground is, literally, shaking!! It’s like standing in an earthquake. Those horses just DANCE down the street, they’re all so beautiful and proud and worked up, and they’re totally showing off! They know why every one of those people are there, and they put on a show. It gives me goosebumps just thinking about it.

  6. SKL says:

    I generally go to the fair where my parents live. The county fair is right in their village, walking distance from their house. It’s nice – not too big, not too small. The multiple buildings for 4H stuff, baking contests, flower contests, quilting contests, multiple barns for animals of all sizes, horse races, and a booth where you can buy dairy stuff made fresh from the cow. A couple rows of food vendors, industry displays, game booths, and junk trinket sellers. Dozens of rides, tractor pulls, demolition derby, bands and other shows. Last year was the first that my kids were old enough to really enjoy the fair, and we’re looking forward to it this month. I think it’s next week.

    Laura, that’s a bummer what happened at your fair. I hope it’s not a trend of any sort. That’s so unfair to the people who participate – they deserve to have the crowds come and look at the fruits of their labor. Sounds like some politician or committee or whatever was dysfunctional. Hopefully someone will make sure that doesn’t happen again!

    • Laura says:

      I’m told, as I hold my ear to the grapevine, that many years ago, the Fair was pretty amazing. But then the guy who was the head of it died. They named a race (we have a motor speedway as part of our fairgrounds – it’s the biggest part, actually) after him, and then drove the rest of the event into the ground over the subsequent years. I’m told, also, that it’s a very “cliquish” group that runs it, and they tend to run off anyone who tries to get involved with new ideas. I’m looking to other counties next year for my Fair Fix.

  7. SKL says:

    Like Laura, I’m not really big on fair food. I probably liked it when I was younger (and couldn’t really afford it). But now, it’s so different from anything I normally eat. Last year I caved and bought an order of fried veggies. They were absolutely gross. So I don’t know what I’ll do this year. I know the girls will want to eat at least one or two gross things . . . .

    • Laura says:

      I think I would probably enjoy Fair Food more if ours had a better selection. But most of what we have that isn’t from local restaurants (which I’ve had) or the “Boards” (beef, etc), is provided by those Carny Booths, so it’s all the same stuff that you find everywhere. And I’m not big on funnel cakes and corn dogs.

  8. Ellen says:

    You know what, you all made me want to go too! We have one in Ventura, starting Wednesday. It is a big one.

  9. Nikki says:

    We’re growing out of the county fair thing. Bailey is getting older and has never been one to do the rides. The games are outrageously expensive, so we pretty much go for the food, if we go. I love the hamburger stand-with fried onions! 🙂 I always get cheese curds, and usually a giant pickle. Gotta have cotton candy at some point.

    I don’t know if we’ll go this year, we haven’t talked about it. I’m not sure when our county fair even is. I’d like to take Bailey to the State Fair. We haven’t been in a few years. I like all the exhibits they have there. The baby barn, all the little shops. I get stuffed green olives at this little stand every time.

    Of course people watching is always good at fairs!

  10. Joy says:

    Gee, I love the county fairs. I could go to all the little town ones. I don’t care for the big fairs but I love the small town ones. We haven’t been to the state fair since we lived in the cities. They are too big for me and you can’t see enough. By the time you’re done, you’re really done and you’re tired and stuffed. But the little ones are so “real.”

    I love the food. I love corn dogs and hot dogs but I usually don’t get them at the fairs. I LOVE the homemade french fries and the huge taco’s. I do plan on getting both. There will be NO diet that day. We’ll go on Thurs. We got a free admittance from our gas company and I like looking at the 4-H stuff that first day. I also like going that first day “in case” I want to go back and get something else. I love the building that the Tupperware lady is in and Creative Memories. I just like wandering around.

    I love watching the kids getting judged with their animals in the barns. I love walking through and looking at all the flower exhibits and food and what people have made like quilts and stuff. I just love looking around.

    I love the county fair.

    • Laura says:

      I think I’m going to do some serious research for next year. I’ve heard that the county east of us throws a good one, and I’m sure there are a few others. I used to love them. I guess I just got soured because ours was such a phenomenal phlop this year.

      I’m still holding out for a few fall festivals, though… I love the ones in Fall – much cooler!!

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