Posted by: deadmousediaries | August 23, 2010

It’s Deep-Fried, Chocolate-Covered Everything Season Again – summer delights from Mitchell Kyd

If you can hold it still long enough, a fair vendor can deep fry it or cover it in chocolate!

NOTE:  This post is a longer version of my column that appeared in the Mercersburg Journal on August 10, 2011. The day after this story appeared in print, a TV news reporter covered the Iowa State Fair and put the spotlight on the latest twist in the land of fair-food delights.

   Want to guess what the latest deep-fried delight might be??  Butter.  Yep, you can apparently deep fry fat.  (Well, I guess we already knew that; after all, bags of pork rinds have been on the market for years!)   Here’s how it works: you take a half stick of butter, dip it in funnel cake batter, plunge it into a sizzling vat of  oil and Voila! Instant heart attack.  Think about that tonight as you’re dining on crisp greens and a tuna steak.  i hope you enjoy the original story below.  Bon appetit!

It’s deep-fried, chocolate-covered everything season again. Yummmm EEEE! If you play your cards right and have a good GPS system, you can still dine on summer delights every single evening now that we’re in the throes of  festival and fair system for another year.  Between the firemen’s carnivals and the county fairs, there is a heart-stopping, gall-bladder-bursting glob of dough and fat and chocolate at every turn.  I know. I’m a roadie.

Two years ago we traveled nearly 10,000 miles following festivals across Pennsylvania, trailing our daughter as she represented the state’s fair association and the ag industry. We were fair fans to begin with so it was just an expansion of a Mitchell tradition– although we  learned a lot more about fine dining as those mobile kitchens pulled into each new field in Outer Yougottabekidding, Pennsylvania.

Our family love affair with festivals began when my grandmother met my pap while he was dipping ice cream at a little local ox roast, 82 years ago. They’re both gone now, of course, but they had plenty of time to introduce my mother – and then me – to the joy of spending a beautiful summer evening outside at a small town’s biggest social event of the season.  In those days, the lone carnival ride, a ferris wheel glimmering against the skyline, was enough to make the kids start jostling in the bed of the family’s Chevy pick-up  long before Dad had even raised a speck of  dust crossing the parking field.

On the grounds, friends and neighbors gathered in small groups to stand and talk inside the midway that was outlined by a single strand of yellow  light bulbs. “Visiting” was the key entertainment that filled the space between the food stands, the pony rides, the ball toss and the paddle raffle. At the food stands, bottled Cokes, birch beer and exotic grape Nehi clattered in frigid troughs of ice water. Muscled men scooped fresh strawberry ice cream from huge cardboard tubs while the church ladies served  up generous slices of homemade pie.  Oxburgers were served on a paper napkin; homemade pepper cabbage came with a chicken dinner.

The only single words you could discern above the chatter were cryptograms like:  “B-2!” “Under the B’s, number 2!”   The bingo caller sat above the crowd on a three-legged stool while men in nail aprons moved among the players collecting quarters and calling out numbers already played to verify prize winners. The tables were covered with shelled corn that was used as bingo markers. The cards were thick and heavy and stitched together to survive a dozen summers.  Behind the caller, the shelves were filled with exciting store goods: lamps, cookware, maybe a radio.

On occasion, there were curly-haired dolls peering out from the cellophane panes of their pristine boxes. I remember the year I begged my grandmother to choose the little majorette doll with her shiny baton, tasselled boots and feather-trimmed hat.  Was there a more perfect doll in all the world?  She came packaged in a little plastic dome with a cardboard bottom. I still have her but I could never risk her losing her magic by taking her  out of her bubble.  She sat on my bookshelf where I could admire her daily, where she would never get broken, never get dirty or ever lose her power to enchant me. Grandmothers do that kind of thing; they give up the chance to get what they really need to give a grandchild a thing they really want.

At the Ruritan raffle, a  mere 25-cents got you six numbers on a wooden paddle and a lucky spin would send you home with a juicy watermelon or a layer cake, fat with frosting,  homemade by the club’s volunteers. My dad remembers when festival prizes included huge bunches of bananas as well and I lived in the days when gallon-sized cans of Crisco where coveted items. Crisco, you say???  Yes, every baker used it; it was a kitchen staple for decades.  But the kitchen’s not the connection for my most vivid prize-winning memory.

A few years before my husband and I were even married, we spent an evening at the Path Valley Picnic and watched a seemingly mis-matched couple play the paddle raffle. She was a woman of generous proportions, sporting polyester shorts and a tank top stretched tightly over can-crushing bazoombas.  He was a tiny guy wearing a beater and ball cap, Mail Pouch in his back pocket and wallet chained to his belt.  She laid down her quarter and when the spinner landed on her number,  she chose Crisco. She turned to him, slapped her hands together and squealed “Hot damn! We’re gonna’ have a good time tooo night!” The look that crossed the face of beater-and-ball-cap was somewhere between terror and delight and I don’t think he was expecting a fresh apple pie. We’ve laughed about this for thirty years and you know it’s all true; some things are just too weird to be fiction.

My grandmother would have loved that story but I do wonder how surprised she would be today to find that Bingo prizes consist only of  cash, that a single ferris wheel ride might cost $4 and that the festival smorgasboard is limited only by the imagination.  If you haven’t visited a country fair lately, you’ve been missing out on deep-fried pickles, stuffed grape leaves, lamb kabobs, and french-fried sweet potatoes. It goes without saying that you will you definitely find funnel cakes, lemonade, candy apples and caramel corn but what about the evolving gastronomic delights?

Here’s what I’ve discovered: if you can hold it still long enough, a fair vendor can cover it in chocolate or deep fry it –or both. Here are some menu additions that will speed up the need for you to  keep moving if you want to  complete your bucket list: chocolate covered frozen bananas; deep-fried Snickers; deep-fried Oreos; chocolate-covered cheesecake; deep-fried cauliflower; deep-fried cheeseburgers and new this year, chocolate-covered bacon.  Who could even conceive of such a thing??? (Clearly a male/female collaboration and I would like to shake their hands!)

The other thing that would probably surprise my grandparents is the entertainment that prevails. It’s tougher now to fill the livestock barns and the garden exhibits than it is to fill the stadium to watch the tractor pulls where drivers will burn a week’s worth of gas for a few minutes of prowess in competition.

Just last week I watched an amateur talent contest that showcased some amazing young performers.  One was a seven-year-old who sang Gretchen Wilson’s Redneck Woman and she had all her  own moves down pat. It was a little hard to hear her singing about the “baby on my hip” but she belted out all the lines with convincing sass including: “Victoria’s Secret, well their stuff’s reeeeeel nice/But I can buy the same damn thing on a Wal-Mart shelf half price/And still look sexy, just as sexy/ as those models on TV/ No, I don’t need no designer tag/to make my man want me.”  Her real passion for her song choice rang through in the chorus: “Let me hear a big Hell yeah! for all the redneck girls like me – Hell, yeah!” It was a far cry from the renditions of Amazing Grace my grandparents had probably heard coming from kids on the stage in their day but Hey! That’s progress…

If you’re living in Pennsylvania, you still have lots of time to get a deep-fried pickle, watch a cowboy butt judging contest, or see an elephant in the petting zoo before the 2010 fair season ends in October. Visit the Pennsylvania State Association of County Fair website at http://www.psacf.org to get the schedule of this year’s remaining ag fairs.  Spend a late summer evening under the stars surrounded by the people who feed you all year and take a minute to thank a farm family for all that they do. Visit, eat, participate but don’t sit still too long; otherwise, you may find yourself deep-fried and covered in chocolate!

Copyright 2010. Mitchell Kyd. All rights reserved.

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Responses

  1. I would prefer dark chocolate, please.
    Ms. Yvonne you nailed the ambience and nostalgia of the fair. Although I’m not from this area, I can just see the lights and feel my pulse pounding as we entered the gravel road on our way to the Eastover Maryland carnival.
    My grandma would roll over as well and assuredly would be prepared to offer just a little bit of “now this isnt how young ladies should act” wisdom.
    Fry me up one!!!!!
    Thanks for the memories

  2. You know I had to pass this one on to Diana. She will be tickled by it.


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