Behold the official signature food of the 2012 Indiana State Fair, a faux-Italian dish called Spaghetti and Meatballs Ice Cream. The base of this concoction is spaghetti-shaped gelato, topped with strawberry sauce playing the part of tomato sauce, white chocolate shavings in place of parmesan cheese, and meat-free chocolate balls as toppers. In a year where one of the exhibit halls will be hosting a salute to Italy, this seems a fitting, obvious choice. Nutrition information has not yet been released for us to determine if this dessert is healthier than the average pasta dinner.
Signature food competitions in past years have featured ingredients such as corn, tomatoes, and pork, all the better to celebrate our fair state’s farmer majority. Last year’s ingredient was soybeans, which inspired one winner that actually contained any soybeans (deep-fried ice cream!) and four wannabes whose soybean use was indirect and impossible to taste except perhaps to the most hardcore soy junkie. This year’s theme ingredient is dairy, one of my favorite food groups. Other competitors — all of which will also be on sale this year, if you can find the right booths — include caramel corn sundaes, fried cream cheese squares (three flavors, including spinach), and cannoli.
Other new culinary will be premiering out of competition, such as fried Samoas. The official Girl Scout cookie joins the hallowed ranks of Twinkies, Oreos, Snickers bars, and countless other snack foods that brave concession-stand pioneers have dipped in batter and fried heartily in the name of snack science. I’m not sure the Samoa’s coconut/chocolate base has enough fans to match the sales of the old mainstays, but we’ll see.
2012 also brings new experiments from Carousel Foods, the makers of the State Fair’s own donut burger, pictured at right from its Indiana debut in 2010. (In case you’re wondering: yes, I ate it, and yes, I obviously died shortly thereafter.) The Carousel madpeople have let their imaginations run wild with at least two new main courses: a “raspberry donut chicken burger” (presumably self-explanatory) and a “bacon peanut butter banana burger” (I felt my cholesterol rising just by typing that). If the State Fair ever celebrates the Year of Burgers, I expect them to submit five different nominees that shame all the other burger stands into shutting down and changing career tracks.
There will also be non-food things such as animals, rides, acrobats, 4-H projects, and famous bands that don’t appeal to me. The more the food changes, the more the rest stays the same. Not that there has to be anything wrong with that. I realize I’m vastly outnumbered by the rest of the crowd and will never see an early-’90s alt-rock act perform there. The fair has to turn a profit. But I can still dream.
To balance out the sampling of bizarre foods, my wife and I do more than our fair share of walking on our annual State Fair date-day. We eschew the shuttles and amble all over the fairgrounds — Expo Hall exhibits to the south, animals to the southeast, acrobat shows to the northeast, maybe a brief stroll through the Midway to confirm we’re not much into rides anymore. One fun walking activity: the search to find all those new-food booths. We can always rely on a few of them to inhabit the main straightaway on the south end, but there are always one or two obscure vendors who require a long round of hide-and-seek to track down, or who require us to venture to otherwise empty territories, such as the tranquil horse-barn cluster on the east end. All those miles of walking should burn off as much as 3% of our caloric intake.
This year’s Indiana State Fair will run August 3-19, starting the exact same day as my son’s new school year. Thus is our annual date-day sanctified once again. With an entertainment lineup of African acrobats, “extreme” trampoline users, and opportunities for attendees to try their hand at milking a real live cow, our day looks to be anything but dull and far from underfed.