The Indiana State Fair is a fun annual celebration of Hoosier pride, farming, food, and 4-H, with amusement park rides and big-ticket concerts by Top-40 or country artists. My wife and I attend each year as a date-day to seek new forms of creativity and imagination within a local context.
This year’s food theme was the Year of Popcorn. Unlike the food themes in years past (e.g., tomato, soybeans), very few vendors tried to incorporate this ingredient into new dishes. Local artists did their best to work within the inherent limitations.
The strongest expression of popcorn fandom belonged to an organic boulder billed as the World’s Largest Ball of Popcorn. The State Fair partnered with two local popcorn companies to compact this temporary roadside attraction together. At eight feet in diameter, it’s 3¼ tons of pure Orville Redenbacher fury. Because who doesn’t love popcorn?
(The correct answer is “me”. It’s a fine carrier for salt, butter, or caramel glaze. Without those, it’s as tempting a snack to me as styrofoam peanuts.)
In addition to heightening farm crop awareness in all attendees, the State Fair provides countless opportunities to meet real live farm animals. The cutest we saw were these goats rushing toward my wife, emboldened by their vain hope that her camera was edible.
Farm equipment of all shapes, sizes, and price tags is parked in the northeast quadrant of the fairground. Farmers can see today’s newest work vehicles and decide for themselves if it’s time to upgrade. Non-farmers can stare as these mammoth contraptions and wonder what it’s like to drive one. I’m thinking this tractor could also double as a righteous dune buggy muscular enough to tackle any terrain. I guess you could waste it on farming and earning a living, but why?
This “tribute to agriculture and the Indiana farmer” demonstrates how Hoosier farmers sometimes have to take drastic measures against rodents, insects, blight, drought, and invading armies who want to steal their oats.
Smoke machines of the Old West were a tad primitive compared to today’s sleeker dry ice machines. Your biggest acts in the country/western business would set one of these next to the stage, fire it up, and play the heck out of the singles from their newest album until the audience couldn’t see them anymore and everyone’s eyes began to burn. This was back in more liberal times when Big Brother didn’t force fire suppressant systems upon us and the word “pollution” was too new to appear in dictionaries.
Since there was no signature food competition this year, we saw very little in the way of new State Fair cuisine. Fried things abounded as usual — deep-fried Oreos, deep-fried Twinkies, deep-fried cookies, deep-fried vegetables, etc. — but we noticed very little pushing of boundaries. The bacon glazed donut holes were a noble try, if an odd one. The glaze was not the sugary coating you find and prefer on the average donut, but more of a nondescript, non-sweet sauce. More disappointing: the “bacon” in the name, which in my imagination would be in the form of long strips wrapped around the holes, in reality felt and tasted like bacon bits, which are not an acceptable substitute in this context.
The donut burger looks weirder than it is. All things considered, donuts and white-bread buns aren’t that far apart on the unhealthy-food spectrum. The mingling of excess sugar and too much salt is strange yet addictive if self-restraint isn’t imposed. Our State Fair has had these for a few years, so the shock has worn off for us.
Switching gears in my one-afternoon killer-food escapade, I later tried this grilled-cheddar sandwich filled with macaroni ‘n’ cheese and one strip of bacon. I should be grateful they skimped on the pasta — that left me with a few less calories to burn off during our miles-long walk throughout the course of the day.
For starving Hoosiers who wanted less creativity and more manufacturing in their diet, the Betty Crocker Helper truck was on hand to pass out free samples of Hamburger Helper and Chicken Helper. Many people can handle cooking their own at home and would never order it in a restaurant, but the trigger phrase “free samples” sends everyone a-stampedin’, no matter what’s being served.
Little did the Helper groupies realize it’s a trap. The following fine-print disclaimer was posted under the service window. Surprise! You’re in our advertising now! Welcome to your new job at Betty Crocker as an unpaid Helper extra. The only way to opt out was not to approach the truck in the first place. You are hereby duly notified after the fact.
To be continued!