Fair food, never far from fry baskets or cotton candy machines, also dabbles in food trends. At fairs, food is usually cooked in a small space with limited equipment. Therefore, menus are short and foods are fast-cooking.
But in the little nooks and crannies of any county or state fair, you're likely to find a food or food event that will break out of tradition and represent the agriculture of the area in new ways.
From carb-conscious food to pie-on-a-stick, from Heartland Cuisine cooking demonstrations at the Ohio State Fair to traditional midway fare at the county fairs, food is never far from mind.
Last week at the Lucas County Fair, as I was cruising down the midway on foot to see if there were low-carbohydrate foods at a county fair like those advertised at the state fair, a man on the midway was searching for sliced pork chop sandwiches.
He couldn't find it. But later I did see a minced pork sandwich advertised at Big C's Smoked BBQ booth on wheels. Elsewhere at neon-lit food trailers that were almost identical in appearance, I saw signs for a sliced candied apple you could eat with a fork, a pickle on a stick, a taco salad, fried shrimp basket, and original gyro made with lamb and beef in a pita enhanced with lettuce, tomato, onion, and sour cream or cucumber sauce.
I bought a Polish sausage topped with onions, peppers, and maybe a little sauted cabbage on a bun before I found my way to the Green Arts and Crafts Building where I was among three judges assessing Baked Goods and Canned Foods. As you can imagine, I had all the carbs and sugars I could handle in two hours of judging cakes, pies, cookies, quick breads, and yeast breads and a limited number of canned items.
As the county fair season unfolds, the Ohio State Fair gets under way tomorrow and continues through Aug.15, and the Michigan State Fair runs Aug. 11-22. To encourage more patrons to attend the fairs, there's always new events, new attractions, and new foods.
At the Ohio State Fair, new recipe contests include using a Ghiradelli baking product in the Ghiradelli Chocolate Contest Aug. 11 or using Tastefully Simple Dried Tomato & Garlic Pesto to create an Italian appetizer, main dish or side dish on Aug. 11.
Among the new foods sold by vendors are pie-on-a-stick in key lime and strawberry Key lime flavors. "It's a wedge of Key lime pie dipped in chocolate and frozen (an ice cream stick is wedged through the bottom of the pie crust)," says Ken Jaskowicz of Mansfield who will sell it along with deep-fried "Twinkies" which "look like a corn dog with a batter of vanilla, chocolate, or blueberry/strawberry." His booth is north of the Celeste Center on the Ohio State Fairgrounds.
For carb-conscious visitors, there's sausage-dog-on-a-stick and steak-on-a-stick, sold at two vendors.
The Ohio State Fair even has its own rib-off from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Aug. 10, located south of the Ohio Food Pavilion. Various barbecue eateries from Ohio, including Red Pig Inn of Ottawa which won the People's Choice Award last year, send a team. Celebrity judges decide the winner for the Grand Champion Pork BBQ Ribs, which includes $1,000, a trophy, and a banner. The People's Choice Awards allows fairgoers who sample the ribs to vote their choice.
When the state fair opens tomorrow, I will be participating in the 17th annual Heartland Cuisine at 1 p.m. at the Food Pavilion. The goal of Heartland Cuisine is to promote Ohio's agricultural food products and the Ohio Proud program.
Each day of the fair, at least three cooking demonstrations will be held daily (except Aug. 15) at 1, 3, and 5 p.m. Some days will include an 11 a.m. demonstration. From across the state, chefs, food vendors, food media, and personalities have been selected to prepare a dish in one of nine categories: Apple, Beef, Dairy, Fish, Lamb, Pork, Poultry, Soy, and Specialties.
I was asked by the Ohio Pork Producers to select a pork recipe that requires 30 minutes or less preparation time and to use items that were readily available from the local grocery store. The result is Pork Fajitas with Peach Salsa made with thinly sliced boneless pork chops cooked in a grill pan with sliced peppers and onion and served in the center of a tortilla with two tablespoons of fresh peach salsa and/or shredded cheese. Fresh peach salsa is made with local peaches, red and green sweet bell peppers, onion, and the classic salsa spices for a Northwest Ohio flavor.
Other Northwest Ohioans will participate in demonstrations including Dave Brunswick of Meiring Poultry and Fish Farm, (Fort Recovery) and Kelly Greene-Thornton, WFIN Radio (Findlay).
Mr. Brunswick will prepare Grilled Tilapia at 5 p.m. Aug. 13. No-salt cooking has been a requirement for one of his family members and thus this recipe is seasoned with Salt-Free Mrs. Dash's Seasoning Blend. (The original recipe used Ruby Tuesday seasoning, which is no longer sold. According to the Ruby Tuesday corporate office, Mrs. Dash's is suggested.)
Kelly Greene-Thornton will prepare Chicken Apple Walnut Salad at 1 p.m. August 5.
These recipes may be found in Ohio's Heartland Cuisine 2004 booklet which is distributed at the Food Pavilion during demonstrations. The variety of dishes shows the interest in healthy cooking from Mr. Brunswick's low-salt fish to a variety of recipes using soy products to the Grilled Flank Steak with Buttermilk Dressing made by Rick Malir, president of City Barbecue in Columbus and Dayton.
Using a soy products is Apple Walnut Coffee Cake made with all-purpose flour and soy flour, soy milk, soy oil, and Ohio apples. The streusel topping is made with soy margarine and walnuts.
While fair food continues to entice us with shiny candied apples and corn dogs, specialty foods, recipes, and culinary demonstrations still draw a crowd.