During the drive down to Puyallup, not to mention the hour spent in parking-lot traffic, my friend Kelli and I established some boundaries of what>"/>
During the drive down to Puyallup, not to mention the hour spent in parking-lot traffic, my friend Kelli and I established some boundaries of what we'd eat at the Puyallup Fair. Scones, elephant ears, corn dogs: no question -- did Popeye ever neglect to eat his spinach? No Fish 'n' chips (simply a matter of context and belly space). Mutant turkey leg: No way in hell. Deep-friend Snickers bars: if they looked good. Deep-fried Twinkies were the holy grail, but who knew what other unimaginable treats the fair held in store?
The county fair, like the baseball stadium and the city of Las Vegas, has become a Saturnalian site: A $10 ticket doesn't just give you access to horse shows, HVAC salesmen, and boa-rimmed cowboy hats, it gives you permission to stand the USDA food pyramid on its head. In preparation for our trip I took a three-hour bike ride, so not only was I woozily craving food on a stick, I was entitled to it.
The fair made a big splash this year over its decision to ban artificial trans fats. What no one warned me was that the ban was the canary in the coal mine: Washington fair food has already become alarmingly, incurably healthy. You could even see it in the ticket-holders: Though I did notice more than my normal share of obese people pushing walkers, the fair seemed to attract a much, much fitter crowd than public events in my home state do.
Pictures after the jump.
The first stop, of course, was for a Krusty Pup, hot out of the fryer. Actually, this turned out to be my favorite course of the day. Kelli proclaimed the corn batter not sweet enough, but to me it tasted of the refreshing wholesomeness of coarsely ground whole-grain cornmeal. Plus, it was refreshingly oil-less. Perhaps the trans fat ban had an up side.
We next looked around for the famous scones, and found some, though I ate mine too fast to take a photo of them. Here's a tip: Look for the stand inside the "hobby" building (I never knew other people's hobbies involved back supports and garlic graters), which had a much shorter line than the outdoor stands. While I appreciated the scone makers' attempt to provide one eighth of a serving of fruit in the form of raspberry jam, both Kelli and I preferred the "butter"-only scone, which Kelli swore allowed her to taste the full complexities of the dough. To her credit, she then blushed and admitted she'd been spending too much time with me lately.
Anyway, the fruit gave us a taste for vegetables, so we hit the roast corn stand next. Above is our ear with just one third of the profligately stocked condiment bar. What you see on our ear of corn was Mexican chile-lime powder, but I do regret not adding bacon salt as well.
Honoring our American heritage, we continued on the corn theme. Here are sourdough corn fritters with honey butter, which are corn kernels suspended in sourdough batter, with butter whipped with honey; no surprise flavorings, colors, or stabilizers to help out. I thought the fritters were a little sweet and dense. Kelli loved them unconditionally.
You can learn many things about the fair from the 4-H barns, which were clean, full of proud teenagers, and comfortingly animal-scented. I learned that sheep wear ponchos until being sheared so that their wool stays clean (I know you don't live in the city or anything, guys, but ponchos are so 2004 Mary-Kate Olsen). I learned about the life cycle of intestinal parasites in sheep, and -- and here I quote -- that "the national average of nipples on pigs in America is nine." From this poster, I also learned that goats can live many different types of productive, happy lives. This photo's dedicated to you, Metcalfe.
Restraining oneself from petting cows and pygmy goats is strenuous work, so by the time we finished with the animals I was hungry again. Time for an elephant ear. This is the course that pushed me over the edge. First, we had to wait in two separate long lines to get it (one to pay, one to get the ear, and yes, nervous girl standing in front of us in line two, we did notice that we hadn't spotted you in line one). Then, the elephant ear turned out to be a) made of whole-wheat dough and b) not submerged so long in the hot fat that it became oil-saturated and crispy.
Luckily, Kelli noticed that it got better in the center, where the butter pooled. She graciously let me finish off the ear while sitting on the Foot Jiggler, getting 25 cents' worth of refreshment for my soles.
The elephant ear seemed to signal a shift in our fortunes. Try as hard as we could, we couldn't find deep-fried Hostess treats, candy bars, or anything outside the norm. Yes, there was the Burgers of the World stand in the International Village, which offered three global choices -- bacon, all-American, and double all-American. But overall, the food selection at the fair was lacking in imagination or chutzpah. We spent an hour looking for the Sausage Sack, if only to take a photo, but it was nowhere near where the program said it should be. Finally, after three hours of fair madness, the crush of dating high-school students and young hooligans began to intensify, and both of us were feeling overwhelmed. Even though neither of us yet felt nauseous from fat overload, It was time to leave. But not without...
I had three cottony bites before I finally realized what everyone has been telling me for decades: Cotton candy is horrific. Plus, once you've passed the age of 8, carrying a big, fluffy blue cone of sugar no longer makes you look mega-super-ultra-cool. I pitched it on the way out the door.