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Even in Winter, Thoughts Turn to Deep-Fried Oreos, Elephant Ears

by Jerry Goshert

Published: Friday, January 14, 2022

A couple weeks before Christmas, I came across a social media post from a county fair in this area that featured two photos, one with battered, deep-fried Oreos, and the other with a basket of steak tips served over mashed potatoes.

"Don't mind us ... Just thinking about fair food on this #tastytuesday," the post said.

It made me wonder how many people are really thinking about fair food just before Christmas. Isn't that when most folks are enjoying gingerbread cookies and peanut brittle?

I understand why fairs talk this way on social media. They want to engage followers in an ongoing conversation throughout the year, even when fairs are the farthest thing from one's mind. Their strategy is to whet your appetite so that when fair season rolls around, you're ready to spend money.

When it comes to fair food, people either love it or hate it. I fall into both categories. That's because I go to so many fairs and I experience everything. The first few fairs are a delight, and I am happy to sink my teeth into a corn dog, elephant ear or one of those deep-fried Oreos. But by the time I reach the final fair of the season, I'm usually repulsed at the thought of eating anything fried. Thank goodness for healthy alternatives like walking tacos, haystacks and milk.

Yes, milk. At the LaPorte County Fair's Pioneer Land, there is a log cabin where they sell milk for 25 cents a cup. Twenty-five cents! That's the best bargain anywhere! And there is something about that milk that keeps me coming back for more. It's not like the tasteless, low-fat milk served in schools. This milk is fresh, creamy and full of flavor.

Milk is nature's perfect drink. It boasts nine essential nutrients and has enough high-quality protein to power your body. Plus, milk is low in sodium and keeps you hydrated.

As a 4-H dad, I spend a lot of time at the Elkhart County 4-H Fair watching my children show their dairy feeder calves. Since I'm there almost every day, I have to watch what I eat and how much money I spend. Eating at the fair can be expensive. If you happen to be one of those families who camp at the fair, you can save a lot of money by bringing all your own food and drink. My wife and I did that for the first time last year and were quite happy. We brought our own bottled water and snacks.

Still, I go to about 10 fairs a year for my job. I have a list of delicacies that I look for. I will share them with you in this column. Some of the food items are specific to certain fairs, while other foods can be found at almost any fair.

Here they are, in no particular order:

1. Haystacks (Elkhart County 4-H Fair)—You can find these healthy meals at the Dairy Feeder Café. Here, you can get a meal loaded with rice, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables for a reasonable price.

2. Corn dogs (Berrien County Youth Fair)—The lines are usually very long at the Korn Dog stand. The breaded hot dogs are made fresh and only cost $2. Proceeds go to local charities. How can you beat that?

3. Ribeye sandwich (Kosciusko County)—The Kosciusko County Cattlemen do a great job of producing a mouth-watering ribeye sandwich. I always buy one before going to the livestock auction.

4. Pork chop sandwich (Huntington and Elkhart counties)—I enjoy a thick pork chop sandwich, and the Huntington County Pork Producers tent never disappoints! Elkhart County Pork Producers also serve a delicious, bone-in pork chop sandwich.

5. Walking tacos—You can find these at nearly any county fair. I look for these toward the end of fair season. The combination of ground beef, lettuce, tomato and shredded cheese on top of corn chips is sure to fill you up without adding too many calories.

6. Roasted ear of corn—When I was a young boy, my father bought me an ear of corn at the Kosciusko County Fair. The vendor dipped the ear in a crockpot of butter and handed it to me with a paper towel wrapped around the base. I added salt and pepper and was immediately hooked. That remains the best fair food I have ever eaten! Today, most fairs occur before most sweet corn is ready for harvest. Look for this treat at fairs in late July, August or at the Indiana State Fair.

7. Ice cream (Elkhart County)—The Elkhart County 4-H Fair has two dairy bars for a reason. People stand in long lines for a chance to buy soft-serve ice cream in multiple flavors. The lemon flavor is really special.

8. Deep-fried Oreos—I usually buy a basket of these during the early part of the fair season, but only once! There's just something satisfying about the ooey-gooey texture of this treat!

9. Elephant ear—I buy one elephant ear per year and share it with my daughters while waiting for the grandstand show to begin. You can find this sugary treat at any fair.

10. Biscuits and gravy—Last year, I discovered this at the 4-H saddle club stand at the Elkhart County 4-H Fair. This hearty breakfast tastes like something my mother would make. I plan to go back again this year.

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