Last year at this time, my daughter Kristina and I were planning a trip to Des Moines, which lucky for us, happened to be the same time as the Iowa State Fair. We have always loved fairs, even with the heat, noise, smell of animals, and food cooking in so much oil, that you can almost taste it in the air. All fairs have something to offer, but if you want a real fair, then you must try Iowa! The Iowa State Fair has been around since 1854. Like most State Fairs, it began as an exhibition of livestock and farm products. Today, the fair entertains over a million visitors who still enjoy the livestock and farm products, but now there is so much more to offer. There are carnival rides (including a double ferris wheel), food exhibitions, top music entertainment, races, and tests of strength and skill such as sheep shearing, rooster crowing, wood chopping, pie eating, arm wrestling, piano playing, and chess, backgammon, cribbage, and checker tournaments.
One exhibition not to miss is the “Butter Cow.” This has been an Iowa Fair staple since 1911. In 1960, butter sculptor Norma “Duffy” Lyon, created her first bovine masterpiece. For 45 years, Norma continued to carve various breeds of cow out of butter, but over the years added such novelties as a butter version of “American Gothic,” Superman, John Wayne, Elvis Presley, a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, and even a rendition of Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper.” Lyon retired in 2005 when her longtime apprentice Sarah Pratt took over the sculpting. Last year, we were able to see a buttery salute to Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon.
One will never go hungry at a state fair, and Iowa is no exception. Kristina and I were highly amused at the number of foods available “on-a-stick.” Here is just a partial list of what was available: chocolate-dipped cake on-a-stick, frozen s’mores, fried pickles, pork chops, honey, potato “lollipop,” salad, hard-boiled egg, and corn-brats. For a full list, read this. You will be amazed what can be shoved onto a stick. The honey one was a favorite.
When you are browsing through the food exhibits, you will probably find cookbooks for sale as the one featured here. I have several state fair cookbooks, but this one really shines. There are recipes for blue ribbon cooking including pies, cakes, cookies, quick breads, main dishes, side dishes, salads, appetizers, and my favorite, the yeast breads. You will find the usual cinnamon rolls and dinner rolls, but state fair food gets creative with a bulgur wheat and soy loaf, seven grain bread, toasted oat bread, whole wheat basil and sun-dried tomato bread, and pesto and goat cheese bread twists.
After our day of fun at the fair, Kristina decided to make a video of some of the highlights, and, of course, what we found on-a-stick. I didn’t see any lobster. Maybe this year.