The first fall that we lived in Raleigh we learned that the North Carolina State Fair was an event that was not to be missed. If it hadn’t been for the excitement of our friends who were Carolina natives I probably wouldn’t have thought twice about the fair. In the US, most states have some sort of state fair, including Louisiana where I grew up, but the size and importance of the fair seems to vary from place to place. My memories of the Cajun Heartland State Fair which I’d attended a few times in elementary school were mostly of the carnival-type rides and spending all of my money on the game booth where you toss ping pong balls into fish bowls to win a live goldfish. One year I won three fish. After that my family stopped going to the fair. (Coincidence? I think not!)
The North Carolina State Fair was a different beast entirely. There were animal shows and art exhibits and craft tents. There were lights you could see from miles away and a huge fireworks display every evening. But the crowning achievement of the NC State fair was undoubtedly their selection of deep-fried foods. It seemed the unspoken goal of the fair was for competing vendors to figure out more and more inventive things to deep fry. Forget about corn dogs and chicken nuggets. We are talking fried mac and cheese, fried peanut butter and jelly, fried candy bars, fried Twinkies, and even fried Kool-aid. It was a feast made to clog even the healthiest of arteries.
This past week the South Carolina State Fair rolled into town here in Columbia. Having such fond (if strange) memories of the NC State Fair, we decided to see how it measured up. We went with our friends, Sam and Marya, on Friday afternoon. In our experience the fair gets crowded at night, so going in the middle of the afternoon meant we didn’t have to wade through a crush of humanity running around with foot-long corn dogs on skewers that could second as spears.
We headed towards the animal exhibits where we arrived just in time for a good old-fashioned pig race. The picture isn’t great, but there are three pigs running around this pen. Pig #1 won by a mile, just for the record.
Next we looked at some of the animals that had been submitted by their owners for prizes. This always reminds me of the part in Charlotte’s Web where Mr. Zuckerman takes Wilbur to the state fair. There was a wide variety of cows and chickens, but my favorite animal was, for obvious reasons, this rabbit with the killer cat-eye.
After we’d had enough of the animals we decided to try out the food samplings. There were tons of booths, but we weren’t overly impressed with the deep-fried selection. In the end, we got a gyro and a lemonade and vowed to continue the search for a deep-fried dessert.
We set out to explore the rest of the fair with our eyes peeled for the fried candy bars, but we couldn’t find them. We finally asked at the information booth where all the good stuff was and the girl working there directed us to a lone food cart offering a selection of fried candy bars, oreos, red velvet oreos, and cookie dough. We weren’t wowed by their inventiveness, but we got some oreos and cookie dough anyway. They were delicious, even though I could feel my thighs expanding with each bite.
I don’t know that the SC State Fair lived up to the NC State Fair, but it was still fun, even though I’m still trying to burn off the calories I ingested.
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