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Entries in fair food (3)

Saturday
Nov262011

Sweet Excess: Cake Gumshoe Jenny Visits the State Fair of Texas

Photos: Purple House DirtCakeSpy Note: Cake Gumshoe Jenny, who blogs at Purple House Dirt, is an invaluable source of sweet knowledge. She's visited sweet-shops in Ireland and was a recipe tester for my lovely and amazing book. And now, she's reporting on treats, mostly sweet, but some savory, of the deep-fried variety from the Texas State Fair! Read on:

At the State Fair of Texas, we put our stomachs to the test as we ate as many of the fried goodies that we could. As we nibbled, we sat with the recorder and captured our thoughts. 
******
At the fair this year we tried to hit booths that had some unusual options - not just the standard funnel cakes and elephant ears. The only exception I made to this was the corn dog - because of what I heard eavesdropping. I was standing in line to buy a cold Big Red when a crusty old cowboy-lady told her fair-going friends that the only thing she wanted to eat was a Fletcher's and then she could go home and wait until the fair came back next year. Having had a particularly bad corn dog at the Puyallup Fair back home, I was determined to have a better one, and my friend Jessica assured me Fletcher's was the genuine article. Only problems were the lines - all of the Fletcher's booths were at least an hour deep from the time the fair opened that morning. We'd have to hit it in the afternoon. 

The first thing we tried was this year's award winner for creative fair food (really!), fried bubblegum (pictured top). It came 3 to a stick, and was covered in teal-blue frosting and was sprinkled with Chiclets. This was perhaps not the right thing to start the day with - a sugar-soaked fried contraption - but sacrifices were required and we each took one in the name of pseudo-science. The laughter of the surrounding families proved what we knew from the mess in our mouths. This thing was nasty. Imagine a bubblegum-flavored marshmallow melted to the magma stage, then topped with grainy blue frosting that stains your teeth. That, my friends, is fried bubblegum. Out of 10 stars, this didn't even make the charts. 

Dying to get the flavor out of our mouths, we went for fried beer. Not just any fried beer, but Shiner Bock, a little local from Shiner, Texas. I'd expected this to be a beer-flavored pillow, and was surprised to find hot liquid beer dribbling out of the fried ravioli case. Dipped in cheese sauce, this was a 5 out of 10. Needed more salt, but it was good at wiping the fried bubblegum slate clean. 

Frito pie is a ballpark tradition and must be something of a Texas thing because we ate these in elementary school. Open a bag of Fritos, ladle all-beef chili into the bag, and then top liberally with cheese. So when I saw the fried Frito pie, I knew I had to try it. Besides, a friend of a friend invented it and I knew I wasn't leaving the park without some in my belly. It was a plate of fried dough balls made of Fritos, chili and cheese, and was topped with sour cream and salsa. When all of the components came together, it was magic and took me right back to the school cafeteria. Easily a 7 out of 10. 

The only thing I'll say about the Fletcher's is that it was the real deal. And I bought a shirt to commemorate the awesomeness of this corny dog. 9 of 10. 

Deep-fried MargaritaThe most surprising treat at the fair was the fried frozen margarita. We declared this one the winner before we even took our last bite of fair food, we were that confident in it. As the two of us sat on a crowded picnic bench, Texas neighbors watched and laughed as we first nibbled, and then chugged our way through the margarita. It was served in a classic margarita glass, salt-rimmed and all. Fried funnel cake bits were scooped into the glass, then a generous pour of ice-cold tequila and lime syrup soaked it all (in fact, there was more liquid than fried nuggets). Topped with a little whipped cream and a thin slice of Persian lime, the fried frozen margarita was refreshing, surprising, and highly alcoholic. Tequila giggles ensued, and this winner clocked in at a 9 of 10.

Deep-fried PB SandwichThe last booth we visited boasted the Elvis - a fried peanut butter, jelly, and banana sandwich. It was served quartered, dusted with powdered sugar and a drizzle of grape jelly, and was very very hot. The sandwich insides oozed out when we took bites, and we decided that the banana really made the treat work. Alone, the PB&J was average. Add a hot fried banana to the mess and you have a contrasting flavor and texture, along with a little moisture. Definitely an 8 of 10. 

Perhaps the happiest moment of the fair was as we were walking out. The day had been filled with sugary sweets and fatty snacks, and rather than drinking water in the heat I kept chugging a warm Big Red. Just after I tossed my soda bottle we encountered a tooth brushing station - sponsored by a big-name toothpaste company. Even though we felt like idiots brushing and spitting in a community trough, the sensation of getting the day's sugar off my teeth was welcome. I could almost have gone back for more.

For more of Jenny's adventures, visit Purple House Dirt.

Sunday
Sep252011

Sweet Snapshots: Deep-Fried Kool-Aid and Scones at the Puyallup Fair

The Puyallup Fair is a legendary thing in the Seattle area. There's something for everyone: rides, games, animal shows, and--most interesting to me--plenty of fair food.

Famous foods from this century-old fair include the Fisher Scone, Ice Cream Dip, and of course corn dogs and burgers (you know, to keep the sweets company). 

Today marked my first ever visit to the fair--on the last day of its 2011 run.

I got to taste the famous scones, of course. At $1.25 a pop, these sweet, biscuity, butter-and-jam filled treats are decidedly exquisite among the usual fair fare (which is generally more iconic than it is delicious, if we're going to be honest).

However, that's not to say that fair food isn't fun. And to honor that, I also sampled something from the "Totally Fried" booth. Sadly, they were out of my first two choices, Deep-fried Bubblegum and Deep-Fried Butter--but happily, they DID have Deep-Fried Kool-Aid. It was gummy, it was tangy, it was sweet, it was fried.

It was awful and awesome, all at once. I am not sad I did it, but I don't feel a need to eat it again any time soon. Or ever, really.

Of course, there's more eye candy: here are some sweet snapshots of some of the sweet foodie things that were at the fair this year--be sure to visit next year to get in on the sweetness yourself! Visit thefair.com for more. I have also featured a couple of the fair's prizewinning recipes this week--for Maple Spam Doughnuts and tricked-out Banana Bread!

Wednesday
Jun222011

Pastry Profiles: Fisher Fair Scones of the Pacific Northwest

Recently, Fisher Flouring Mills celebrated their 100th anniversary. Why is this of interest, exactly?

Because, for anyone who has ever attended the epic Puyallup Fair in the Seattle area, you may know them as the makers of the famous Fisher Fair Scones. Let's take a few minutes to learn a bit of the backstory behind this company and their signature product, shall we? I'd like to thank Nick at Team Soapbox who was so helpful with getting me much of this information.

The Fisher Flour Mills opening invite, from 1911First off, why the Pacific Northwest? This company, which initially focused mainly on flour, settled in Seattle in 1911 because it was “the most promising city on the coast.”

The Fisher booth in 1923How did they start making scones as a fair food? William H. Paulhamus, president and general manager of the Puyallup Fair (Western Washington State Fair) pitched the scones idea to Fisher and said he’d donate jam made from his raspberry farm in Oregon. The scones debuted at the fair as a chance to showcase and promote the company's flour flour. They were a success, going for just a few pennies each. Today, they are still a Northwest favorite and a tradition of Washington fairs.

Current CEO Mike Maher has a long history with the company, too:

“My connection to the fair goes back three decades. As a teenager, I started working in fair operations for Fisher, driving the trailers to each venue, training staff and making scones for customers myself. I learned quickly about the magnetic appeal of a fresh-baked scone slathered with whipped butter and raspberry jam. It didn’t take long before I became hooked on the idea of delivering smiles to our customers, one fresh-baked bite at a time.”

Michael Maher began with the company in 1978 (then Fair Scones, Inc.) and has risen up the ranks as the company has grown over the past 30-some years.  

Current CEO MikeHow did current CEO Mike rise to floury fame? Mike’s career began as a high school student in Portland, OR when he was hired by Fair Scones, Inc. to work its concession booth at the Rose Festival.  From 1979 to 1984, he worked summers as a concession manager, operating various events in Oregon,Washington, and British Columbia.  After graduating from the University of Oregon in 1985, he came on board full time as the general manager, overseeing all festival operations.  In 1995 Mike became vice president—operations and directed the company’s expansion into retail scone products and wholesale baking to the airlines.  In the late 1990s Mike led three specialty food company acquisitions and expansion into private label products.  He was named president and COO in 1999.  He joined the Board of Directors in 2003, and was later promoted to his current post as president and CEO.

Old Fisher Flouring Mills truckHow did the scones gain such popularity? What started as a promotional tool eventually expanded to became a signature food item at 39 fairs and festivals throughout the Northwest, but the company is still family-owned (and even the Fisher family still has a stake in the company) committed to local community. Today, Fisher owns the raspberry farm in Oregon and still uses the same simple jam recipe (berries, sugar & pectin) to accompany the scones. The scone recipe has remained largely unchanged, except for a few tweaks to the salt and sugar amounts to accommodate modern tastes.

The scones represent the company’s commitment to a tradition of local, Northwest deliciousness by utilizing local ingredients and tastes—showcased at local fairs. This commitment has now come full circle in a world where people are thinking and shopping local.

Some more little tidbits of interest, sent along by Nick of Team Soapbox:

  • Fisher Scones debuted at the 1915 Puyallup Fair, in the very same corner booth under the grandstand where they are still sold today.
  • The scones originally were free or just a few pennies, promoting Fisher Flours.
  • Today, Fisher serves up more than 40 tons of raspberry jam each summer to top the scones.
  • 1.5 million scones are sold each year
  • This fall, Fisher will serve its 100,000,000th (yes, one hundred millionth!) scone at the Puyallup Fair. 
  • Mike Maher, Fisher’s CEO started out by making scones at the fair himself. Mike’s been with the company three decades. Nobody's sure how many scones he’s eaten.
  • Fisher supports Northwest farmers through a partnership with Shepherd’s Grain, a cooperative of 33 local farmers who use sustainable agriculture farming methods. They’re also connected with the Food Alliance of Oregon, which provides the most comprehensive third-party certification for social and environmental responsibility in agriculture and the food industry in North America.
  • For almost 100 years, Fisher Scones have been a tradition at fairs and festivals throughout the Northwestern United States. These triangular shaped biscuits, baked fresh and smothered in honey-whipped butter and tart raspberry jam, have created unparalleled loyalty.
  • Scones can be yours year round, at home. Fisher brand scones are available by a home mix line; on the mix subject, this year, the company plans on introducing new packaging for the scones (and new all-natural Pancake & Baking Mix, Biscuit Mix, and Cornbread Mix).

Want to continue getting sconed? Check out their website here, and find them on Facebook here.

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