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Funnel Cake
Funnel Cake

Eatin' at the Fair

By Lori Grossman

It's that time of year when the kids are back in school, the Dallas Cowboys are back on the football field, and you can forget about your diet for a day or two. Yes, it's time to go visit that mecca of gastronomic delights – the State Fair of Texas.

The State Fair of Texas is the largest in the United States. Ever since it was first held in Dallas in , it has attracted large crowds every year, if the weather is good. There's lots to see, do, and eat! Fair officials proudly claim that the fair is the "Fried Food Capital of Texas," so if you're counting calories and watching your cholesterol intake, you'll have to eat sensibly either before or after that one glorious day of gluttony.

Before I let you in on the secret to making some of your own fried treats, here are some State Fair history highlights.

The first Dallas State Fair and Exposition opened on October 26. Some of the food items served to fairgoers were ice cream, watermelon, hot candy, and raw oysters. Hopefully, these items were consumed at different times.
Attractions included reenactments of the Battle of Gettysburg and Custer's Last Stand. Visitors marveled over new inventions such as a machine that killed fish with electricity, and a machine that washed and dried dishes. On display were 15-pound yams, and beets 30 inches in diameter!
On Buffalo Bill Day, approximately 70,000 people packed the fairgrounds to see two special performances of Colonel William Cody's extravaganza. Starring the famous female sharpshooter Annie Oakley, the show featured 600 horses and a herd of buffalo.
U.S. President William Howard Taft visited the fair on October 23. He spoke to an audience of approximately 10,000 people and was honored at a banquet later that evening. The menu featured steak, vegetables, and vanilla ice cream molded in the shape of possums. Comanche Chief Quanah Parker visited with two of his wives.
Nazis were occupying Europe, and Americans supported aid for Allied forces. This State Fair emphasized national defense and patriotism. The Second Motorized Division from San Antonio's Fort Sam Houston came up for a weekend and set up a field kitchen and baking oven. The public sampled army bread that remained edible for a month.
Former vaudevillians Neil and Carl Fletcher introduced the corny dog, a hot dog on a stick dipped into a sweetened cornmeal batter, deep-fried, and dabbed with mustard. It was an immediate hit and is still a fair favorite, selling over one-half million each year.
The Hall of Foods offered free samples of beef stew, chicken and biscuits, chili, corn chips, pecans, popcorn, cookies, ice cream, and coffee.
The General Exhibits Building featured the Range of the Future. This oven was capable of cooking a 10-pound roast in 10 minutes, and a frozen hot dog bun in five seconds. (Wonder what happened to that?)
What was formerly a 49-foot-tall Santa Claus figure was transformed into a giant cowboy and made his debut as Big Tex. Mrs. F.G. Ventura of Dallas, Texas won the first chili cooking of any kind anywhere.
In 16 days, fairgoers ate an estimated 1.5 million hamburgers and hot dogs, 140,000 boxes of fried chicken, 200,000 candied apples, and 500,000 bags of popcorn.
New food items included Gulf shrimp, egg rolls, and a sandwich called a Texas Grinder (a slab of sourdough bread filled with beef, cheese and spices, pressed in a waffle iron and dipped in melted butter).
Abel Gonzales, Jr invents the latest food fad called Fried Coke. It's a frozen Coca-Cola flavored batter that is fried and then topped with Coke syrup, whipped cream, cinnamon sugar, and a cherry.
Now for some fair food you can make at home. You can start with TexasCooking's own corny dog recipe, or you can enjoy making these:

Funnel Cakes

A cherished tradition and my favorite fair or festival snack!
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1-1/3 cups flour, sifted
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • Vegetable oil
  • Confectioners' sugar (for dusting on top)
Combine egg and milk and set aside. Sift sugar, flour, salt, and baking powder together, then add egg and milk mixture. Beat until smooth.

In a large pot, heat oil to 375°F. Pour batter into a funnel, keeping tip of funnel closed. Hold funnel over hot oil and put tip of a finger over funnel's spout. Remove finger and allow batter to drop into oil (about 1/4 cup of batter at a time). Make swirls from the center out in a circular shape.

Deep-fry cake until golden brown, turning once. Remove cake from oil and drain on paper toweling. Sprinkle with confectioners' sugar and serve warm. Repeat process with remaining batter. Yield varies depending on the size of the funnel cakes.

Keep that deep-fryer going. Here's where we get into some more recent fair food innovations. If Elvis hadn't left the building, he would have loved these!

Deep-Fried Oreos

The success depends on the batter, which insulates the fried object from direct contact with the hot oil. If the batter is done right, it will become an edible shell and protect the cookie inside.
  • 1 cup buttermilk pancake mix
  • 3/4 cup ice water
  • 1 quart vegetable oil
  • 1 sleeve Oreo cookies (14 each)
  • 2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
Freeze cookies for 3 hours. When cookies are frozen, heat oil in a heavy gauge 3-quart sauce pan until it reaches 350°F.

While oil is heating, set up a cookie sheet with paper towels, so that the fried cookies can drain.

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, stir water into buttermilk pancake mix with a wooden spoon until thoroughly combined. As soon as batter is smooth, dip each cookie, one at a time, into batter. Smooth batter, making a thin coat completely around the cookie.

Place coated cookie carefully into hot oil. Repeat for each cookie. Fry on both sides, turning over once until golden brown. They cook fast, so watch closely to make sure they don't burn. Remove fried cookie from hot oil with metal tongs and drain on paper towels. Dust with confectioners' sugar. Let cool slightly (about 2 minutes) before serving. Makes 14.

Fried Twinkies

Our favorite school lunchbox treat, complete with a dipping sauce.
  • 6 Twinkies
  • Popsickle sticks
  • 4 cups vegetable oil
  • Flour for dusting
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Berry Dipping Sauce (recipe follows)
Chill or freeze Twinkies for several hours or overnight.

Heat the 4 cups of vegetable oil in a deep fryer to about 375°F. In one bowl, mix together milk, vinegar, and oil. In a large mixing bowl, blend flour, baking powder, and salt.

Whisk wet ingredients into dry and continue mixing until smooth. Refrigerate batter while the oil heats.

Push stick into Twinkie lengthwise, leaving about 2 inches to use as a handle. Dust with flour and dip into the batter. Rotate the Twinkie until the batter covers the entire cake.

Place carefully in the hot oil. The Twinkie will float, so hold it under with tongs to make sure it browns evenly. It should turn golden in 3 to 4 minutes. Depending on the size of your deep fryer, you may be able to fry only one at a time, or two at the most.

Remove Twinkie to paper towels and let drain. Remove stick and allow Twinkie to sit for about 5 minutes before serving. Fry the rest of the Twinkies the same way. Makes 6.

Variation: Slice Twinkie into 4 pieces. Flour and batter each before frying. This way, one Twinkie will serve 2 people.

Berry Dipping Sauce

  • 10 ounce jar of seedless raspberry preserves
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen mixed berries
In a sauce pan, heat preserves over low heat until melted. Add 1 cup of fresh or frozen mixed berries. Heat until sauce just simmers. Remove from heat, cover, and refrigerate. Makes 1-1/2 cups.

You can always check out what you are missing at the official website for the State Fair of Texas.

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