The Story Behind These 5 Favorite State Fair Foods
Come early and come hungry. That’s the unwritten motto of America’s state and county fairs, where we indulge in the sweetest, saltiest and yummiest treats. With the biggest state fair in the country getting ready to open its doors in Texas later this month, we looked into the origins of five favorites.
The origin story of corn dogs is as messy as your fingers after eating a funnel cake. Several people claim to have made them first, but Stanley Jenkins of Buffalo, New York, actually filed a patent in 1929 for an “apparatus in which a new and novel food product may be deep fried.” Jenkins went on to say that many foods, including wieners, could be “impaled on sticks and dipped in batter.” These are the best state fairs in all 50 states.
This crispy, delicate treat is the result of pouring batter through a funnel into hot oil and deep-frying. Though funnel cake recipes appeared in medieval Europe, the Pennsylvania Dutch get credit for taking them mainstream during the Kutztown Folk Festival in 1951. Emma Miller, who had made funnel cakes as a winter treat for her family, provided the recipe, and the cakes sold for 25 cents apiece. They were a hit. These horrifying fried foods actually exist at state fairs.
In 2002, “Chicken” Charlie Boghosian dipped an Oreo in sweet pancake batter and fried it. Visitors to the Los Angeles County Fair loved the delicious dessert, and it quickly became a staple at the fair. Chicken Charlie didn’t stop with Oreos—he’s made deep-fried Twinkies, avocados, and frog legs, to name a few. Each year he introduces a new creation, and fairgoers keep coming back for more.
Spun sugar dates back to the 1400s, but it was an expensive dessert that few could afford. Flash forward to 1897, when dentist William Morrison and candymaker John C. Wharton invented a machine that heated crystallized sugar and spun it into a concoction that looked like cotton. They introduced the candy as Fairy Floss at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. Another dentist, Joseph Lascaux, tried unsuccessfully in the 1920s to improve upon the machine’s design. His machine didn’t work, but his name for the sweet treat—cotton candy—stuck.
In France, they are called profiterole or choux a la creme. In Wisconsin, cream puffs are the darling of the state fair. Fairgoers eat about 350,000 during the 11-day event. These cream-filled puff pastries debuted at the 1924 fair to promote the state’s dairy industry. They’re so popular today that Wisconsinites can order them in advance, calling the cream puff hotline and picking them up at a drive-thru.