Iowa State Fair: the Disneyland of state fairs

August 22, 2016


The Giant Slide is a multi-generational favorite at the Iowa State Fair on August 11, 2016.

The Iowa State Fair, which runs through Sunday, was described to me as "our Disneyland. Well, not really but it is". It's something people look forward to every year, and it's easy to see why.

I had never been, and if you, like me, don't live in Iowa, I suggest you make the pilgrimage at least once in your lifetime. You may have a state fair where you live, and I do as well. But this is different. It's ... well, it's the Disneyland of state fairs, if you would.

The largest state fair in America, there was more to see, do and eat then one was able to take in during a single day. It was a feast for the senses, with something new around every corner, and more tucked away in corners and in buildings and down the side over there. An explosion of festival.

A few times, I thought we had seen "all the things," but a local would point out a spot we had missed. We very nearly didn't see the agricultural showcase, where people showcased their best flowers, centerpieces, small bushes, etc. and submitted them for judging. Who would want to miss the blue-ribbon gladiola? Not to mention this year's butter sculptures, such as the Star Trek Enterprise as well as the essential butter cow. Yes, really. These sculptures were made entirely of butter, and people would line up to see them in their refrigerated enclosures through window panes. They never would make it in room temperatures, where it was nearing 100.

Every year, there is a butter cow, dating back to 1911. These butter bovines have a long history, so while I was amused, there is a lot that goes into their creation. There are now companion pieces that are sculpted along with the cow each year, and this year it is Star Trek, which celebrates it's 50th birthday. Not to be outdone, the butter cow is celebrating her 105th birthday. Good thing we are in corn country what else would you do with 600 pounds of butter after the fair?

The Iowa State Fair is a great place for the whole family there is face painting, balloons, and many booths have free temporary tattoos for the kids. We saw a few children with very little "real estate" left from their growing collection. There is one area, known as "the concourse," that was for carnival rides, games of chance, and of course a few food and drink booths. Buy tickets singly, by the bunch, or an all-day wristband that lets them on unlimited times.

More than one person mentioned the "Giant Slide" to us, and that it was something they looked forward to every year, or that they had been doing since they were kids and now do with their own children. It requires it's own ticket, but seems to be something you "must do" when at the fair.

In one building, local art and artists were showcased. You could buy items locally made and handcrafted, and some locally made foods to take home as well.

Outside, kids could make several different kinds of crafts, including decorative mobiles, bracelets, and pottery spun on wheels or sculpted by hand.

Then there was the food.

Fair food.

In a class all on it's own, the fried, greasy goodness that is fair food was available in an abundance I can't exaggerate.

You could get everything your heart desired as long as your heart desired fried foods. From classics such as funnel cakes and corn dogs, to the more healthy (ish) fried pineapple or pickle dawgs, if it can be fried, it can be found at the Iowa State Fair.

Our fair favorites include cheese curds nothing fancy, but how do you go wrong with fried cheese? Cheese curds are the solid parts of sour milk, sometimes called "squeaky cheese," and are quite popular in the Midwest. Also, the aforementioned "pickle dawgs" are, in my opinion, a must try. A pickle is wrapped in either pastrami or ham and smothered in cream cheese, then deep fried. Sounds strange? Definitely. But it's also delicious.

Food on a stick is king at the fair, and so are pork products. Of the highest nobility, then, are the bacon-wrapped ribs and bacon-wrapped pork chops.

My son devoured them with gusto, regardless of the fact that we had just been to the petting zoo and the agricultural center, where we learned about the life cycle of pigs and other animals, and saw 10-hour old piglets nursing their mother. Iowans explain this phenomenon as understanding where your food comes from, and how hard it is to get them from farm to table. It's gaining an appreciation for your meals and the people who bring them to you. It's learning to be grateful. My son declared them his favorite food ever. How much was an Iowa lesson learned, and how much was the meat on a stick, is open to interpretation.

For dessert, there are endless ice cream stands, and with the summer heat being no joke right now, you will want to make use of one or two of those. But if you've never had fried oreos or fried candy bars, try them. We are going to recommend the fried Snickers bars, which are (honestly) battered and deep fried, then have powdered sugar dusted on them before they are delivered to you via paper boat. The 9-year-old was in sugar Heaven. He wanted another, but even I'm only so indulgent.

Any time is a good time to visit Iowa, but if you haven't made plans yet, you might want to plan around the state fair dates.



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