The Fair began this year, as it usually does, with friends and breakfast at Salem. Rain and the promise of humid heat kept the crowds away. We spent the morning volunteering at Renewing the Countryside and the afternoon wandering the Fairgrounds searching for old favorites and new possibilities.
Here are my thoughts on the old and new alike:
1. Is there a better place to take in the Fair than at a table or bench shared with strangers (a.k.a. new friends) at one of the old church diners? At both Salem and Hamline we are welcomed like family, greeted with smiles and hot coffee, and served the kind of food I imagine my grandparents enjoyed at the Fair decades ago. The Fair is about tradition, and none is stronger than here. (Try Izzy's Jello Salad Ice Cream at Hamline. We did and it is great. Next year, how about a lime version?)
2. Last year fried pickles on a stick debuted at Fried Fruit on a Stick. We loved them but really wished for a hot sauce to balance the tart olives, creamy cheese centers, and crispy breading. This year the folks at Fried Fruit on a Stick obliged our desires and are now serving hot sauce on the side. We also noticed a strong herb presence in the breading, which we agreed was delicious. Oregano? Rosemary? We asked a worker who told us there were indeed herbs in the batter last year, but our batch this year apparently contained more. We approved.
3. There has been much hoopla about the new West End Market (formerly Heritage Square). My beef with Heritage Square was that the ground was hard and hot, there was no shade, no air circulation, and little to no green in the space. West End is a polished modern version of Heritage Square: concrete, no shade, no breeze, and no green. Hey State Fair, please plant a tree or two. And did you have to price out mom and pop's like Ole's Cannoli?
Thankfully we have the baby pigs and a big fat pig with a slightly naughty name. We happily seek out 4Hers who are showing their cows, and jokingly curse that darn cute Marjorie Johnson who beat me again in the baking contests and added God knows how many more blue ribbons to her collection. We snack on mushroom and Swiss crepes and talk to the vendor about wine slushies, and reminisce about those years ago when the Creperie was a tiny cart run by swarthy guys with thick French accents. Somewhere a marching band is playing a fanfare. We marvel at the seed art and giggle at whatever new flavor of lip balm the StarTribune is distributing this year (fresh cut grass). With icy Tejas Beergaritas we toast to another great Minnesota State Fair with her traditions old and new.