State fairs are one of the great U.S. summertime traditions.
Just ask Don Greiman. He has been going to the Iowa State Fair since just after he was born – 89 years ago.
Don Greiman, right, has attended the Iowa State Fair since he was a boy. He is 89 years old.
Greiman said state fairs started in the mid-1800s because farmers wanted to have a gathering to show off their produce each year. For example, farmers that raised cows wanted to see how their cows compared to the cows of their neighbors.
Cows at the New York State Fair. One is named Pepsi and the other is named Skittles.
Over time, state fairs evolved into bigger events. Much bigger events.
“The women thought, say, you know, our husbands are proud of their livestock. We’re sort of proud of our baking and cooking and maybe garment-making. So we ought to have a little fair, too. And that’s how fairs started. And then somebody could maybe play a fiddle or a little entertainment with it. And that’s how it sort of evolved. And they decided, ‘Well, hey, let’s make this an annual event.”
Today, some state fairs average over 100,000 visitors per day. The nation’s most popular fairs – including the one in St. Paul, Minnesota – attract almost 2 million visitors each year.
Most state fairs run for a little more than a week between August and October. They have craft exhibits, lots of live music, games and rides like roller coasters and Ferris wheels. Some even have wine tastings, beer gardens, or competitions to see who can bake the tastiest cake or make the best sculpture out of butter.
A sand sculpture at the New York State Fair.
Above all, state fairs have a lot of interesting food.
Consider a bucket of chocolate chip cookies at the state fair in Minnesota, fried butter at the Texas State Fair or a pork chop on a stick at the fair in Iowa.
“We have 72 foods on a stick now, that seems to be the rage,” said Greiman of Iowa. “Corn dogs, butter on a stick, Oreos on a stick.”
“You name it, we’ve just about got it on a stick.”
Children at the Iowa State Fair enjoy corn dogs on a stick.
New York: The Deep-Fried Guy
Eating is one of the most popular activities at state fairs around the country.
It is where some of the most interesting cooking techniques and food creations are found.
Jim Hasbrouck owns one of the popular food stands at the New York State Fair, which takes place from August 25-September 5 this year.
His stand is called Fried Specialties. But he may be better known as the deep-fried guy. That is because he will put just about anything in batter and fry it in oil.
He sells fried peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, fried pickles, fried jellybeans, fried candy bars and even fried lasagna. He has 35 items on the menu.
“Everything’s fry-able. Everything. I’ve done everything up to whiskey. Fruits. I’ve done everything. Everything’s fry-able. It’s all in the process, how you do it. If you want to take your time and come up with a process and you can toy with it, you can make it happen.”
This year, he has a special fried creation. It is called The Harvester. The sandwich includes mashed potatoes, stuffing, fried turkey and other items that recall the U.S. holiday of Thanksgiving.
Hasbrouck loves frying food so much that he sold his construction business and devoted himself to making fried items. “This is what we do full-time now,” he said.
Hasbrouck attends multiple fairs and festivals each year. But he is from New York and loves being at the New York State Fair.
“My blood gets flowing and I feel like a kid again. It’s just a great thing. And I don’t think you can go wrong with going to a state fair.”
Texas: Fried Jesus
If you want to visit the king of all fried items, it is a good idea to pack your bags for Texas. That is where you will find Abel Gonzales. Some people call him Fried Jesus.
The State Fair of Texas runs for almost a month, from September 30 to October 23. It is located in the city of Dallas.
Gonzalez impressed food critics from all over when he came up with fried butter in 2009. His creation was so good that the newspaper in Dallas wrote that he should be named “Texan of the Year.”
Fried butter is a sweet square of butter that is rolled in batter. It is then fried. The result is something like a bite-sized bread roll, with the butter already melted inside.
A wide view of the food stands at the Iowa State Fair features many foods "on a stick."
Gonzales won the fair’s food competition for his fried butter. He went on to be featured on television shows and in food magazines.
Can a sausage win an election?
State fairs can also be a good place for politicians to meet the people they represent.
The New York Times has a story of the New York State Fair in 2000. In that year, Hillary Clinton was campaigning to become a senator.
Clinton and her husband, then-president Bill Clinton, stopped at a well-known food stand at the New York State Fair for a sausage sandwich. The first couple happily ate one sandwich each, according to the story. They posed for photos and joked with voters and reporters.
President Clinton, left, and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton enjoy sausages at Gianelli's stand at the New York State Fair in Syracuse, N.Y., Sept. 2, 2000.
But Clinton’s top rival for the senate position did not eat the sandwich when he was offered one.
Clinton went on to win the election two months later.
If you like music, you will love the fair
Musical performers attract a lot of people to state fairs. The fair hires popular singers or bands to perform and draw more people to the fairgrounds.
Here are some of the well-known performers coming to state fairs in the coming months.
If you want to see singer and dancer Jason Derulo, you can go to the Iowa State Fair on August 14.
Dolly Parton will sing at the Ohio State Fair on August 2.
Bruce Hornsby will be at the New York State Fair on August 28.
Nick Jonas and Demi Lovato are at the Minnesota State Fair on August 31.
Fans cheering for a musical performer the New York State Fair.
State fairs have many modern parts these days. But at its core, Don Greiman of Iowa says the event still aims to bring a variety of people together for a few days of fun.
He says the state fair is a way for “our city cousins to look at the animals, because they don’t have the opportunity to see them every day like we do. To try different food than usual – not everybody has a corn dog or butter on a stick. And then of course the entertainment. There’s something at the fair you can’t see every day.”
I’m Dan Friedell.
Dan Friedell wrote this story for Learning English. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor.
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Words in This Story
produce – n. fresh fruits and vegetables; items grown by farmers
raise – v. to keep and take care of (animals or crops)
evolve – v. to keep and take care of (animals or crops)
craft – n. an activity that involves making something in a skillful way by using your hands
live music – n. music performed in front of an audience
rides – n. a large machine at an amusement park, fair, etc., that people ride on for enjoyment
beer garden – n. an outdoor restaurant or pub for drinking beer
technique – n. a way of doing something by using special knowledge or skill
corn dog – n. a hot dog dipped in a cornmeal batter, rolled and fried. Usually served on a stick
Oreo – n. a chocolate cookie with a white cream filling
batter – n. a mixture of flour and a liquid (such as egg, oil, or water) that is used to cover food before it is fried
lasagna – n. a type of Italian food that has layers of flat noodles baked with a sauce usually of tomatoes, cheese, and meat
pickle – n. a cucumber that is preserved in salt water or vinegar
toy – v. to experiment with something
cousin – n. a child of your uncle or aunt