Why Minnesotans Love the State Fair

15August 2021

The two cities were separated only by a thin well-bridged river; their tails curling over the banks met and mingled, and at the juncture, under the jealous eye of each, lay, every fall, the State Fair. Because of this advantageous position, and because of the agricultural eminence of the state, the fair was one of the most magnificent in America.

—F. Scott Fitzgerald, “A Night at the Fair”

Because the Fair Is Gloriously Corny

Is it nuts to keep an extra Corn Roast ticket tacked up on your office corkboard all 353 days of the year when it’s not the fair? No! It’s perfectly reasonable.

Here’s why: The corn is specially grown for the Corn Roast by the Untiedt vegetable kings, who plant 20 acres and harvest the corn the day before you eat it. At the fair it’s specially high-heat charred in purpose-built roasters to seal in the sugar, and then it’s dipped in the liquid gold that is Ellsworth Creamery butter. Because of all that, it tastes big and fruity, charred and roasty, essential, eternal. It sticks in your teeth, it butters your chin, and when you’re chomping it, it feels bigger than just the corn in your hand.

It’s the vast Minnesota cornfields, it’s the sun that rises at 5 am and sets at 10 pm, it’s seizing these hot days and putting them right into your soul to keep you warm all year. So maybe you stick an extra corn ticket in the coin pocket of your jeans, a promise to yourself that you will love every summer as big as you can forever. And then you stick that corn ticket up on your corkboard, and you keep your promises, to sweet corn and the State Fair and yourself. —D. M. G.

Because the Fair’s Poultry Barn Is Clucking Nuts

  • 233: Number of 4-H’ers exhibiting poultry at the fair in 2019
  • 2,800: Youth enrolled in the 4-H poultry project statewide
  • 686: Number of birds exhibited by 4-H members in 2019
  • 1937: Year the Sheep and Poultry Barn was erected
  • 47: Number of purple (superior) ribbons given out in 2019
  • 20,250: Square footage of the Sheep and Poultry Barn

Because People Sacrifice Their Lawns for Parking

During the State Fair, the Como neighborhood has it all—traffic, noise, people watching, and front yard parking lots. Yep, there is no shame in renting out your grassy yard in the spirit of the fair and commerce. From $10 a spot on a slow weekday to $35 per car on a weekend, it all adds up. Some homeowners hold your keys, valet-style, and squeeze your minivan into a bumper-to-bumper situation only an expert could maneuver, while others will patiently direct you between the rosebushes and air-conditioning unit so you can buzz out as soon as you’ve had your fill of the fair. And don’t think that price will last if you circle around the block looking for something better: Everyone keeps an eye on the neighbors’ prices and will raise and lower their own to keep in competition accordingly. See, kids, it’s more than a parking space—it’s a lesson in economics. —M. B. 

Because the Fair Has Its Own Food Czar (and Her Name Is Nikki Hines and We Interviewed Her for You)

“Although the cancellation of the 2020 fair took some of the wind out of my sails, I certainly do not feel like I’m starting over. There had already been a lot of planning in place for 2020, so I’m picking up right where I left off and am looking forward to a great fair.” »Read More

I’m a big State Fair person, and my main goal is to eat as much food as possible, but I tend not to do the foods on a stick. But I like Big Fat Bacon.

—Alison McGhee, author

Because There’s So Much Beer

There was a time not all that long ago (2006!) when only 3.2 beer could be sold at the State Fair. When the fair lifted the water-beer rule, brothers Dan and Dave Theisen were there to capitalize on the opportunity, having  won their Food Building–adjacent space, Ball Park Cafe, in 1999. They launched the Craft Beer Territory window in 2010 and immediately became the beer drinker’s center of the fair. With some 20 taps dedicated to mostly local craft beers and ciders, Ball Park’s beer menu is highly anticipated each year. The brothers are also the reason that State Fair stunt beers became fashionable—it was their commission of mini donut beer from Lift Bridge in 2013 that, for better or worse, launched the trend. Check out all the new beers coming to the fair this year. —S. M.

Because One Place You Can Find Respite from Grazing Is on the Midway’s Stomach-Wrenching Rides

And when you do, here’s a breakdown of which ones are most worth your dollar from a dad and daughter who rode almost all of them in one day. »Read More

Because at the Fair You Can Make a Career Out of Being Judgy

In 1976, while working toward a master’s degree in design at the U of M, Curt Pederson got a part-time job with Creative Activities at the State Fair. Fast-forward 45 years and he’s the superintendent of the department of the fair responsible for judging more than 6,000 items across over 550 categories. »Read More

Because Some Fair Foods Are Downright Charitable

When the Salem Lutheran Church Dining Hall opens up for service at 7 a.m., there’s always a line waiting for the Swedish egg coffee and a sturdy breakfast. »Read More

“The greatest thing about the Great Minnesota Get-Together isn’t the food, it’s the people.”

—Andrew Zimmern, celebrity chef

Because Pronto Pups and Corn Dogs

According to its own legend, Pronto Pup is the original inventors of battered meat on a stick. True or not, Pronto Pups are the OG at the fair, debuting in 1947. A Pronto Pup evangelist knows that this dog has a steadfast secret cornmeal batter (it is NOT pancake batter, though the myth persists) that doesn’t need sweetness to woo you. Watch as the innovative Ferris wheel–style dipper machine keeps each pup in oil for exactly two minutes and 15 seconds. Paint it with mustard if you must, but Pronto purists shun the ketchup. As for corn dogs more broadly, we don’t need to dig deep into the Krusty Korn Dog patent of 1924 or the Jenkins “food on a stick” patent of 1929 to know that their sweet, cornbread-y genius is infectious. The corn dog fanatic can already smell that sweet corny batter wafting over the fairgrounds from the moment their first foot passes the gate. Slather it with mustard, squiggle it with ketchup; there’s no judgment, only joy.  —S. M.

Because at the Fair We All Get Along

And nowhere is that more evident than in these conversations we had with teens who come from far away and from right next door to work at the State Fair every year. »Read More

Because This Happens!

Llamas are strange and magnificent creatures in their most natural settings—just watching them go about their daily business is downright mesmerizing. Which makes it doubly amazing that for one night each State Fair, some 4-H kids crank the llama dial to 11 with the Llama Costume Contest. Yep, if you thought watching llamas spit at each other was great, just wait until you see them walk the Coliseum runway as Thing One and Thing Two being led by a teenage Cat in the Hat. —D. W.

Because for only $3 the Giant Slide turns even the most jaded adult into a kid again, if only for a moment. Thanks for an amazing 50-plus years of butt burns and belly tickles, Pittroff-Baroda family. 

Because, Despite the On-A-Stick Ease of Most Eats, One Full-Service Resto Insists on Bucking the Trend

What’s red and white and secret all over? The Peg, the State Fair’s only full-service restaurant. Hidden in plain sight behind the Ag-Hort building. »Read More

Turkey Wiener Doodah Hotdish! That was at the State Fair back in ’80-something. I’ll always remember it. 

—Steve Zahn, actor

Because Even Losing Is a Blast at the Fair

Flashy lights, gigantic teddy bears—and poor cognitive reasoning. What really is going on in your brain at the Mighty Midway? »Read More

Because It’s Worth It for the Crop Art Alone

Behold! The crop art wall up at the Ag-Hort building. A place where local artists make mosaics of corn, soybeans, and the seeds and stems of a few dozen more local crops. One year, it was a spontaneous mourning wall for Prince. Another, the whole state roasted the president in amaranth.

If volcanic ash suddenly rained down on our crop art wall, what would future archaeologists conclude of us? No doubt they’d guess we were conducting some kind of agricultural fertility ritual via figures and messages cast in corn, peas, and sunflowers. But truly, they could never understand, because you need to be one of us to understand the fleeting mosaics for and by the only eight million people on the planet who get why it’s both funny and reverent to make a Frida Kahlo with kidney beans in her hair but also insolent and rebellious to write “Be Best” in black beans with a portrait of a First Lady. —D. M. G.

Because There Are 27 (and Counting) New Foods at the Fair This Year

Every June, the fair’s Food Czar releases the list of officially sanctioned new items for that year’s fair, and the Cities momentarily lose their minds just imagining that moment two months later when they’ll dive headlong into it. And when Day One finally does arrive, our food team takes one in the guts by trying everything that’s new and having our definitive guide ready by Day Two. And we’re not just talking about the official new foods but also the “bonus foods” that vendors sneak onto their menu boards right before opening day. —S. M. 

Steph March is super excited about the porky, cheesy Naughty Biscuit from RC’s BBQ but has some trepidation about that meat-filled pineapple at The Hangar.

Drew Wood is pretty stoked about the Buffalo Chicken Doughscuit at The Blue Barn but reserves some skepticism for the Waffle Burger situation at Andy’s Grille.

Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl thinks Hot Indian’s Kerala Fried Chicken Kati Roll might be some of the most important food news of 2021 but is dubious about the potential soggy outcome of the chicharrón nachos at Coasters.

Check out the full list of new foods.

Because the Fair Honors Its Princesses by Casting Them out of Butter

If you’re waiting for your shake in the Dairy Building early in the fair, it’s almost impossible to look away. There, in a glass-walled freezer case not 10 feet from you, sit a sculptor, a princess, and a massive block of butter. Clad in parkas, the artist and her subject sit for hours with precise tools and small movements, which will result in an intricate and legendary butter head that will be ogled by thousands during the remainder of the fair and, eventually, when it’s served its purpose, rolled onto some delicious corn on the cob. —S. M.

“Backstage at the rodeo at the Minnesota State Fair, stinks. It stinks with the good strong smells of animal, sweat, and leather.”

—Molly Ivins, journalist

Because, Especially After This Year, We’re Really Excited to See You There!

Originally published in the August 2021 issue.

This post was originally published on this site

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