Carnival, Festival, and Feast: America’s Most Famous Ag-Extravaganza
Iowa’s is the classic state fair, and one of the largest, a quintessentially American event that attracts a million revelers each August to the massive Iowa State Fairgrounds. Fortunately, not much has changed since local novelist Phil Stong penned State Fair in 1932, inspiring Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Broadway musical and three motion pictures.
There’s still hog- (and husband-) calling, cowchip tossing, the Super Bull contest, lots of make-it-and-take-it classes, and one of the symbols of the century-and-a-half-old fair: the beloved Butter Cow, sculpted annually since 1911 from 550 pounds of butter, which is recycled and reused for four to six years. There are real cows, too, of course – lots of them, competing among the more than 56,000 animal and vegetable entries.
The Iowa fair, which celebrated its 150th birthday in 2004, is one of the world’s largest livestock exhibitions and has the largest number of food categories (875 in 2002) of any state fair. The fair includes the freakish – in 1992, a jumbo squash weighed in here at 412 pounds, a watermelon at nearly 80 – and the delicious: The pie department is an old-time favorite, with butterscotch, apricot, strawberry, pumpkin, apple, rhubarb-strawberry, and countless other subdivisions.
Food, when it comes right down to it, is everyone’s reason for coming to the fair. Among the more than 150 food stands, the culinary icon is the deep-fried corn dog on a stick. Outsize turkey drumsticks are another popular item, as are lamb burgers and pork everything – Iowa is home to 240 million hogs.
Two-handful gizmos and grinders (local variations of the sloppy Joe) are followed by sugar-dusted funnel cakes, caramel-dipped apples, and cotton candy. It’s all good old-fashioned American fun, and calories be damned.