Indiana State Fair offers familiar fareThere's something reassuring about familiarity. There are those who claim that it breeds contempt, but in the case of an annual jamboree like the Indiana State Fair, the familiar is the mainstay of the action. Innovation takes a back seat, and change is perceived by many as something to be approached with caution and a degree of suspicion. It speaks volumes for the predictable and time-worn character of the Indiana State Fair that the inclusion of a new menu item, namely deep-fried candy bars, caused a ruckus.

Being marginally over the preferred weight limit for most of the rides, I decided that Clarice and I should stick to food and animals. And so it was that we enjoyed a multicourse meal while strolling around the exhibits with the intention of saving the best, and certainly most exciting, course for last.

As it turned out, we enjoyed the best course about halfway through: the honey ice cream produced in Elkhart from real Indiana honey and equally real Indiana milk. If you're as big a fan of honey as I am, you will know that it comes in a wide variety of flavors and hues, dependent largely on the type of flower the bees feed upon. Indiana produces a remarkable array of honeys: It would take weeks of dedicated research to get through them all. Some of the best come from apiaries from around Martinsville, and are a real treat. There are a great many available for purchase at the State Fair, and are worth the price of admission in themselves.

Wandering through the sheep pavilion in search of lamb, we came across a couple of very cute and fuzzy little newborns nestled up against their mother. Eyeing them hungrily for a moment, I decided that they were still a few weeks short of ideal consumption age, so we moved on to the lamb producers' cafe, where presumably more mature specimens had been prepared for our delectation. Now, at the State Fair, if you visit the beef pavilion, you can purchase a beef sandwich right outside the door. The same goes for the pork producers' pavilion. In the case of the sheep pavilion, however, you can tuck into a lamb burger or leg of lamb sandwich right there in the building, just feet away from the animals themselves. Admittedly, there is a screen separating the animals from the sights and smells of cooking, but even I have to admit to a slight pang of irony-tinged guilt as I tucked into a very average lamb barbecue sandwich, whilst wistfully eyeing a few plump little specimens frolicking a pebble toss away.

In the pork producers' pavilion, we were greeted by the sight of whole families sleeping, eating and relaxing right alongside their cherished animals in their pens. Apparently pigs enjoy TV, because there were quite a few on view, although the choice of programming suggested that the humans were clearly in charge of the remote controls.

A little farther away, as we sucked on an apology for lemonade (easily the fair"s biggest rip-off at $3 a pop), we were treated to the sight of a teen-aged couple attempting furtive copulation at the back of a pig pen whilst still fully clothed and in the plain view of several passers-by, including a Ron Jeremy look-alike who appeared to be muttering words of encouragement under his breath. Such public displays of affection usually have an adverse affect upon my digestion, so we moved along quickly, the grunts and moans rapidly blending into the snorts and yelps of nervous livestock. Because this is not France, there was no horse meat on sale outside the horse pavilion, although it would have made a welcome change.

After trying, in no particular order, some deep-fried dough, some banana-flavored cotton candy and a rather decent pineapple smoothie concoction, Clarice and I headed for the deep-fried candy bar tent. Here everything was very orderly and efficiently handled. Approaching the tent from the north, you go up to a window and place an order for, say, a deep-fried Snickers Bar.

A kindly attendant asks you to verify in writing (triplicate) that you actually want to order something as perverse and as bizarre-sounding as deep-fried candy. You sign on the dotted line, then initial the double indemnity waiver that states, in summary, that, however nauseating and stomach-churning your experience may be, neither you nor your heirs will in any way hold either the manufacturers of Snickers, their associates or anyone else remotely connected with the Indiana State Fair even vaguely responsible in the event of an episode of projectile vomiting or unexpected and sudden demise.

The history of deep-fired foodstuffs of an unusual nature has its origins, I believe, in Scotland. To be more precise, in Glasgow, where, until culture and haute cuisine reared their ugly little heads a couple of decades ago, food wasn't considered edible unless it came encased in a quarter inch of chewy batter, smeared in brown sauce and wrapped in last night's issue of The Scotsman. It used to be a common sight at 2 in the morning to see lurching drunks emerging from the local chippie clutching dustbin lid-sized wheels of pizza deep-fried in batter, toppings and all. I believe there was a degree of competition between fish and chip shop owners to see who could deep-fry the most perverse and unlikely food item. And so was born the deep-fried Snickers Bar.

After a wait of some four or five minutes, under strict supervision of a crowd-control specialist ("move along there ... no rubbernecking ... get back in line ... do you have your triplicate disclaimer?) you are finally handed a paper napkin inside which is the much-anticipated comestible. For the first five minutes or so, the thing is too hot to hold, let alone eat. Your first tentative bite merely dents the surface and has you recoiling in reaction to the searing heat.

On the outside, this questionable food item resembles a deep-fried corn dog. When it finally cools down enough to take a small bite, you nip off the end and suck in a lot of air. Both texture and flavor are unusual and far from pleasing. I think my friend Clarice's description, "hot nuts and wadded-up Kleenex," probably does it the best justice. If you have a taste for the truly revolting, this is the dish for you. If not, then might I suggest anything, yes, anything, living or dead, that may be on offer in the fairgrounds.

Unfortunately, I forgot to try the pork butt on a stick. It had a perversely enticing ring to it, but after the Snickers adventure my quest for the unusual had all but exhausted itself. Next year, perhaps.


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