It’s nearly 90 degrees and all I can think of is a grilled cheese sandwich: the hot, gooey cheese stretching from the two slices of toasted, white bread to my mouth as I pull it away.
But then I think about how I’m also holding a cup of soft ice cream and it’s starting to melt, so somehow I have to figure out how to start eating it before my hand is covered with sugary dairy product.
It’s the perfect dilemma at the Elkhart County 4-H Fair, which starts Friday, July 22, and continues through Saturday, July 30. How do you eat the food you’re holding — that someone just handed you through the window of a booth staffed by volunteers — while talking and talking? This is why food on a stick is popular at fairs, and why you should keep wet wipes within easy reach.
- RELATED: Handheld food lets you stay busy and multitask, June 16
Elkhart County’s dairy farmers have church youth groups and others work at the two Dairy Bars at the fair. This isn’t Wisconsin, where cheese is king and milk is the nectar of the gods and economic fuel, but Elkhart County is still one of Indiana’s leading dairy producers and the fair showcases that goodness from the farm.
So I end up getting the soft serve ice cream, though it’s one of the few times all year you’ll find me doing that. Whether it’s strawberry or the flavor the day, it gets dispensed into a waxed paper cup. If I’m lucky, the person filling the cup lets the ice cream stack up until it towers above the edge so high you wonder if it’ll collapse like a Jenga tower.
And as for that grilled cheese, it’s perfect in its simplicity. Two pieces of white bread are buttered and sandwiched around Colby cheese from Guggisberg, which bought the Deutsch Kase Haus in Middlebury and continues to produce award-winning Colby. The white bread will never win awards, but it’s simple and unfussy, and at the fair, this dollar sandwich is both delicious and one of the best deals on the grounds.
There are thousands of good reasons to go to the Elkhart County 4-H Fair. The chickens that have feathers on their heads and look like Muppets. The concerts in the grandstand. The rides that swing you to and fro. The conversations that you have with friends and neighbors. The main reason I go — and I know I’m not alone — is the 86 food concessions operated by professionals, non-profit groups and 4-H clubs.
This is one of the largest county fairs in the United States. Its Food Row is lined with buildings and trailers that offer fried dough, sugar and grilled meats representing most of the 4-H livestock clubs. (Horse and llama aren’t served, though I’ve always wondered what a llama burger would taste like.)
Llamas may spit on you, but that’s better than what a pig did to me in the summer of 1978. When I was helping my father move piglets in a pasture, a sow bit me and sent me to the hospital for my first stitches. Classmates at Millersburg Elementary when I showed up to third grade a few days later called me “Sow Bit.” Fortunately the nickname didn’t stick. So when I bite into a pork chop or pork burger at the fair, I’m am enacting tasty revenge on that pig.
I was bit by a pig in the summer of 2014, and that tasty revenge is a real feel. – Ed.
Fair food can be fried and heavy. It can be the indulgence in what we’d never make at home or even order at a restaurant. People have their favorites, the item they MUST get every year.
I try new items and try to eat widely at this event (while I volunteer in the Goshen Noon Kiwanis Club booth where we make sweet corn and charcoal-grilled steakburgers). Yet in addition to the ice cream and grilled cheese, the pork chop and burger, I head for favorites every year, including the fried Greek potatoes at Joe’s Gyros and a lemon shake-up from the 4-H Lamb Club. It’s possible to gain new favorites. Last year, after years of hearing friends sing the praises, I came to love the strawberry shortcake from the Berry Patch trailer along Food Row.
I’ll try the newest fried food creations, which this year include bacon fried on a stick, dipped in funnel cake batter and fried again and then served with either maple icing, chocolate or caramel at the Best Around booth. I’m curious about the fried sugar cream pie the Pence Concessions booth is offering this year in honor of the Indiana Bicentennial.
People will ask what I think and I’ll offer an opinion. And then I’ll go get some ice cream.
I’m Sow Bit. I’m hungry, let’s eat.