County fair food

August 18, 2011

State fairs - with their deep fried butter on a stick, presidential candidates chowing down on footlong corn dogs, and sadly this past weekend's tragedy at the Indiana State Fair - make national news. County fairs, however, barely make local news. There's not even a Cook County Fair. The closest county fair to Chicago is the Lake County Fair, this year's was the 83rd annual. There's no extreme fried food on a stick and just a handful of local politicians. (Kristen McQueary reported politicians are not working the Illinois State Fair like they used to.)

What you do find at the Lake County Fair are classic corn dogs, elephant ears, Best-in-Show ribbon winners, 4-H kids showing their livestock, and a few pageant queens.

Mike Horcher, who let me pick and eat corn in his field, won the coveted double-purple, rosetted, Grand Champion ribbon. Fair-goers told me repeatedly that this was a rare win for corn.

Longtime fair regulars also informed me that elephant ears are the traditional fried dough for our region, as opposed to funnel cakes. They're to be sprinkled with cinnamon sugar, but I did ask for a finish of powdered sugar too.

These foot long corn dogs hide two regular sized hot dogs skewered end to end. They're dipped in a cornmeal batter then fried in hot oil, their sticks held in place with clamps.

Lake County Fair regulars also shared that Dutch Annie's Hot Waffle Ice Cream Sandwich were an annual must-eat. Despite the 100 plus degree, hot and humid heat index, they were right. The crisp, fluffy waffles are made fresh and barely sweet, enveloping a simple slab of vanilla ice cream.

No extremes. No headlines. Just an old fashioned county fair. Here's to hoping that some things can stay the same.