- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 2, 2006

Fry it, and they will come: Behold the deep-fried, chocolate-covered strawberry, proof that the culinary sins of the nation’s state fairs are just as brazen as ever.

The deep-fried, chocolate-covered strawberry is, in fact, the official “Signature Food” of the Indiana State Fair — beating out deep-fried sauerkraut balls, deep-fried cream-filled puff balls, caramel popcorn pie and the mysterious “Cool Dog” in serious competition. It took a panel of nine judges and the votes of more than 6,000 hungry Hoosiers to determine which goody was worthy of the title.

“In Indiana, we take pride in three things: basketball, auto racing and food,” spokesman Andy Klotz said yesterday. “This is the 150th anniversary of our fair, and deep-fried, chocolate-covered strawberries seems like a good way to celebrate.”

The five dishes are new fare for the fair, which opens Wednesday. The strawberries in question — skewered, battered, fried and topped with chocolate sauce, strawberry glaze and powdered sugar — are $3.50 for a quartet.

And the Cool Dog? It’s actually an ice-cream “hot dog” in a sheet-cake bun, served, oddly enough, by a concessionaire named Spaghetti Eddie.

But such is fair food.

“Sometimes I wonder what the Hoosiers back in 1846 would have thought of this,” mused Mr. Klotz. “Then I realize they most likely would have been all taken up with the quality of the corn harvest.”

Although a handsome ear of corn can still thrill the dining public, their fancy has turned to the deep fryer — at least on the fairgrounds.

Each region has its favorites. Visit Wisconsin and batter-fried cheese curds appear. In Alaska, it’s “halibut nuggets”; in Oregon, soba noodles.

But fairs can’t take all the credit here. Ever since the deep-fried Hostess Twinkie was concocted in 2002 by Brooklyn, N.Y., restaurateur Christopher Sell, daring chefs have wooed the nation with a parade of deep-fried cookies, candy bars, fruits, vegetables and meats of every persuasion.

Alas, such creations are hard to protect. Pirated versions find almost immediate showcases at fairs.

Mr. Sell’s creation, for example, found initial fame from a version that appeared at the Arkansas State Fair. Outrageous deep-fried candy bars have origins in Scotland, where fish-and-chips shops have offered deep-fried Mars bars since the 1990s.

And the “hamdog” — a hot dog rolled in hamburger, then deep-fried and served with chili and cheese — was invented last spring by Chandler Goff, an enterprising Georgia tavern owner. The hamdog gained notoriety a few months later at the Iowa State Fair, where it was also dipped in batter before hitting the kettle.

Some fairs get fierce about frying, however. This year, the Texas State Fair is claiming the title “The Fried Food Capital of Texas,” and who could blame it? Concessionaires Neil and Carl Fletcher invented the classic “corny” dog on the fairgrounds in 1942. The family now sells 500,000 each fair season.

“Eating tends to rank at the top of the to-do list here,” a fair spokesman said.

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