Well kids, it’s that time of year again in Minnesota, time to be thinking about putting away the white shoes (can’t wear ’em after Labor Day, you know!), stocking up on pens, pencils and getting the kiddos back to school and most of all, the Minnesota State Fair – except for this year.
Here in Minnesota, our state fair is almost a state holiday, and today would have been opening day. It’s so iconic that all we have to do is refer to it as “The Great Minnesota Get Together” and everyone knows what we’re talking about. The people watching! The shows! The food! The dairy barn! The midway! It’s all there, no matter who you are and what you enjoy for interests and hobbies. Unless you are genuinely afraid of crowds, the fair is one of the biggest parties of the year. While Texas is technically the largest state fair in the country with 2.25 million visitors each year, I would argue that Minnesota is the clear winner. Consider this: Sure, Texas has more visitors, but it takes them 24 days to get all those folks. We hit 2 million in 10 days last year. And Fair Park, where the Texas State Fair is held is ONLY 277 acres, compared to our 322 acres. So by both physical size and daily attendance, we are the largest.
I think most Minnesotans (and nearby Wisconsinites and Iowans) are in mourning with the cancellation of the fair this year. There is an an event coming up where folks had a chance to get tickets for a “State Fair Food Parade” and get some of the fair food like donuts, cheese curds, french fries and lots of other wonderful fair foods. Tickets were $20, and the plan is that you drive in to a proscribed route and purchase what you want. Apparently the site to buy the tickets crashed, it was so popular, and the event was completely sold out in something like 30 minutes. I’m about ready to go out and buy a deep fryer, just to make my own cheese curds and mini donuts. My husband and I go to the fair every year, and yep, each of us have our usual food favorites including spaghetti on a stick (mine), cheese curds (his) and Sweet Martha’s Cookies (ours).
What? You say you’ve never had Sweet Martha’s Cookies? Gosh, I don’t know what to tell you except they are kind of an out of this world experience. Imagine feeling tired and weary, having been on your feet all day.
Now get a plastic bucket about 8″ across and 6″ deep heaping with fresh, still-warm-from-the-oven soft chocolate chip cookies and a glass of cold milk. There isn’t anything better. (And when I say heaping, I’m SO not kidding. The workers pile the cookies in the bucket while you watch, and keep piling them until no more can be added without the next cookie falling off. Only then do they quit, giving you the lid to your bucket on the side. So of course you must eat some before you can put the lid on to head home!
We also love our people watching. We’ve seen just about every combination of attire, hair and makeup that you can imagine. I’m talking about guys in women’s clothes (but more like they just came from dress rehearsal for a really weird play) or women in guys outfits or someone dug in their mom’s closet and pulled out an outfit from 1967 and thought “hey, this will get attention” and put it on! Then there is the blue, purple and green hair, sometimes all three on the same person! It is so much fun to get a glass of cold lemonade and some finger food, find a bench to sit on near the grandstand and just watch people. Then there is the music, which is all day long at the fair, much of it free. With several different stages located throughout the park, and a variety of musical acts booked, virtually all tastes can be satisfied. Polka, rock, country, kids, Christian…it’s all there. About 10 years ago we were walking around one evening after dark and hear this woman singing on one of the free stages. Her voice was beautiful, absolutely haunting. We sat down on the grass and listened to her, and she was wonderful. She talked about how she really loved to visit here because her grandparents were from here so she had really good memories of Minnesota. Her songs were fantastic and we knew we were hearing someone that was on the edge of a career really getting started. We bought her CD – The Story – and I doubt you’ll find Brandi Carlisle giving free concerts now ANYWHERE, but it sure was great being at that one.
I’m sad we can’t be at the fair this year. I understand it, and am completely in agreement with the decision to not have one this year, but like most of our state, it just doesn’t seem like the end of summer without the fair. I look forward to our traditions like going to the DNR building to watch the fish pond, or climbing the fire tower to look out over the fairgrounds. If I’m really lucky, I’m there the same day as either my niece or nephew and can meet up with them in the beer gardens. Last year my nephew’s girlfriend was there and spent a little time with us, which was wonderful. We even ran into my niece unexpectedly outside the food court – 200,000 of your closest friends roaming around 300 acres, and she spots me from a few yards off! What a lovely and unexpected surprise.
I hope by this time next year we’re all returning to our traditions, they’re so special, and maybe I’ll get to surprise my niece, her husband and their new baby next time.