Story and phosts by Polly Keary, Editor
We asked our Facebook friends what their favorite fair foods are, and the results are no surprise; they are among the fair’s oldest and most cherished traditions.
Of 124 votes, scones and elephant ears were nearly in a dead heat, with elephant ears a slight favorite, mentioned 33 times while scones were mentioned 31 times.
Piroshkis got eight votes, and funnel cakes got six. Corn dogs got nine mentions. Blooming onions were another popular choice.
The favorite drink was far and away the Snohomish County classic Purple Cow, with homemade or frozen lemonade in second place.
The rest of the choices were all over the map.
“Grilled corn on the cob on a stick! Deep fried anything and pink popcorn!” said one local man. “There was a new food vendor last year who had black truffle mac and cheese – SO GOOD!” a woman chimed in. And another person voted with a social conscience: “The Shriners BBQ sandwiches, because it supports the Shriners!” he said.
Other responses included crepes, gyros, shaved ice, shortcake, curly fries and onion or lamb burgers.
And one person swore by a deep-fried peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Here’s a guide to the hits: What they are, where they come from, and what they look like!
Elephant ears are easily one of the most popular, if not the most popular, snack at the fair. Made with whole wheat yeast dough stretched thin and deep-fried until crisp and bubbly, they are then slathered with butter before being sprinkled with a generous layer of cinnamon and sugar.
The dish is ubiquitous in North America at events such as fairs and carnivals.
On the East Coast they are called dough boys, and there is a Native American version popular at pow wows and rodeos called fry bread. Mexico has a smaller version called a buñuelo, and Canada has an elongated version called a beaver tail.
Europe, too, has a similar fair food, from the Croatian langusi to the Netherlands’ oliebol.
In fact, nearly every culture in the world has some form of fried bread, and it may be one of the world’s oldest prepared foods; fossilized bits of a doughnut-like dish commonly turn up in prehistoric Native American settlements, and an early form of the funnel cake, in which sourdough batter was dribbled into hot fat, shows up in Cato’s 2nd century history of Rome.
Surprisingly, as fair food goes, a large elephant ear is far from the highest in calories; an average one comes in at about 550 calories.
Fisher Scones are ubiquitous at the Evergreen State Fair, and well they should be; they originated at the Puyallup fair, making them a Pacific Northwest delicacy.
Fisher Flour Mills set up shop in 1910 on Harbor Island near what is now West Seattle. In order to promote the use of their flour, they came up with the idea of selling hot scones at major fairs. They started out at the Panama Pacific Exposition in San Francisco and it was there that William Paulhamas, a founder of the Puyallup Fair, tried them.
His son, Dwight, was 12 at the time, and later recalled seeing a long line of people at the booth on Nob Hill buying hot biscuits with jam from a man in a tall chef’s hat.
Paulhamas learned the product was from a Seattle company, called the owners, and set up a plan to market the treat at the next Puyallup Fair.
Today, the little scones that once cost a dime now cost a fair amount more.
But Fisher’s raspberry jam is still made of Washington raspberries, and the scones are still served in the classic red and white plaid print bag. And they are still a Northwest fair tradition.
And at 245 calories each, they won’t give you a heart attack.
Another favorite Evergreen State Fair food also traces its roots back to Seattle; the Kaleenka Piroshky.
Company founder Lydia Barrett grew up in Europe with a German mother and a Ukrainian father. Right after World War II, they emigrated to Saskatchewan, where Lydia married her husband, James Barrett. The couple later moved to Seattle
Barrett opened a restaurant in what is now Belltown in Seattle, serving Eastern European food there for 25 years, during which time she also started a traveling piroshky stand.
The business is now run by Steven, Lydia’s youngest son.
The Kaleenka piroshky originates in Russia, where a piroshky can come in many forms, from something resembling a pot sticker, filled with mashed potato and served with sour cream, to a bread pocket filled with ground beef and vegetables or cheese and baked or fried.
There a number of options at the Kaleenka stand, but the classic is the beef piroshky, filled with seasoned ground beef and gooey melted cheddar, folded into a pocket of bread dough and fried.
And at 385 calories, you can still fit in a Purple Cow!
For 53 years, the Snohomish County Dairy Women have been serving their iconic ice cream float called a Purple Cow to hordes of fairgoers who wait patiently in long lines in the hot sun to get them.
It’s a simple concoction, made of Sierra Mist soda with blackberry ice cream and blackberry syrup, and people can’t get enough of the $4 treat.
The float was created by Mary Lou Lane, a young member of the Snohomish County Dairy Woman, and she and other members invented the Purple Cow in 1960, and sold it from a tiny 8×12-foot plywood stand they named for their unique dish.
Lane, who used her business degree to good advantage, established the tradition of ringing a bell on every 13th Purple Cow served, and giving that one free to the person who ordered, a tradition that survives to this day.