Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

From Minnesota: A virtual taste of fair food August 25, 2022

A dessert specialty at the Farmer’s Delights food stand at the Rice County Fairgrounds in Faribault. The fair was held in late July. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

IF I WAS ATTENDING the Minnesota State Fair, which opens today and runs through Labor Day, I’d try these three new foods: Pickle Pizza, Sweet Potato Poutine and Minneblueberry Pie. Those were my quick picks while scrolling through the 39 new food offerings listed on the fair website. The fair, has, after all, become seemingly food-focused.

Food booths near the Rice County Fair grandstand. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

But I’m not going to the Great Minnesota Get Together. I haven’t been there in decades. I find nothing appealing about the massive crowds, the pressing together of fair-goers, the congestion, the waiting in lines, the dealing with metro traffic. Nope. Not my thing.

Homemade signage tops the Farmer’s Delights food vendor building. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Yet, many Minnesotans love the State Fair and there are many reasons to appreciate it from the Seed Art to the entertainment to all that vended food.

A sign marks the St. Luke’s food booth at the Rice County Fair. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

My youthful fair memories—I attended a few times—are of the giant slide, Machinery Hill (no longer there), an overly-crowded conservation building stocked with fish and dining at a church diner.

The Rice County Fair office near the grandstand. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

That brings me to the Rice County Fair, done and over for this summer, but set for July 19-23, 2023. I didn’t attend this year and haven’t for several. But I should return, check out the food stands, see what I’ve missed.

I passed the Bingo shed in the heart of the Rice County Fairgrounds. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)
On the east end of the fairgrounds, I paused to photograph this sunflower in the Rice County Master Gardeners Teaching Garden. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Even this sign on a utility box drew by eye. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Recently, I walked through a section of the vacated fairgrounds, camera in hand, with no worries about bumping into fair-goers. My primary focus was on signage, on food service buildings, some of them aged, some new. I never made it to the animal barns.

A line-up of permanent food booths at the Rice County Fair. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

The Rice County Fair does a good job of drawing local food vendors, many mainstays of the fair. Like the St. Luke’s booth, stationed here for nearly 80 years.

A sign marks the cafe run by Bethlehem Academy, a Catholic High School in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

And the Cardinal Cafe which, according to the Bethlehem Academy website, has been a decades-long fair tradition serving burgers, brats, “Lunch Lady cookies,” and other refreshing treats to fair-goers. Their sign says the cafe has been here since the 1950s.

The Pork Booth sits near the grandstand. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Likewise, the Rice County Pork Producers have been around for some 50 years serving pulled pork, sandwiches, pork burgers and pork chops on-a-stick.

The 4-H building is named after radio personality Dean Curtis. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)
Propped against a building post fair. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

On the door to the 4-H building. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

And 4-Hers (along with their parents), I expect, have served food for decades at the 4-H Food Stand.

Most food vendors have mobile units while others are housed in buildings. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

The gastronomical offerings far exceed what I’m showing you from my brief post-fair visit. Many locally-based concession stands are mobile, without on-site buildings like that of Farmer’s Delights. That needs to be noted here. I expect Rice County fair-goers find plenty to please their palates.

The Rice County Fair grandstand ticket booth. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2022)

Just like the Minnesota State Fair, food rates highly in the overall county fair experience. Whether at a rural Minnesota fair or the biggest fair in the state, options abound to eat traditional—roasted corn-on-the-cob, mini-donuts, cheese curds—to that which expands our Minnesota taste buds well beyond Ole and Lena’s Tator Tot Hot Dish on-a-stick with cream of mushroom dipping sauce.

TELL ME: What’s your favorite fair food? County or State Fair, doesn’t matter, although please specify.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


18 Responses to “From Minnesota: A virtual taste of fair food”

  1. Fair food always tastes better! Even if it’s the same thing you make at home. It’s just, better! 🙂

  2. Love the 4-H sign. Have many happy memories of working the 4-H food stand when I was a member. Nothing like ending the summer at the fair. Carlton County is always in mid August and it meant the end to boredom and endless farm work and the start of school. Plus, the State Fair Trips! Oh the memories of that! Freedom and the 4-H dormitory at the State Fair.

  3. Fair food is the best! I love pig candy ( sugary spicy bacon) and even made some at home a couple times years ago! Yum.

  4. There is nothing better than a corn dog and maybe finding a sweet treat too. I have not been to a fair in a long time and have to say hands down MN knows how to do the State Fair as well as the County Fairs. Happy Day – Enjoy 🙂

    • So good to read your positive comment about Minnesota fairs.

    • I could go for a slice of that Minneblueberry Pie right about now. I was looking up what lunch lady cookies were. Looks like sugar and peanut butter cookies. I cannot remember her name but she made the best sugar cookies. The lunch ladies I grew up with made the best donuts, cookies, bars, cakes, even jello, etc. I was truly spoiled when it came to the eats offered by the church and community as well as on the farms I worked.

      • I wondered what “Lunch Lady” cookies meant, but didn’t take the time to research like you. So thank you for that. It sounds like you have lots of tasty food memories. Me, too. Watch for a follow-up post tomorrow on MN State Fair food and a local connection.

  5. Bernadette Arlene Thomasy Says:

    Sloppy Joes from the 4-H food stand at the Steele County Fair. The recipe I make now is as close as I can get to what they served there in the late 50s. The taste still brings back great memories of that one-week summer highlight when we were growing up on the farm and entering 4-H projects at the fair.

  6. Valerie Says:

    Mini donuts!

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