Syracuse — The New York State Fair would have started its 18-day run this morning, but thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, it’s not happening.
At least not at the State Fairgrounds.
It stinks that a pandemic could rain on our annual parade, but make the best of it. Create your own backyard State Fair. Have a Fair-themed party, even if it’s just for your family. (If you do, please email me some photos for a subsequent story.)
Here are 5 easy ways to recreate that State Fair magic at home:
Cook State Fair food
Over the past couple weeks, we’ve been trying to show you how to cook some State Fair delicacies. Some worked really well; a couple were just close.
We’ve smoked turkey drumsticks, built hot beef sundaes and even deep-fried an attempt of Pizze Fritte.
To start, you might consider doing the basics. Grill some Italian sausage and load it up with sautéed peppers and onions. The experts will tell you that sausage sandwiches are best cooked on a flattop griddle. If you don’t have one, use an iron skillet in your kitchen. It’ll smell and taste like August on Restaurant Row.
The $1 baked potato from the Horticulture Building is among the best Fair bargains. Each topping is 50 cents. Wahid Akl runs the Potato Booth, and he has just a few simple rules when it comes to the spuds he serves: Use New York potatoes if they’re available because they’re the freshest, cook them for 1 hour and 15 minutes, and only use real butter.
“I only sell what I would serve my own family,” he said.
Corn on the cob is another easy Fair staple. The best way to cook it, according to 2019 Fair corn chefs, is to pull the husks back, remove the silk and put the husks back in place before putting it right over a hot grill. It’ll cook in about 10 minutes and it’ll be moist. For a more authentic Fair flavor, brush on butter melted with paprika, scallions and cayenne pepper.
Next week, we’ll be learning how to deep-fry Oreo cookies, candy bars, Pop Tarts and peanut better & jelly sandwiches.
State Fair drinks
If you’re going to make State Fair food, you’ll need something to wash it down with.
Grab a gallon or two of locally produced chocolate milk and pour it into hand-decorated cups. Charge your guests a quarter as though they were at the Fair and then award the money to whomever creates the best butter sculpture (see below).
For the adults, wine slushies are easy and customizable. “There really is no secret to making a great slushie. As long as you have Red Cat (wine) in the blender, you’re good,” said Jackie Updike, the assistant manager of Hazlitt Winery’s tasting room. “You can mix it with your favorite juice or fruit. It’s going to turn out great.”
We made a variety of slushies, and all were easy and almost too good. Serve them in fancy wine glasses, hand-decorated plastic cups with twisty straws or plain ol’ red Solo cups.
If that’s too sweet for you, stick with cold Utica Club (usually $4 at the Fair) or a high-octane craft beer.
Make your own butter sculpture
The American Dairy Association North East surprised everyone on Thursday by announcing that it was still going to unveil a butter sculpture this year. The dairy artwork will become public (online only) at 10 a.m. on Sept. 1.
Since you won’t be able to see the sculpture in person, do the next best thing and come up with your own. Better yet, give each attendee of your gathering a pound of butter and have a contest to see who can create the best sculpture. Your guests could vote on their favorite, and the winner gets the quarters from the milk fund.
We’re not talking pig races here or axe-throwing. It’s more like taking a bunch of your empty beer bottles out of the recycling bin, lining them up and seeing how many shower curtain rings you can get to stick.
Or you can do a free-throw contest, or see how long guests can hang on the swing-set bar before landing on the ground. Instead of life-sized stuff animals, you could reward the winners with a travel-sized pack of sanitizing wipes (If you can find them.) or designer face masks.
Just don’t violate the state’s rules by playing cornhole or running a dance contest.
Buy some must-have gadgets
The best place to be on a 90-degree afternoon at the Fair is inside the Center of Progress Building. It’s air conditioned, and you can take a seat while catching a demonstration of the latest battery-powered cat-nail clippers. Or better yet, you can spend an hour making the foot massager salesperson think you’re on the edge of parting ways with $350.
Since we’re having a stay-at-home Fair this year, you’ll have to run around your backyard fairgrounds while the AC cranks. Then go inside and turn on a shopping channel or make use of your Amazon Prime membership.
Want to have some real fun? Search Amazon.com for “dumb gadgets” and see how many things you actually might purchase. I was almost a sucker for the can of dehydrated water (You just have to add water.). You’ll find such gems as a yodeling pickle, a three-pack of toilet bowl night lights and a bacon air freshener.
MORE ON STATE FAIR
Despite no NY State Fair, the butter sculpture will return in 2020
No State Fair? No worries! How to make Pizze Fritte at home
No State Fair? No worries! How to make Maurice’s Belgian waffle sundaes at home
No State Fair? No worries! How to make wine slushies at home
No State Fair? No worries! How to make gyros at home
No State Fair? No worries! How to make smoked turkey legs at home
No State Fair? No worries! How to make a hot beef sundae at home
Charlie Miller is a journalist at syracuse.com and The Post-Standard. Contact him at 315-382-1984, or by email at [email protected]
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