When I took Physical Wellness Dynamics the first semester of freshman year, the “food journal” section had the misfortune of coinciding with the Hillsdale County Fair.
For a class of freshmen tasked with recording everything that went into our bodies, this was depressing. The fair offered us elephant ears, funnel cakes, fried Milky Ways — everything the slideshows in class warned us against ingesting.
Our professor, Assistant Women’s Basketball Coach Matt Hilkens, knew this and told us to disregard the curriculum’s warnings against junk food, at least for this occasion.
“Go to the fair. Eat an elephant ear,” he said. “These are things you should be doing.”
A lot of people do. In addition to its animals, monster trucks, and cheap trick rides, the Hillsdale County Fair boasts 44 venues where fair-goers can purchase a variety of fried delights. These booths have fried oreos, fried cheesecake, fried mushrooms, fried cookie dough, fried butter — and so on. Ad nauseum, for some.
While buying a basket of fried cheesecake this week, I asked the man behind the counter if he sold a lot of it.
“No, that stuff is disgusting,” he said.
“Oh, well, what do you sell a lot of?”
“Fried cookie dough,” he said. “I don’t even try to count how many baskets I sell every day.”
The kid behind me in line was getting anxious. He turned to his brother.
“Hey, can we walk down to the animals?” he said. “This whole place smells like cigs.”
He’s right. On a hot day, the fair smells like a section of the Jersey shore boardwalk sloshed its way into a field in central Pennsylvania. The savory smells of processed meats and fried dough waft their way into the animal stalls, and weave themselves into the cow manure and horse hair. The added puffs of cigarette smoke blanketing the whole affair unify these opposed odors into something not entirely pleasant, but certainly fitting. Like rain in Savannah.
Inconsistent smells aren’t the only clash the fair entertains. When I was walking the grounds with senior Hannah Niemeier and author Joy Williams on Tuesday, both noticed that depending on the signage at the various booths, you can buy either CARAMEL CORN or CARMEL CORN. Perhaps the first refers to the sticky sweet treat, and the second informs the buyer that the popcorn was made by sisters of the Carmelite order. Or maybe Hillsdale County Fair vendors don’t have to pass a spelling test.
Whatever the case, the popcorn tasted good.