Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Gettin Frisky at the Fair

After all the tomatoes of late July, August was reserved for me to scrub the red stains off my cutting board, walls and self.  Now that I've finished that we're getting back to the business of learning new things.  The end of summer in Louisville doesn't offer much unless you're finishing up a garden, planting cover crops or already dreaming about next season or so I thought.  Enter the KY State Fair (Aug 18-28).  Billed as an agricultural offering with a side of thrill rides and deep fried madness, this was an event I looked forward to for months.

Last Saturday Fuschia and I finally managed to find a common day off so that we could head off to see what we could see.  My initial thought upon arriving: why the hell is the fair inside? and why are there 5 million people here at 10am?  Turns out the fair draws people from every holler in KY,a feat that only KY basketball can also perform.

We paid the entry fee (ambitiously priced at $28 for two people and 1 car), grabbed our free (or $28, depending on perspective) program and headed into the 'C' hall.  Naturally being Cactus and Fuschia, we had managed to stumble into the food court. With no self control and no previous sustenance that day, we availed ourselves of the offered junk food. Breakfast of champions? Philly cheesesteaks with mushrooms. Yummy.

Finally feeling ready to throw ourselves into the milling herd (every pun intended) we headed off to the animal exhibits in hopes of seeing a few piggies. Turns out the animal areas were HUGE and filled with cows, pigs, sheep,goats, and horses.  Fuschia, being a refined suburbanite had never been so close to farm animals and spent most of an hour enthralled with petting each and every creature.
Feeling exhausted (code for hungry) we headed off in search of 3 mythical fair foods: the donut burger, fried butter and fried Kool-Aid.  Eventually we discovered the fair food area in the middle of a baking asphalt parking lot and set about seeing what was what.  On offering were all the usual suspects plus a few I hadn't seen before: deep fried Derby Pie and Maple Bacon Ice Cream Sundae. 

After discovering that the fried Kool-Aid was just cherry drink mix in funnel cake dough that had been deep fried, we opted for the deep fried Derby Pie drizzled with raspberry sauce and sprinkled with powdered sugar.  We both were skeptical that this deep frying and drizzling would in any way enhance the already awesomeness of Derby Pie, but we're always willing to eat saturated fat in the name of research.  Boy am I glad we did.  That fried pie was easily the best Derby Pie I've ever had.  Ever.
With the sun heating up the place, we decided against further culinary exploration, even though we had found a place with the donut burgers (cheeseburger on a Krispy Kreme).  Sadly the fried butter continued to elude us.  Needing to cool off we headed into the 4-H exhibit all to see the Great Pumpkin.

We found not one, but three gianourmous gourds. The winner came in at a whopping 996 pounds, with the second and third places right behind at 980ish and 886ish.  Those things were big enough to make a hobbit condo.

Wandering deeper into the veggie/fruit/nut display we discovered 2 important things: a lot of old people really like to look at tomatoes and we're not very good judges of the relative merits of fair entries.  Either way we had a good time and decided that nothing would do but for us to enter something random in the fair next year. Black walnuts possibly as there were only two entries in that field.

The rest of the afternoon we spent looking at bees, tasting honey, admiring quilts, cakes, home canned goods and really hideous hobby craft entries.  We went to a petting zoo, walked inside a TARC bus (oh the fun), and entered a few drawings for trips to Disney.  I was determined to get my $28 worth.  By the time 4pm rolled around my feet were begging for relief so we took a spin around the fairgrounds on the tram. Approaching speeds of 3mph, the tram gave us a chance to cool off, rest and look at the motley assortment of folks milling around.  Halfway round the parking lot we conceded defeat to the heat and crowds, jumped off the tram and spent a delightful 30 minutes playing hide and seek with the car. 

We'll be back next year for sure, most likely with a few entries of our own and a willingness to dominate the donut burger.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Adventures in Rural Central KY

Last week I had the bright idea that people on may have produce for sale at reasonable prices.  So I had a look around over the course of a few work shifts and, sure enough, there were more than I had imagined posting any combination of picked or u-pick seasonal veggies and fruits.

The ad that attracted me the most, like Pooh to that damn tree, was one for a blackberry farm in Lebanon, KY.  Ninety minutes south of Louisville, they were letting people pick unlimited berries for $5 per person.  To put that in perspective, the local farm we usually source from charges $5/pound for u-pick berries. 

With visions of thorn less, heirloom berries dancing in my head I left work, picked up Fuschia and hit the open road.  After making a few superfluous loops, turning around twice and getting honked at approximately 257 times (none of them deserved), we arrived in the area where the picking was to commence.  There was only one slight problem: there was no sign, as promised online, to mark the farm entrance.  I call and get someone on the phone for the first time. It takes all of five seconds for me to discover there are no more blackberries.  None.  All gone.  I managed to be mostly polite to the farmer, but inside I was cussing up a storm.  Honestly, what kinda tool doesn't know enough to take the ad off craigslist when they no longer have the product? 

Not to be completely stymied in my search for cheap foodstuffs, I pull into the local Golden Arches where Fuschia and I can refill our sweet tea tanks.  After two hours of riding around the boonies, they're basically on empty. With a quick call to Eeyore (thanks goodness for her smart phone) for navigational assistance, I point the Jeep back down the highway towards Hart County.

Just last week I had discovered, thanks to my obsessive use of Google, that Hart County is home to a produce auction.  And it's open to the public.  Clearly,  I have to go.  Fuschia and I get to Munfordville a little early, so we have plenty of time to scope out the situation.  Horse and buggy road signs populate the length of the  meandering highway.  Being a tad slap happy at this point (no sleep since Thursday morning) I go on on and on and on about wanting to see some Amish folks.  Fuschia ignores me and rightly so.

Maybe I didn't get my cheap berries that day, but by god I got my Amish.  Turns out they own the produce auction.  It was interesting to see such a large number of people who eschew modern conveniences working so closely with very typical folks there to buy cheap produce. For anyone with an appreciation of farm fresh food, hoarding tendencies, or just a love of community events, this was an awesome spectacle.  Under a metal pole barn sat pallet after pallet of food grown in that very county.  It was hard to maintain my dignity when all I wanted to do was hug each farmer as a show of thanks.

After a moment of confusion over the auction workings (hey, it was our virgin visit) we got a number and commenced to buying produce.  Anyone who has ever known the thrill of gambling can understand the allure of the auction.  It sucks you in.  Although tempted at times, I managed to refrain from purchasing 50 dozen ears of corn or 25 watermelons.  I did win though.  I got 80 pounds of tomatoes and 40 pounds of new potatoes. Grand total cost? $54.  That's not a typo. Put that in perspective: at a big box store tomatoes cost roughly $1.59/lb and potatoes are going for $1.29/lb.  That's about 178.80, not including taxes.

As you can imagine I've been more than a little busy ever since we got back from the Amish auction. So far I've put up ketchup, whole tomatoes, tomato sauce, pasta sauce, and salsa.  On the agenda for the rest of the week are tomato paste and BBQ sauce.  Wish me luck.