Fair Fare: Enjoy the Tastes and Smells of Summer
Calgary native Lila Roth brings us a special dispatch from the annual Calgary Stampede rodeo and fair, complete with family recipes.
The sights and sounds of the carnival season are here! As July begins it brings the Calgary Stampede, “The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth,” and along with it the food. All over North America there are fairs, rodeos and outdoor carnivals during the summer and they all come with the same kinds of treats: candied and caramel apples, frozen bananas dipped in chocolate, corndogs, fresh squeezed lemonade and every kind of fried treat you can think of, including bags of sugared mini-doughnuts. This is NOT health food – but it’s once a year and you’re on vacation, right? The worst part is once the fair is gone, so are all those tasty treats you’ve just enjoyed, but some are fairly easy to make at home.
If you have a chance, go to the Calgary Stampede! A tradition since 1886, Stampede attracts more than one million visitors each year and features one of the world’s largest rodeos, a parade, midway, stage shows, concerts, agricultural competitions, chuckwagon racing and First Nations exhibitions plus amazing and unique aromas and flavors. Some of the most unique foods at the Calgary Stampede include scorpion pizza (and yes, they are real scorpions), cricket grilled cheese, cookie dough burritos and Pop Rock donuts. (We won’t be giving recipes for those!)
Let’s talk about more traditional fair food options: mini doughnuts, corndogs, turkey legs, deep fried everything, candied apples and cotton candy. A lot of these traditional foods are simple to make at home, and we can even put a healthy spin on some of them.
Many BBQ pits at the Calgary Stampede sell seasoned grilled or deep-fried turkey legs, easy to carry protein that comes with its own stick! They are generally coated in oil, then cooked on the BBQ and seasoned to taste, depending on your preference. I’d suggest the easier BBQ method at home. It’s healthier than deep frying and lets you enjoy fair food style turkey legs all year round.
Corn dogs are another portable festival favorite. You can certainly go to your local grocer and purchase boxed corndogs that you can bake in the oven or deep fry. Or make baked ones from scratch to have complete control over the ingredients (and the hot dog itself – make them with Kosher hot dogs or turkey dogs if you like) while still having a fair food treat.
Oven–Baked Corndogs via P&G Everyday
1 cup flour
½ tsp salt
1 cup yellow cornmeal
6 tablespoons melted butter
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ cup milk
¼ cup honey
8 wooden skewers
Heat the oven to 400. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Insert skewers through the hot dogs lengthwise.
In a bowl, mix flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, mix melted butter, milk and honey until combined. Slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, mixing well with a wooden spoon. Once everything is incorporated, knead for 2 minutes.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to ¼ inch thickness. Place hot dogs with the stick already inserted in the dough and cut a rectangle around it. Wrap the hot dog with the dough, pinch ends together at top and bottom.
Place on cookie sheet spread about 2 inches apart. Bake in preheated oven 15-20 minutes until they start to brown. Serve immediately with ketchup and mustard to dip them in.
When my parents and grandparents would go to the Stampede without us as kids we always got treats when they got home. Cotton Candy was always a given but if the weather was a little cooler my grandmother always made sure to grab a candied apple for us. She believed it was good to have something healthy from the fair grounds…well, healthier anyway. These days the candied apple has evolved and there are lots of flavors and coatings to choose from: caramel, chocolate and even crickets, but personally I still like the old-fashioned traditional flavor.
The “Original” Candy Apple (Mom’s Recipe)
6 medium red apples, washed and dried, stems removed
2 cups hot water
4 cups granulated sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
8-10 drops food red food coloring
6 wooden craft sticks
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, then lightly grease it with unsalted butter. Insert the wooden craft sticks into the prepared apples. Combine the hot water, sugar and corn syrup in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Cook without stirring until a candy thermometer reads 300 F (149 C). This will take approximately 20 to 25 minutes. When that temperature is reached, remove saucepan from heat, and stir in the red food coloring. Quickly dip each apple into the candy syrup, tipping the pan if necessary and rotating the apple to evenly coat all sides, lift the apple out of the syrup and let it drip off for a moment before you place it on the parchment paper. Let cool for an hour before eating. Wrap with plastic wrap to store.
Freshly squeezed lemonade on a hot day is super refreshing, easy to make at home and one of the best beverages to sip while walking through the midway at the fair. We’re going to put an adult twist on our lemonade, but it can be made “virgin” as well.
Twisted Watermelon Lemonade (Grandma’s Recipe)
5 cups cold water
1 ½ cups granulated or superfine sugar
Juice 6 of the lemons and set aside the juice. Mix 1 cup of the cold water with the sugar and stir until dissolved. Superfine sugar is the bartender’s secret to sweet drinks in a hurry! To make it at home, blitz your regular granulated sugar in a blender or food processor for 30 seconds.
Once the sugar is dissolved, add the rest of the cold water and the lemon juice. Stir to combine, then add in the ice. Slice the other two lemons and stir them in for extra flavor and garnish.
If desired, add 5 ounces of watermelon vodka and stir to combine. This will give you a fantastic watermelon lemonade perfect for afternoon barbecues after the fair has gone.
My final favorite is doughnuts. This recipe is going to take you back and the flavors – oh my goodness – they are so simple to make healthier at home if you have a convection oven or air fryer.
Cinnamon Mini Doughnuts via This Old Gal
1 can jumbo refrigerated biscuits (flaky is best)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1.5 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Oil to oil your air fryer basket or cookie sheet
Open biscuits and place on a flat surface. Use a 1-inch biscuit cutter to cut holes in the middle. Save the doughnut holes!
Lightly grease air fryer basket with ghee or coconut oil. Place dough into air fryer basket.
Air fry at 350 degrees for 5 to 6 minutes (or until lightly brown). Cook the doughnut holes for 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from air fryer and lightly brush with melted butter, if desired.
Mix together cinnamon and sugar. Roll doughnuts into cinnamon/sugar mix to coat.
For a convection oven, follow the same directions. To make the donuts “mini,” use smaller cutters and gently press the dough down on the flat surface and cut multiple donuts out of each biscuit.
If you like, instead of using the cinnamon and sugar, melt canned vanilla frosting in the microwave to a thin glaze. Brush over each doughnut and top with festive colored sprinkles!
Even if you can’t get to the fair this year, or you just want to be able to enjoy that taste of summer in those long winter months I hope these recipes make you as happy as they do me. Fair food doesn’t have to be greasy and full of calories. Making them at home generally makes things a little healthier.
Lila Roth is a trained chef and FirstResidential associate in Calgary, Alberta.