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A “Fair” Tribute to Fried Foods of the Past

August 24, 2011

If you haven’t heard by now, we celebrated the Iowa State Fair this past week.  The 10 day long event brings visitors from all over the world who come to see the Butter Cow (who turned 100 this year), the Big Boar, and the Midway.  Nearly every year since 1854 the people of Iowa have gathered to celebrate.  By 1900, the fair had moved to it’s current site on the southwest side of Des Moines (that site was dedicated in 1886).

It seems like each year the fair promotes some new food product, most of the time time that is fried and/or on a stick.  This year, deep fried butter is what everyone’s talking about.  I am not sure the fairgoers of 1900 imagined battering and deep-frying a stick of butter, but they did have some recipes for some pretty interesting fried foods during that time.  In keeping with the tradition of Iowa in August, we have been frying foods here at the 1900 farm.  If you didn’t get to the fair for your corn dog, try celebrating turn of the century style.

Here are a couple of the recipes we tried out. We deep fried the items in lard heated over the wood burning stove.  Make sure your grease is hot enough by flicking a couple of drops of water into it and listening for the fizzle.

What it should look like when you put your batter into the grease.

Fried Cucumbers

Pare the cucumbers and cut lengthwise in very thick slices; wipe them dry with a cloth; sprinkle with salt and pepper, dredge with flour, and fry in lard and butter, a tablespoon of each, mixed.  Brown both sides and serve warm.

-1887 White House Cookbook, page 183

Japanese Climbing Cucumbers from the 1900 garden.

We used fresh cucumbers out of the garden, the pickling size worked best.  I didn’t bother with the butter, just deep fried them in lard.

Or try something on the sweet side:

Queen Fritter

¼ cup butter (scant)
½ cup boiling water
½ cup flour
2 eggs
Fruit preserves or marmalade

Put butter in a small saucepan and pour on water.  As soon as water again reaches boiling point, add flour all at once, and stir until mixture leaves side of saucepan, cleaving to spoon.  Remove from fire and add eggs unbeaten, one at a time, beating mixture thoroughly between addition of eggs.  Drop by spoonfuls and fry in deep fat until well puffed and browned.  Drain, make an opening, and fill with preserve or marmalade.  Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve on a folded napkin.

-The Original Boston Cooking School Cookbook, page 307

This one may be easier if you use your hand mixer, instead of a spoon, but I made it in the 1900 kitchen so I don’t know.  The fritters fried pretty quickly and are good with preserves, or whipped cream. We had a few that we just put powered sugar on that tasted pretty good as well.

Chocolate Fritters with Vanilla Sauce

Make Queen Fritters, fill with Chocolate Cream Filling, and serve with Vanilla Sauce; filling to be cold and sauce warm.

Chocolate Cream Filling

Put one and one-fourth squares Baker’s chocolate in a saucepan and melt over hot water.  Add to Cream Filling, using in making one cup sugar in place of seven-eighths cup.

Cream Filling

7/8 cup sugar
1/3 cup flour
1/3 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
2 cups scaled milk
1 teaspoon vanilla or ½ teaspoon lemon extract

Mix dry ingredients, add eggs slightly beaten, and pour on gradually scalled milk.  Cook fifteen minutes in double boiler, stirring constantly until thickened, afterwards occasionally.  Cool slightly and flavor.

-All from the Boston Cooking School Cookbook

If you don’t want to bother with the cream filling, chocolate frosting works just fine as well.  If you don’t have a good frosting recipe, watch for one here in coming weeks.

One more that turned out to be one of our favorites.  We will definitely be making these again.  They came from the chapter entitled “Fried Cakes” of “The Settlement” Cook Book from ladies in Milwaukee, WI, in 1903.  Perhaps we should consider these ladies pioneers of State Fair food.

(Apple) Fritters

1 egg
1 tablespoon melted butter
¼ cup water or milk
½ cup flour
1/8 teaspoon salt

Beat the yolk and the white of the egg separately.  To the yolk add the butter and salt and one-half of the liquid, and stir in the flour to make a smooth dough.  Add the remainder of the liquid gradually to make a batter, and beat in the stiff white of the egg.  Fry in deep, hot fat.  The fritters may be served with syrup, with sugar and cinnamon, or with pudding sauce.

To make Apple Fritters, add one teaspoonful of sugar to the batter.  Cut cored apples into slices (in rounds), dip in the batter and fry them.  Sprinkle them with sugar and cinnamon before serving.

-The Settlement Cook Book, page 35

With sugar and cinnamon, these apple fritters were like bite-sized apple pie.

As you can see from the picture above, we didn’t leave our apple slices in rings, but I am sure they would taste just the same.  These were excellent served warm.  It was like bite-size pieces of apple pie.  Again, make sure your oil is hot, and be careful not to brown them too much. We didn’t try it, but there was a variation on this recipe as well.  Perhaps you’d like it:

Pineapple Fritters

Soak the slices of pineapple in white wine or any liquor your have, with a little sugar added, for an hour before using.  Fry in batter, as you would apple fritters.

I’m not sure what sorts of fair foods the people of 1900 enjoyed, but you can see that crazy fried foods are not a new concept.  Who knows, maybe one of these old recipes will be the “new thing to try” next August.  I know I’ll be there to try it, along with my funnel cake and corn dog (which don’t become popular at fairs until the 1930s and 40s.)

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. August 24, 2011 5:21 pm

    My (very Italian) grandmother used to fry up bits of leftover pizza dough and serve with jam or cinnamon-sugar. Maybe it’s only magical in my memory, but I always keep an eye peeled for something similar at fairs.

    • August 25, 2011 9:17 am

      I am a believer in the memory of food a certain way because a certain person made it, but that sounds like it would be delicious. Thanks for sharing.

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