"We try to keep it as new as we can. You've really got to stay ahead of the customers," says veteran food vendor Dennis Reas. He and wife Cheryl are based in Indiana but travel with their food truck to various festivals and fairs around the country. In case you weren't aware, the state-fair season is in full swing.
Last season, "keeping it new" meant topping a hot bacon cheeseburger with a puck of ice cream coated in crushed cornflakes and deep fried. That item made its debut in February at the Florida State Fair in Tampa and was chosen by the Huffington Post as the number one new food at America's fairgrounds this past year. (Number one food in 2010: fried beer at the Texas State Fair.)
"It was a bit like eating a cheeseburger and drinking a milkshake at the same time," Reas says. Was it popular? "A bona fide hit," says Rip Stalvey, marketing director of the Florida State Fair Authority. Reas is more realistic about the reaction: "People either liked it or didn't."
So what does one do to top a fried-ice-cream burger? "We'll do deep-fried bubblegum," Reas promises.
The secret to the fried "gum" is not to use gum at all, but to use gum-flavored marshmallows -- dunk 'em in some batter and then flash-fry them. Here's how to do it. The recipe isn't from the Reases but from inventor Justin Martinez, who introduced the gum at last year's Texas State Fair (which is taking place now through October 23).
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And the fried Kool-Aid? Creator "Chicken" Charlie Boghosian explains they're "kind of like doughnut holes." The batter is made from flour, water, and Kool-Aid. During the first weekend of the San Diego Country Fair this year, Boghosian sold 400 to 600 five-ball orders per day (video of "Charlie making the balls here).
The Reases will bring their fried gum and all to the 2012 circuit, including the next fair in Tampa (February 9 through 20) and the Florida Strawberry Festival in Plant City (March 1 to 11).
And, finally, there are fried brains -- not a fairground menu item, but a description of what you need in your head to be able to come up with these horribly weird foods.