Monday, May 18, 2009

Meet me on the midway

Last night I watched a musical I’d never seen, State Fair from 1945. The Frake family sang the opening song as they got ready to ride off to the fair. Mother was putting her finishing touches on the huge crock of mincemeat she was entering in the pickle-and-mincemeat category. I started wondering: what’s in mincemeat? I had neither made it nor tasted it.

So I pulled out my tried-and-true 1973 Crisco Favorite Foods cook book, a slim volume that has served me since my first days of cooking for the family. The mincemeat pie recipe called for a jar of mincemeat. What? So I pulled out the big book: Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book, which the salesman had generously thrown in when I bought the 1990 edition of Encyclopedia Britannica. Like those esteemed volumes, that cook book had everything in it—until now. Again, I was told to add a jar of mincemeat.

Naturally, I went to the web. I found out that mincemeat goes way, way back, starting as a good way to preserve meat by cooking it into a concoction of fruit, sugar, and spices to preserve it. Basically, mincemeat involves meat, suet, apples, currents, raisins, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, cider and brandy, all chopped and boiled up and then baked (usually) between pie crusts. I might start with a jar of the stuff and see what I think.

But one genuine thing I do want to try is a state fair. The musical left me longing to see exceptionally large hogs beside their proud owners, pie contests, blue-ribbon tomatoes, ring-toss games with cheesy prizes, and Ferris wheels against the night sky. It occurred to me that in the chaos of my earlier life I never took my children to a state fair, although I believe we made it to a county fair. We never entered our special apple pie in the cook-off and had no domesticated animals to groom and show. We only grew produce once, a small patch of green beans next to the garage, which we happily picked and ate up quickly. Despite that success, though, we never grew another crop.

As of 11 o'clock last night, we’re planning on driving three hours southwest this September to the Kansas fair to catch up a little. Maybe we’ll bring a pie.

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