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Fun Fair and Circus Food for Fall

By Ann Hattes
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"Around 1980, 'classic’ fair food began to evolve from cotton candy and snow cones to bacon-wrapped doughnuts fried in pork belly fat. Not all the food sold at the fair is fried, but the motto of today's county fair might as well be 'Just Fry It!'"

Though the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus gave its last performance in May 2017, Circus World ( is open to rekindle memories, and will be for years to come. The Ringling Brothers launched their circus from Baraboo, Wisconsin, making it their winter quarters from 1884-1918. Here hundreds of elephants, camels, zebras and horses were trained for their new acts; props were repaired and repainted; and costumes designed for the coming season. Today at this historic site, visitors can attend Big Top shows; take elephant, pony and carousel rides; climb inside old circus train cars; and view the world's largest collection of circus wagons. And they can taste all their favorite circus foods too, like hot dogs and corn dogs, popcorn and cotton candy.

Circus goers now as in the past eagerly anticipate these and other favorites like roasted peanuts, snow cones, and pink lemonade, invented by a clown in the Wisconsin-based Mabie Circus and Menagerie. In contrast to these snacks, the hundreds of circus workers and performers ate well, guaranteed three nutritious meals a day. In the era of the large-tented circus moving by train from city to city, an advance crew went ahead to order meat, vegetables, and baked goods, plus grain and hay for the animals. There was no skimping in the cookhouse. Like the Army, a circus moved on its stomach.

State and county fairs during the summer and fall months have many of the familiar circus classics, plus many new inventions like spicy peanut butter and jelly cheeseburgers and fried Coca-Cola! Chef and educator George Geary celebrates the weird and wonderful foods sold at state and county fairs with his new book, Fair Foods: The Most Popular and Offbeat Recipes from America's State and County Fairs (Santa Monica Press). Geary says: "Around 1980, 'classic’ fair food began to evolve from cotton candy and snow cones to bacon-wrapped doughnuts fried in pork belly fat. Not all the food sold at the fair is fried, but the motto of today's county fair might as well be 'Just Fry It!'"

Fair Foods highlights not only the new culinary "classics" at fairs, but also longstanding favorites. Some of the 120 recipes include maple and bacon doughnuts, chocolate encased bacon, fried pickles, deep-fried butter, deep-fried Twinkies, deep-fried Oreos, and funnel cake with berries.

Amber Giddings manages the Cookhouse Grill at Circus World, does the catering, and operates The Barn restaurant nearby, adjacent to Devils Lake State Park. She shares her two locally favorite Circus World recipes, Circus Pickle Dip and Circus Cookie Crispie Treats. Also try Apple Slush Freeze and Pickle Dogs, both reprinted from Fair Foods. With these recipes and the cookbook you don't need to wait for circus and fair season to enjoy wacky and wonderful foods all year long.


Apple Slush Freeze   

Courtesy of Fair Foods. This flavorful, sugar-free drink contains a fresh, whole apple. Pippin and Jonathan apples are good choices. Serves 2


1 medium tart apple, peeled, cored, and quartered

1/2 cup unsweetened apple juice

Crushed ice


Blend apple piece and juice in a blender until smooth. Add ice to fill the blender to the top.
Blend well. Serve in a tall glass.


Pickle Dogs   

Courtesy of Fair Foods. One of the simplest fair foods and, weirdly, one of the healthiest. This is a favorite at the Minnesota State Fair. Serves 6


6 slices of honey ham

1/4 cup spreadable cream cheese

6 medium dill pickle spears, drained and dry


Spread a few teaspoons of cream cheese on 1 side of each slice of ham. Place a pickle spear at the edge of each ham slice, with the cream cheese side up. Roll pickle spear up in ham slice. Repeat with the other spears.


Circus Pickle Dip

(Courtesy of Amber Giddings at Circus World's Cookhouse Grill)


12 oz. cream cheese, softened

5 - 6 tablespoons pickle juice

1/3 cup finely chopped dill pickle

1 tablespoon fresh dill, chopped


Mix cream cheese until soft, add in pickle juice a little at a time to reach desired consistency. Remember the dip will be thicker once refrigerated. Stir in chopped pickle and fresh dill. Refrigerate 30 minutes before serving.

Serve with tortilla chips, pretzels or your favorite cracker.


Circus Cookie Crispie Treats

(Courtesy of Amber Giddings at Circus World's Cookhouse Grill). Makes about 30 servings.


5 tablespoons butter

40 oz. mini marshmallows

8 cups Krispie Rice Cereal

1 (13 oz.) bag of frosted Circus Animal Cookies, coarsely chopped by hand

24 oz. white chocolate, chopped finely.

Rainbow nonpareils to garnish


Spray a 9 x 13-inch pan with cooking spray and set aside. In large pot over low heat melt butter. Add marshmallows and stir until melted. Remove from heat.

Stir in the krispie cereal and then cookies until coated in marshmallow mixture. Press into prepared pan evenly.

In a medium bowl, melt white chocolate on 50% heat in microwave in 30 second increments until melted, stirring after each 30 seconds. Spread white chocolate over krispies and sprinkle with nonpareils. Allow white chocolate to set and cut into serving size pieces.


Ann Hattes has over 25 years experience writing about both travel and food for publications both in the US and internationally. A senior living in Wisconsin, she’s a member of the International Food, Wine and Travel Writers Association and the Midwest Travel Writers Association.

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