Friday, January 25

Kitchen to Classroom: Grad Student Spotlight

Today's "Kitchen to Classroom" post is written by Erin Scott, a first-year MA student in Southern Studies here at the University of Mississippi. Erin is a native of Dallas, Texas. She tells us about her final project for Professor Angela Jill Cooley's Foodways and Southern Culture class.

Photos by Erin Scott

Every October, I get the urge to visit The State Fair of Texas. It’s been years since I lived in Dallas, and I have visited many cities and other state fairs since then, but nothing compares. I grabbed the opportunity to visit the fry capital of Texas for my research in foodways.

I was curious about how county and state fairs stay relevant in the present day. Yes, it's a cliche, but I found that there really is something for everyone. The fair has midway rides, livestock and agriculture, a car show, installations, music, football (the fair always falls on the weekend of the Texas-Oklahoma game), and food. Old food traditions, for me, mean a visit to Fletcher’s Corny Dogs, Owens for sausage and biscuits, and ending the day with a Belgian waffle.

Although the food doesn’t represent all of the diversity of Texas foodways, it is an important part of the fair's identity. In that way, the culinary offerings could collectively be called "State Fair of Texas cuisine." I tried a dizzying array of fried novelties, including fried Frito pie and Ranchero Pizza’s deep-fried divine tres leches cake. The tres leches cake was my favorite sweet offering, but a fried Samoa (Girl Scout coookie) came close.  I interviewed Abel Gonzales, the owner of the "Big as Texas" food stands, and tasted a fried peanut butter, jelly, and banana sandwich and balls of fried jambalya. I even ate fried cactus—perhaps a twisted nod to the state's Mexican heritage—and a fried bacon cinnamon roll. After a three-day fair weekend, I'd had my fill of fried delicacies, both the familiar and the over-the-top.

My research into fairs and expositions make the State Fair of Texas a living example of evolution of this spectacle from the Chicago Columbian Exposition and beyond.  For over 100 years, Fair Park has hosted this spectacle and celebration of Texan identity and culture, and it continues to evolve in the 21st century. In a world of digital connections, the State Fair of Texas might be most important as a physical gathering place for fair-goers of all ages and backgrounds.