Learn the Ropes at the Nation's Largest Harvest Festival

Forget the prize porker, Texas state fair offers turkey legs, barbequed bologna, and even bovine baths

This year's Texas State Fair in Dallas is the nation's largest harvest festival. It has many of the same trappings as other state fairs, but this being Texas, some traditions may not translate to the outsider. Here's a Monitor guide.

Nouvelle cuisine. As you enter the fair, you might be alarmed by the sight of hundreds of ordinary -looking people carrying clubs. Some may even appear to be basting them with mustard. Don't panic. They're actually "turkey legs" - the newest culinary staple at the Texas fair. These $4 snacks are basically what they sound like: huge slabs of baked poultry that one has little choice but to gnaw on like a savage.

This reporter couldn't help wondering, however, as he worked on his own, who invented the turkey leg and what they do with the rest of the bird. "I'm not sure," explained one busy food service worker. "We just get them from a cardboard box."

If turkey legs don't satisfy your craving for new tastes, there's more. The fair's selection of native foods includes Frito pies, "corny" dogs, fried alligator tails, turkey jerky, and my personal favorite: barbecued bologna. (No word yet on whether they use the whole bologna.)

Special talents. If you've ever wanted to wash a cow, but didn't know how to begin, you're in luck. Head to the cattle pens at the Texas fair and ask for Dana Horton. Late in the day, you'll find Mr. Horton, a Mills County rancher, hosing down one of his son Cody's three Simmental heifers.

According to Horton, all you need is a brush, a bucket of mild suds, a pair of knee-high rubber boots, a high-pressure hose, and a trusty rope. Once you've got the cow tied up and your boots on, follow these steps: 1. Rinse cow thoroughly. 2. Apply soap. 3. Brush cow. (Snouts and white patches tend to show the most dirt.) 4. Rinse. 5. Drip dry.

According to Horton, a bovine bath takes about a half hour, but it can take twice that long for the animal to dry - "especially on cloudy days." Do cows like these showers? "They may not enjoy the process," Horton says, "but they definitely like the result."

Economies of scale. Most fairgoers will realize at some point that they no longer are participating in the traditional economy. In this new fiscal realm, time, money, and the prospect of public humiliation decrease in importance while the value of stuffed monkeys and plastic backscratchers is drastically inflated.

These conditions are exacerbated, it seems, by the presence of one's small child, or for that matter, one's girlfriend.

I arrive at these conclusions late in the day when I discover that I've spent an hour, and a wad of bills, playing a game called "Flip A Chick."

The object of this amusement is to win a prize by depositing a rubber chicken in a tin pot 10 feet away. The catch is that the pot rotates, and you have to launch the chicken by smacking a makeshift catapult with a wooden mallet. No problem, right? (Note to editors: See attached expense report.)

Pride Reduction. If the carnival games don't do it, there are other opportunities. If you sit down at the main picnic area during the day, you might meet a character called "Buford the Buzzard."

Perched in a fake tree and controlled by an invisible puppeteer who observes the audience through a one-way screen, Buford uses his Texas twang to make sure fairgoers don't forget themselves.

As a man approached with his small daughter on his shoulders, for instance, Buford congratulated the girl on her choice of vantage point. "It's real smart of you to ride like that on your daddy's back," Buford remarked. "That way you don't have to look at him."

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