Wednesday, October 1, 2014

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The Tastes of Summer

Mini-doughnuts, cheese curds, roasted corn on the cob ... for people who love to eat, these are just part of the cornucopia to be found at the Minnesota State Fair. Lynne Rossetto Kasper, host of The Splendid Table—the "show for people who love to eat"—shares some secrets about the food she seeks out when August draws to its sultry close.

St. Paul, Minn. -- "I have got to have a corn dog," she says. "And then I need to compare a corn dog to a Pronto Pup. I'm not sure if there's a difference, but it's an excuse to have two."

While some fair purists might insist that eating is merely a by-product of the fair experience, Lynne Rossetto Kasper thinks food is an essential part of the celebration. "Food is the oldest tradition in any kind of fair going," she says. "It's a basic human instinct, really: fair equals eating."

While hamburgers and ice cream cones can be traced to World's Fairs of the late 19th century, Rossetto Kasper says there are many foods that were originally done for fairs that we may not be aware of—gingerbread, for instance. "These foods were considered celebratory and seasonal," she says. "They weren't normally seen, but you'd find them at a fair."

Four characteristics spell success for today's fair foods. "Foods that are very sweet, very greasy or very salty," Rossetto Kasper says. "And now in America, very spicy would be on the list. We've discovered the pepper and the tastes of Asia, with those sweet-sour-hot plays of flavor."

But eating is not the only food-related opportunity at the fair. Rossetto Kasper says the fair provides a unique venue for simply learning about food. "Getting a sense of where our food comes from is probably the most important lesson," she says. Rossetto Kasper likes to see the variety of fruits and vegetables being grown, and she also likes to learn more about the ever-growing range of organic foods being produced in Minnesota.

"I like to see which tomatoes get the blue ribbons," she says.

Rossetto Kasper enjoys visiting the animal barns, too, although she'd "rather not make the mental connection from the barn to the dinner plate. But it's great to see live cows, sheep, goats, lambs... And it's great for kids, especially if they have someone explain to them the lengths people go to to raise healthy animals and grow hearty vegetables."

And what does Lynne Rossetto Kasper think of butter sculpture?

"It's a fabulous craft—I love to watch it," she laughs. "I'm definitely for butter sculpture. If you put it on a ballot, I'd vote for it!"

Listen to The Splendid Table Saturdays at 2 p.m. or Sundays at 6 a.m.

(This article also appeared in the August 2006 "Plugged In" section of Minnesota Monthly.)