Opening day at fair adheres to expectations, traditionby Tim Nelson, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Entrance gates opened about 11 hours ago at the Minnesota State Fair. If previous attendance is any indication, more than 1.7 million visitors are likely to show up for the 12-day festival of music, rides, animals and all things on a stick.
The opening was a perfect sunny day, with some new beginnings, a looming end, and some of the state's most beloved traditions.
It would be wrong to say Sandy Ukkelberg of Blaine couldn't wait to get in to the Fair, because that's exactly what she does. In 2009 and 2010, she waited before dawn to be the first visitor in line at the Snelling Avenue entrance when the gate opened.
This year, David Ohnstad of Minneapolis broke her streak. Ukkelberg was second.
But she didn't care.
"I love the variety. Everything here," Ukkelberg said. "The creative arts building: love it. And, um, oh, gee, I love visiting with all the people here, in all the booths."
By the end of opening day, more than 100,000 people will likely have followed her in.
For a few, it's a sad occasion. A sign outside the landmark Epiphany church diner says this will be the last year a parish priest stands at the door welcoming diners. It's been tradition for 46 years, but on Labor Day it's closing for good.
The diner needs a new roof, a new dishwasher, a new oven and cooler repairs, Father Dennis Zehren said. Business has been slowly ebbing, and the parish just doesn't know if a rehab project will pay off, he said.
"It's starting to sink in for us, as we hear from patrons who have been coming here for so many years," Zehren said. "It was a difficult decision for us and I'm sure no one will starve to death out at the state fair, now, but even so, we're very sad to have to let go.
There used to be more than a dozen church dining halls at the fair. Next year, there may be only two.
Some traditions, though, are still going strong.
For 40 years, Linda Christenson has been the Minnesota State Fair Butter Sculptor, carving out likenesses the state's dairy princesses into butter.
That comes to 451 butter sculptures — and one more that she did for opening day. It's about 32,000 pounds of churned milk fat.
"It's a wonderful medium," Christenson said. You couldn't ask for anything better. It gets a beautiful surface while you're working on it. It's forgiving. You can sort of "smunch" it up and put it back on if you carve too much off.
"It turns out to be a very pretty sculpture I think."
Christensen lives in California now, and made a living as a teacher and artist — she specialized in greeting cards, rather than sculpture. She considers herself semi-retired but returns each year for her appearance in the glass cooler in the Dairy Building.
Former Dairy Princesses, like Lisa DeKrey still comes back to visit. She lives in Alexandria, but was carved in butter in 1997.
"Being in the butter booth was an amazing experience, and growing up on a dairy farm is not a glamorous role or position to be in," DeKrey said. "But for your one moment in time, when you're a Dairy Princess, when you're spinning and Linda is carving your likeness in butter, that's your glamour moment, and so you feel truly like a princess."
There are some new traditions getting a start, as well.
As is the case each year, the fair presents a buffet of culinary experiments to offer diners. Last year's features included camel on a stick and deep fried pig ear strips. This year has sweet corn ice cream, and deep fried cookie dough.
George Atsidakos has brought is Minneapple Pie, by way of his restaurant in Rogers and Target Field.
"It's a homemade deep fried apple pie," Atsidakos said. "Its unbelievable. It's made 100 percent from scratch, all by hand."
The dish is made with all fresh ingredients, Atsidakos said. With a flaky crust, it's topped with cinnamon and sugar, and comes with a scoop of vanilla or cinnamon ice cream.
If that makes you hungry, bring five bucks.
- All Things Considered, 08/25/2011, 5:20 p.m.