October 4, 2011

Evansville's Fall Festival

OCTOBER 3, 2011 8:24PM

Deep fried Thin Mints, Pronto Pups,

and Kangaroo Jerky


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Deep fried everything. Sugary drinks and sweets from Buckeyes to fudge and cobbler, naturally covered with vanilla ice cream. You name it, and you can get it at the West Side Nut Club Fall Festival. For more than a hundred years, this street fair in southern Indiana during the first week of October draws people from hither and yon, all eager to try the latest and greatest in carnival food.
My family has lived in southern Indiana more than twenty years, and we've headed to Evansville's west side each year to walk up and down Franklin Street with our "Munchie Map", seeking our annual treats.
We park in the same place (Reitz High School Athletic Boosters) and walk from St. Joe all the way to the end and then hit the booths on the opposite side of the street all the way back to St. Joe. Today we had corn fritters (my beloved had syrup on his) and cobbler with ice cream (his blackberry, mine peach.) My beloved also had a bowl of homemade bean soup.
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The Fall Festival is sponsored by the West Side Nut Club, and charitable organizations make thousands of dollars selling food items during this week.
With 130 food boothes, there is anything you can imagine, and some things you cannot imagine. One of the new items this year was french fried Kool-Aid. No, I didn't ask any more about it. And I didn't sample.
We like to go on the first day, because everything is still very clean. Having managed a booth for a non-profit at the Festival from 1996-1999, I know that not every booth changes its deep fat fryer grease every day, while some change it twice. A Festival-wide grease pit is located in the middle, where the grease is taken.
My organizatino sold sausage burgers, pierogies, elephant ears, and bagged candy. I'm certain I've blocked out an item or two.
Sausage burgers have their own special grease that sticks on everything. After I had been involved with this organization as its Director of Development for two years, the local Knights of Columbus built us a custom-made Fall Festival booth. The Development office staff was allowed to give our input, so we had them construct a little closet as well as a special counter for our cell phones (which were bigger and bulkier in those days). They also purchased the Mother of all Ventilation Fans, which helped keep the booth cool from the large grill (for the sausage burgers) and two giant fryers (for the pierogies.)
Now, I know that people from upstate New York and Cleveland, Ohio, and Erie, Pennsylvania are going to go ballistic when they read that we deep fried the pierogies. Purists apparently boil them. I know these are fightin' words, but I find them disgusting and haven't eaten on since those days.
We put up our booth on Sunday morning and took it down the following Sunday morning. The organization's maintenance man did all the really hard work, I just had to be the administrative person there.
During the week, I didn't have to be there all day long every day, but I did have to open up at 7 a.m. when all the deliveries started coming, ice, burgers, buns, etc., and I had to close up shop at 1o p.m. and take the money to the drop-off box at the bank. With all those booths making hundreds of dollars per night, and with the large population of drug addicts in southern Indiana, it is amazing that there weren't more robberies of people taking money to their banks.
The worst part was always coming home. I learned quickly after the first night of the first year that I had to wear old shoes. The shoes I had on that day became old shoes. I also learned to go into our house via the basement, take a shower down there, and toss my greasy clothes directly into the washer.
After a week of this, I would nearly collapse. I didn't go back for a few years, but now husband has convinced me that we can't live without corn fritters. More than the food I like watching the people.
Here are some of my views from today. Walk with me down Franklin Street on this sunny October day.
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All the pols are out. Both political parties have booths and one Republican candidate was smart enough to put the "Munchie Map" on the back of his advertising, as my beloved shows.
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We walked more than half-way down the street to find the very special corn fritters. And they were so good (as pictured above).
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Fans of the 1990s television sitcom Roseanne will recognize the twin spires pictured in the opening shots and B roll for the show. Director Matt Williams graduated from an Evansville university, and the fictional town of Llanford is based on Evansville's west side community, with its plastics plants and blue collar homes.
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This mother and daughter sat at our table and I asked if I could take their picture as they enjoyed their ice cream.
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As at many town festivals, the fire trucks and police cars and those servants of the public who use them were out in full force, along with all the local TV and radio stations.
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This guy was my favorite, wearing a crazy hat and a T-shirt that said "funnel cake king."
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As a throwback to the old German community that initially settled here, many locals eat "brain sandwiches." Yes, I mean those disgusting organ meats. Never have tried one, never will.
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This young man checks out the menu board for this booth which offers an eclectic selection from deep fried Snickers to smoked pork chops. His buddy seems to be enjoying something indistinguishable.