Sunday, August 10, 2014

Fiesta season

It's summertime, and that means fiesta season.

In England, I used to get dragged to county fairs by my parents, who took a tentful of winemaking and beermaking equipment for sale to the assembled hordes. I don't really remember very much about them except they were very green - verdant, even - and quite genteel affairs. We were always on the lot next to a group of Tree Surgeons, who never turned up, so we had quite a big lot.  We used to spend a lot of time with the company of mole eliminators, who used to bring their own moles and a stout fence, and we'd bet on the time taken for the moles to dig under the fence and escape, leaving in their wake graceful, arcing mole runs surmounted with mole hills. Usually whoever got the pool timeslot for about 24 to 36 hours won. Every now and again, there'd be people with quail chicks, which are the fluffiest things on god's grey earth and a constant source of squee for me, and of course prize pigs, well-groomed bulls and blackface sheep.

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San Clemente Fiesta by STB

American county fairs have more of the "fair" aspect foregrounded. We went to the Orange County Fair on Thursday and the center was a circus-style midway so dense and loud that I got disoriented just walking along it, without going on the thing that flings people around on the end of a giant version of those executive chaos toys that rock around for a while before suddenly going on unpredictable swings and slingshot moves. (I didn't even see it at first. I just heard rapidly approaching and then rapidly retreating screams high above my head and eventually figured it out.)

The OC Fair does have a farm, of course, but it doesn't limit itself to pheasants, quail and nicely turned merino. There were vast quantities of yaks, camels, alpaca and their ilk along with the more usual pigs (labeled "swine"), and in one pen a collection of humans knitting and reading their phones. I don't think this was an exhibit, just a place for the volunteers to relax between sweeping out the bullpens. Since this is a long term installation at the fairgrounds, there were also crops, so now I know what brussels sprouts look like when they're growing.

Mostly, of course, the fair is about the food. The signature dish of the OC Fair is bacon-wrapped deep fried turkey leg (a bargain at $20) which we tried and was exactly what you'd expect. A skin-on turkey leg that had been nitrate cured (so the meat was deep purple in color), barbecued until it dried out and then deep fried until the bacon turned into little grey cinders around the thick piece of deep-fried string. Yum! We also tried fresh-squeezed lemonade ($6) and were told we couldn't have it with less sugar in it, because "the sugar is already in it" which made us doubt the "fresh-squeezed" part of the title, and a Bavarian Funnel Cake. For those who have never tried a funnel cake, it is dough (or batter, I guess) that is squeezed through a funnel (obvs) into hot oil so it makes a little deep-fried bird's nest and then served with custard, cream and chocolate sauce. The Bavarian version ($6:50 Edit: Nope, $10) is exactly that. Other variants include more-or-less-that with strawberries and more-or-less-that with caramel. I don't know if anyone has told Bavaria about this.

On Sunday, we went to the San Clemente Fiesta. I'd only ever heard of it from a Google-grabbed newspaper headline a week ago, but apparently it's the 61st annual, so we have had 25 other opportunities to go it and failed. Like the San Juan Capistrano one a couple of weeks ago, it's mostly a venue for thousands of chiropractors to come out and ply their trade, though there did seem to be a growing presence of flat bottles and Marines this year.

As at the SJC Swallows' Festival, the uniquely American art of setting fire to large pieces of meat was on display.

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This always reminds me of the bit in the Bible (1 Kings 18) where the priests of Baal try to burn an offering but Elijah's altar arrangement totally blows them away. (Literally.)


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