When I first moved to Indiana seven months ago from Saint Petersburg, Florida, I asked locals what would count as “Hoosier food.” Although the answers differ slightly, most people tell me about pork tenderloin or chicken and noodles.
I’ve been able to put off Hoosier delicacies for over half a year, and I usually choose to cook my meals at home.
However, it was not eclectic that I avoided the Hoosier food. I consider myself a somewhat adventurous eater; After I’ve tried escargot, fish and eel eyeballs, there are a few ingredients left that freak me out. I suppose my hesitation had something to do with stubbornness.
But while working on the Howard County Fair’s preview story, I realized it was time to give the state’s fair food a chance.
Indiana sweet corn
I wanted to start small, and I initially set out to find the corn in the cob. The closest I could find, though, was a B&P Produce stand selling Indiana Sweet Corn ears.
Sitting under a tent next to the lead village, I tried an ear covered in melted ghee and chili powder.
It was my first time trying chili powder on corn, which is what I recommend. I also learned fairly quickly that you have to be careful where you aim your bites – the corn was juicier than I expected and the grains were prone to popping. Other than those little surprises, an ordinary corn was good.
They sell out every year, said Patti Bauer, one of the people who run the suite. She said the line sometimes reaches the gallery’s parking lot. She explained that people wait all year for their fix of Indiana sweet corn, which is harvested in fair season.
“Everyone in Indiana loves Indiana sweet corn,” Bauer said. “It’s got a good flavor from the ground we raise it in.”
Chicken and noodles
Nearby, the Morning Star Church was serving chicken and pasta.
Explaining that it would be my first time trying chicken and noodles, the cafeteria-style servers line seemed a bit shocked. One server even went to tell the others.
I was told that Hoosiers usually put chicken and noodles on top of mashed potatoes, so that’s what I went with.
I was somewhat surprised to see what the chicken and pasta looked like. For some reason, I was expecting something akin to linguine topped with grilled chicken.
Instead, the dish resembles chicken noodle soup that has been reduced over medium-low heat. Sitting atop mashed potatoes, the mushy yellow-beige dish looks a bit boring.
Taking my first bites, I could understand why people claim to enjoy the dish. It’s harmless and seems like something you could serve a sick child with. It almost tasted as if someone had substituted the salty broth in Campbell’s soup with butter.
I ate half the plate before adding the black pepper. Really, though, I wish I had a few tablespoons of Tabasco sauce.
Larry Taylor, a Morning Star member who worked in the makeshift kitchen, explained that the church made 400 pounds of egg noodles for the occasion. They also served approximately 150 oven-baked steaks each day.
Taylor added that the pasta is homemade. Mostly handmade, the organization has been making pasta since the mid-1940s.
“I think everyone in Indiana knows something about our pasta,” Taylor said. Some church members even added shipping bags to Florida. Profits from pasta, produced throughout the year, go to missionaries abroad.
This year was the first time the Morning Star participated in the county fair since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. Taylor said the church was assisted by nearly 400 Burg Warner employees.
After working my way through the first couple of Indiana staples, I switched to lemonade drinks. Although shakes aren’t exactly a great treatment, I wasn’t aware of them until I moved to Kokomo.
I’ve heard some arguments about whether lemonades are the same as lemonade. When I asked a couple of the shaker stands for comment, they said it was different than lemonade.
The best explanation I received, coming from my grandmother Diane’s original Lemonade Shake Up stand, was “The Changes Are New”.
Although the ingredients are identical, I suppose the sediment of the loose sugar and lemon pulp may call for differentiation. Really, though, it looked like the homemade lemonade served was shaken rather than stirred.
pork tenderloin sandwich
Stuffed with heavy fair food, it’s time for Hoosier to top all other dishes – the infamous pork sandwich.
I searched the entire gallery for a comically sized sandwich. In a best case scenario, I was hoping to find a tenderloin bigger than my head with a bun smaller than a dinner roll.
The best match I found came from Bennett’s (unrelated) franchises.
Jesse Bennett said the platform is moving to fairs in the south, but is having trouble selling the tenderloin. He added that tenderloin sandwiches are “without a doubt the most people can get from Indiana.”
Topped the sandwich with lettuce, onions, pickles, and mustard. But when I went to eat it, I realized there was no point in adding toppings. The sheer size of the sandwich makes it difficult to maneuver, and all the layers have fallen off.
I was expecting something similar to Schnitzel.
Instead, the sandwich had the feel of a normal Valley Bar but tasted like a Mcchicken with fried, crunchy French onions. The toppings I was able to eat beat the taste of the sandwich.
I was so full, I felt so proud after encountering a glove of Hoosier essentials. I might try the corn or tenderloin again in the future, but for me, they won’t be as good as the black alligator.