STACEY VANEK SMITH, HOST:
It is state fair season, the time of year when all things great and small are battered, deep-fried and served on a stick. Sadly, we here at ALL THINGS CONSIDERED are stuck in our D.C. office for the weekend and could not make a special trip out to the Wisconsin State Fair, where creative and crazy snacks are deep-fried in abundance. But don't cry for us. One of our producers, Matthew Schwartz, made us some honorary fair food - deep-fried, cheese-stuffed mushrooms. And full disclosure - we used almond flour that is gluten-free because, well, this is NPR and I have a gluten allergy.
(SOUNDBITE OF FRYING OIL)
SMITH: Our team handed down its verdicts.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Yeah, it's all right.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: That's really good.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: Oh, my gosh. This is divine.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: It's too chewy.
SMITH: Of course, there are much more official judgements happening. In fact, the Wisconsin State Fair gives awards out every year, known officially as the Golden Spork Awards or The Sporkies. And we are joined now by a Sporkies judge, Lori Fredrich. She is a senior food writer for onmilwaukee.com, and she joins us now from her home. Wait, Lori, are you home? Shouldn't you be out eating food at the fair?
LORI FREDRICH: (Laughter) Well, I've done some of my due diligence at the fair already this year. I went on the first day and took my list of new foods and tried, at least, 12 of them.
SMITH: So we have just tasted some fried cheesy mushrooms. But, of course, the finalists at the 2017 Sporkies are much more over-the-top. Tell us about some of those entries.
FREDRICH: There is a buffalo macaroni and cheese quesadilla. There is a great balls of fire sandwich. They describe it as an explosion of flavor with spicy Hungarian sausage, garlic sour cream sauce, stuffing balls, pulled pork and coleslaw. There are deep-fried grilled cheese bites served with tomato soup.
SMITH: That sounds a little restrained.
FREDRICH: (Laughter) A couple of these are, you know, restrained but getting at that sort of comfort food element that I think all successful state fair fried foods have that sort of brings you back to a food memory of some sort.
SMITH: Was there any food that just really missed the mark?
FREDRICH: Bacon ravioli.
SMITH: That sounds like it could work.
FREDRICH: It does sound - and it was - it's a noodle-less ravioli. So bacon is woven together to create the ravioli, itself. And it's stuffed with ricotta cheese.
SMITH: So it's like a bacon envelope with cheese inside.
FREDRICH: It is. It is. And, unfortunately, you know, the execution on it at the fair just wasn't what it should have been. The bacon was a little burnt. The ricotta cheese in the center, like, it had this sort of funny rubbery texture that didn't really work. And I thought to myself, you know, what a great kind of outrageous idea gone bad (laughter).
SMITH: What do you think is the key to a successful fair food?
FREDRICH: I think there's a real art to coming up with something that's truly unique, maybe a little bit outrageous but that can actually be well-executed in a place like the state fair. Like, you know, the deep-fried unicorn Twinkie.
SMITH: What is a deep-fried unicorn Twinkie?
FREDRICH: A deep-fried Twinkie that is filled with a - almost an iridescent pink cotton candy filling...
FREDRICH: ...And then, drizzled with pink and blue frosting and edible glitter. And in the end, it was good. It tasted a lot like a warm confetti birthday cake. And, you know, it was glittery and beautiful. And so...
SMITH: Oh, that sounds delightful.
FREDRICH: ...It's kind of like magic and rainbows.
SMITH: Like deep-fried magic.
FREDRICH: Yeah, on a stick.
SMITH: (Laughter) Lori Fredrich is a Sporkies judge at the Wisconsin State Fair. She is also a senior food writer, onmilwaukee.com. Lori, thank you so much.
FREDRICH: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.