October / November 2013
After enduring the sweltering heat that comes with the summer months in Mississippi, and often lingering well into September, the slightest hint that autumn might be on its way usually creates a buzz of enthusiasm. Fall in Mississippi means colored leaves, football games, and the arrival of the Mississippi State Fair.
Now in its 154th year, “The Fair” as it’s affectionately nicknamed, begins the first Wednesday in October and runs for twelve days. Anticipation builds in the weeks leading up to opening day as convoys of trucks hauling parts and pieces for rides with thrilling names such as The Zipper, Ring of Fire, and MegaDrop are spotted driving along the interstate headed to Jackson. Adults and kids alike start dreaming about their favorite rides, or if you are hungry, favorite fair foods.
Fair food falls into a category all its own. Combinations that would never be considered acceptable outside the fairgrounds – such as deep-fried Oreo cookies or a hamburger patty sandwiched between two glazed Krispy Kreme doughnuts – are welcomed with open arms, or mouths rather, under the flashing lights of the midway. Mississippi’s fair boasts a mile-long midway offering just about any treat you could possible think of. If you are a regular, you are probably all too familiar with a few of these local favorites. If not, we suggest you stop by their booth and give them a try on your next visit.
Penn’s red and yellow logo with its smiling catfish in a white sailor cap have been a familiar site across much of Mississippi for more than 45 years. Roger Penn’s fried catfish and chicken nugget establishment began as a drive-thru in Canton in 1967. Since then, Mr. Penn has seen his little restaurant spread to 10 corporate locations in the Jackson-metro area and nine franchises all over the state.
Every year, Penn’s bring some of its popular menu items down to the midway, such as fried catfish, crawfish tails, popcorn shrimp, and fried green tomatoes. But hands down, their biggest seller is the chicken-on-a-stick. Chunks of white meat chicken are skewered with dill pickle slices and onions, dipped in Penn’s secret-recipe batter, and fried until golden brown. People wait in line for hours and after one bite, you’ll know why.
Malone’s Taffy is loved by fair goers all across the South and parts of the Midwest. But the company that produces those fluffy, chewy morsels wrapped in waxed paper are based out of Byram, Miss. Founded by the Malone brothers almost 100 years ago, the original brothers sold the business decades ago. However, the candy company that still bears their name has been passed down through four generations. It was Mike Mooney, Sr., who brought Malone’s Taffy to the Mississippi State Fair. Mooney moved his family from Southern Illinois to Jackson in the early 1970’s and set up shop.
Mike Mooney, Jr., took over the family business in 2004 and now oversees the daily taffy-making operations. From June to October, Mooney is hitting the state fair circuit, traveling through the Midwest as far north as Wisconsin before heading back home to serve up fresh, homemade taffy to the folks back in Mississippi.
The Biscuit Booth
There is probably no food vendor more loved than the State Fair Biscuit Booth. Lines go on for miles as hungry patrons stand in line for a pillow-soft homemade biscuit filled with warm syrup. The best part? The biscuits are completely free.
The Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce oversees the Biscuit Booth every year. They are able to give the biscuits away at no cost through donations and a team of dedicated volunteers. Kroger donates nearly 7,000 bags of flour, while Borden supplies them with over 500 gallons of buttermilk. The shifts of volunteers – some of whom have been working the biscuit booth for years – work day and night and on weekends to make sure their supply doesn’t run out. It’s a sweet memory that has been passed down through the generations, and one you sure don’t want to miss.