The season for pumpkin patch visiting and pumpkin farm exploration is well and truly upon us. We’ve turned the page on summer and are now firmly entrenched in autumn and all that it has to bring us. This year, Bengtson’s Pumpkin Fest has the biggest festival we’ve ever had on offer. With a collection of new rides and attractions, plus all of the classics you and your family have come to know and love, it’s not a stretch to say that this is our favorite time of year. Not only do we get to be hosts to one of the best pumpkin farms in all of Illinois, and maybe the entire nation, but we love enjoying the pumpkin festival and the carnival food we have available this year!
Today’s post is dedicated to taking a closer look at the history of classic American carnival foods. We will also touch on some of our own carnival food options we’ve got in store for you at our Homer Glen pumpkin farm. As a reminder to those of your who have been vainly searching for a “pumpkin patch near me” online, we are just a short 40 minute drive outside of central Chicago, so you and your family don’t have any excuse to not get out here before our pumpkin patch closes for the year on October 30th! Why aren’t we open on Halloween? That’s an easy one, it’s because we love it so much we can’t be working when we are celebrating our favorite holiday! Keep reading if you are interested in learning some fun facts about carnival food and its history.
The History Of Carnivals
Let’s start with the history of carnivals in general before we dive into our favorite snacks in particular. Pre-Lent traditions were known as carnivals during the 1400s in Italy. Italians combined ancient “pagan” traditions that were connected with fertility with the more popular Catholic traditions of the age. Carnivals quickly grew in popularity due to the fact that they are just good plain fun, and carry on to this day in Europe, South America, and North America…and…at Bengtson’s Pumpkin Farm.
Some people think that apples need no improvement. While we respect that position, we also think that the flavor combination of caramel and apples is pretty tough to ignore. The story of the origin of this tasty carnival treat is traced by to the 1950s, when a salesman was in need of an idea to help him sell more caramel candies. Apparently, he melted them down and dipped them in an apple. Needless to say, sales improved dramatically, to the point where they are now a staple at pretty much any county fair or carnival you go to these days. If you’ve never tried them with some nuts or candies added on top, drop what you are doing and go find one. Yum.
BeaverTails pastries do not, in fact, have any beaver body parts in them, despite what the name might imply. These delicious treats are much more classic and simple than that. It’s essentially just fried dough that’s been stretched thin, to the extent that it looks like a beaver’s flat tail. Once cooked, the dough is coated in cinnamon and sugar (or another topping like walnuts). Then you pop them in your mouth! Any guesses about where BeaverTails got their beginning? Canada is the answer, sorry if we didn’t wait long enough for you to guess! BeaverTails are an exclusively Canadian treat, but who knows, maybe we will have to try our northern neighbor’s carnival treat in the coming years at our pumpkin patch.
The perfect combination of sweet and savory, kettle corn represents the perfect marriage between the two flavor profiles. However, anybody who’s tried to make their own kettle corn by dousing their store bought popcorn with healthy portions of salt and sugar will know that it’s not as easy to capture the essence of kettle corn as one might be inclined to think. It takes cache…cache and a big copper, cast iron, or stainless steel container for them to roast properly. After all, it’s the kettles that make it kettle corn. Otherwise, it would just be named “corn without a kettle”, and that’s not very catchy.
The origins of this tasty treat go all the way back to the days of the wild west, when cowboys would make popcorn with kettles over a campfire. They would sweeten the corn that’s popped with molasses, honey, or maybe even brown sugar. At least, we have tried brown sugar if we had been there. But there are written Dutch accounts of kettle corn that date back further than the 1800s. In fact, Dutch settlers noted that it appeared as a carnival food in 1776. So it’s safe to say that kettle corn pre-dates our country!
We’ve already talked about fried dough once, but once is never enough when it comes to fried dough, especially when powdered sugar is thrown into the mix. Funnel cake dates all the way back to the Anglo-Norman Medieval era. Both Canadians and the Pennsylvania Dutch stake a claim to have the most authentic North American versions of the classic carnival snack. It’s not really up to decide, so we will stay non-committal on this debate. Just know that we have some delicious funnel cake at Bengtson’s Pumpkin Farm, so come get your fried dough-fix ASAP!
Another carnival food debate lies in the origin of the corn dog. Yes, the corn dog is hotly contested. Some say that a man in Springfield, Illinois was the first to dip their dog in batter and put the griddle on high. Others maintain that it was a mom and pop shop in Oregon that started the classic American snack. Scholars on the matter maintain that the origin was lost to time years ago. Just kidding, there’s no such thing as a corn dog scholar…that we know of.
Regardless, corn dogs just taste better when you are out that crisp fall air, picking out a pumpkin at your favorite pumpkin patch. Funnily enough, there are just trace amounts of actual cornmeal in most corn dog batter. Maybe it’s just some good advertising, because “corn dog” seems to roll of the tongue better than “fried dough dog”.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention cotton candy on our list of carnival foods we want to highlight. A funny fact about cotton candy is that it was invented by a dentist. “Spun candy”, as it used to be called, dates back to the 15th century. Machine-spun candy, or modern cotton candy to us, was first introduced to the world by candy maker John C. Wharton and dentist William Morrison. They sold a whopping 69,000 boxes that day, at 25 cents a box. Considering the fact that the treat is comprised of mostly air, those are some serious margins and sales! If you account for inflation, one would think the pair could have retired then and there.
Our Pumpkin Fest’s Carnival Food
Back here at Bengtson’s Pumpkin Farm, we’ve got our own lineup of classic treats that are sure to tickle your tongue! A fairly unique treat that we carry is our fresh apple cider donuts. They’re available in the Big Red Food Barn and The Donut Shack by the Fun Slide. We also have some available “to go”, so get yours for a special fall time breakfast treat!
We’ve also got the usual suspects – funnel cakes, cotton candy, kettle corn (our secret family recipe, no less), roasted sweet corn, pumpkin spiced cappuccinos, caramel apples, and more!
Feel free to skip searching for a “pumpkin patch near me”, because now you know where to find your pumpkins and the best carnival food around. Stop by and see us this year at Chicago’s best pumpkin farm!