LUMBERTON — The aroma of fair food can instantly produce childhood memories of one’s first corn dog or first funnel cake and the fairground of the Robeson Regional Agricultural Fair is a prime example of the power of smell.
A fair-goer could walk through the gates having just polished off a full meal and still feel instant hunger pains after being assaulted by the combination of the smells of frying funnel cakes, smoked turkey legs, Philly cheese steak sandwiches and elephant ears — the pastry, not the plant or an actual ear of an elephant.
So much food, so little time.
Red velvet funnel cakes have become popular fair food in recent years, so Bryan Coker of J&L Concessions recently added it to his menu. J&L has been selling sweets at the Robeson fair for 32 of the fair’s 70 years.
“It has a a lot of different seasonings, just like a red velvet cake. Then we put the cream cheese on it so it’s a totally different product,” Coker said. “We figured it out. It’s our own recipe. Our old and reliable customers wanted it so that’s why we did it.”
J&L’s Jelane Clark said red velvet is a big hit.
“People are coming back, getting a second one and carrying it home,” Clark said.
They, as well as other funnel cake vendors, also deep fry batter-coated Oreo cookies, Snickers candy bars, and cheese cake — all of which are good sellers, Clark said. They also sell elephant ears, which she said are made with more of a pastry dough.
Sarah Purcell said funnel cake is her favorite fair food.
“The taste of them is different and you can’t get them year-round,” Purcell said.
On the other side of the flavor spectrum, Purcell said she likes collard sandwiches — collard greens between two pancake-sized pieces of fried cornbread.
Long-time fair-goer Travis Allen goes for the more salty side. His favorite fair food is ribbon fries.
“I always come to the fair to get them. They take a potato and they put it on a shredder and it shreds it up. It’s kind of like chips,” he said. “It’s crispy.”
Like funnel cake, ribbon fries are not widely available outside of fairs or festivals where food trucks set up.
Patrick Bullard said he’s been attending the fair since he was a little kid and the texture and taste of funnel cakes keep him ordering them at the fair.
“The smells make me hungry. I walk, get on some rides and just have some fun,” Bullard said.
Lindy Burbank’s favorite fair food is a Philly cheese steak sandwich. What makes a fair Philly better than average?
“It’s the atmosphere here,” Burbank said. “You get the smells of everything.”
His second favorite fair food is turkey legs.
April Maynor described in two words why her favorite fair food is funnel cake.
“The sugar,” Maynor said. “And I know that it’s time for the fair and I only get it when the fair comes. I never finish the whole thing.”
Reach Terri Ferguson Smith at 910-416-5865.