The National Peanut Festival is known for the hundreds of attractions — rides, exhibits, shows and more. But many attend just for the fair-exclusive delectable eats.
The longstanding tradition of taking a food, slathering it in butter, coating it in sweet batter or dipping it in a deep-fryer attracts those far and wide to the tempting tract of local vendors.
Every year, booster clubs, student organizations, nonprofits, churches and local businesses sell signature treats and snacks. Some roll out their famous classics every year, while others roll out new goodies to keep things new and interesting.
The carnival wouldn’t be the same without some of the staples — elephant ears, kettle corn, cotton candy, The Corn Dog Man, funnel cakes and you can’t forget the roasted sweet corn.
Janice and Joe Max King have been selling their signature sweet roasted corn at the National Peanut Festival for nearly 20 years.
Janice King said their tried-and-true method is simple but effective — to get customers through the line quickly with the best-tasting corn on the cob, $4 per cob.
“Once the corn comes out of the cooker (or roaster) it goes in the coolers, and then the guy right there shucks it, and a lady will wrap the corn with the napkin around the bottom to hold to, she’ll hand it to the lady buttering with the Crock Pot,” Janice King said.
The practice — from roaster to cooler, shucker, wrapper and butterer — is what King believes sets her stand apart.
“I think that’s what helps us a lot, other than the corn being good, but we can get them through the line real fast,” she said.
The shucking does not begin until the orders are paid for, she noted, so customers get an untouched, freshly shucked and buttered product.
This year, most of their corn came from Iron City, Georgia, with some from Walnut Hill, Florida.
Their butter of choice? — Salted sweet cream. It goes quickly though; the Kings said they average around 250 pounds of butter per festival.
There are many seasonings to top off the treat, although the appetizer surely could stand on its own. Salt, pepper, Parmesan, powdered ranch, and creole are the favorites.
King said her favorite phrase to hear from customers is “I’m back.”
Like most stands at the fair, the Kings give back with $1.25 of every corn-on-cob sold going to the Dothan Civitan Club. Last year, the Kings said they raised around $10,000 for the organization.
The most interesting savory treat at the fair this year was perhaps Dale County’s Marching Band of Warrior’s “Dilly Dog.” It combines three of the best elements of fair food: a corn dog, a pickle and a deep-fryer.
English teacher Samantha Krietemeyer said the Dilly Dog, which has been a popular $6 item so far, features a grilled hot dog inside a cored out whole dill pickle covered in handcrafted breading and deep fried a golden brown.
Curators of the juicy addition are Booster Club President Trish Pestotnick and band Director Patrick Lord, who wanted to invent something new for their menu to draw people in.
“Everyone who’s tried it has liked it,” Krietemeyer said. “I think maybe it’s just weird enough to work.”
The Dilly Dog is a surprisingly delicious item. The crunchy, juicy pickle is a welcome complement to a typically soft treat. The only drawback is that the chilled pickle can cool down the inner dog — but all the more reason to scarf it down quickly before heading back to order one or more of the Booster Club’s new items, like the Monte Cristo, s’more egg rolls or apple pie tacos.
Or, fairgoers can try the “Pound of Pride,” its signature item, which is a pound of nachos accompanied by a cheer from band students adding a lot of spirit and value to the $8 item.
There were many variations on the peanut this year. The best ones, the deep-fried PB&J and honey nut puffs, are still fairly new menu items but word is getting out about their delightful, peanut-buttery goodness.
Only a couple of vendors were selling the PB&Js, deep-fried in a funnel cake-like batter and sprinkled with powdered sugar that were going for around $6 apiece.
Only Headland Band Boosters’ were selling the original treat featured on Carnival Eats last year, the honey nut puffs.
Made with crunchy peanut butter, frosted flakes, and powdered sugar, the ball is then rolled onto more frosted flakes before being dipped into funnel cake batter and deep fried. It is served in three puffs drizzled with honey and more powdered sugar.
Heather Moody said the $5 treat has attracted customers from as far as three hours away to try the dessert invented by Karen Adams, who created the treat is honor of the goober pea that inspired the fest.
The taste of the crunchy creamy treat was reminiscent of a peanut butter ball, a popular holiday treat. With only one bite, the puff is an explosion of crispy sweetness.
The Marching Blue and Gold is still serving up its Conecuh dogs as well, a fan favorite. Organizers are hoping to raise enough money to send the band to Maryland in December to play in the Military Bowl alongside the Navy band.
If fairgoers want a variety of dessert favorites served up in traditional fair fashion, they can visit New Life Pentecostal Church’s tent. The ministry makes a point to serve up new, exciting treats every year, deep-fried for your pleasure, of course.
This year was no different. Their newest dessert is cheesecake chimichangas (or chimis for short).
“It’s actually a dolce de leche sauce with cheesecake wrapped in a tortilla and deep-fried,” volunteer Greg Padgett said.
The $5 dessert is another winner on its long repertoire of successful dishes along with the fried Oreo, fried Twinkie and chocolate chip burrito.
The handmade batter is a standout feature to many of the treats on the church’s menu, including the deep-fried banana Moon Pie, which is a confirmed ooey-gooey delight, even for those who might not like the treat itself.
It tastes like your great-grandma’s sweet banana pudding, but hot — and better.
As far as what’s next for the church’s portfolio, there is no telling, but volunteers will come up with something, Padgett said.
“We’re always playing around with things,” he said. “It’s hard to say what we’ll do next year.”
The church’s ingenuity is paying off. The proceeds received from the fair are used to fund missions around the world, and sometimes gets put back into the community with free events.
There’s still several days left for seekers of the latest, greatest carnival food to try some palatable foods whether it be the classic boiled peanuts or Dothan High’s macho nachos.
After all, some of Dothan’s most exciting food only comes around once a year.