Mississippi State Fair: Coney Island with a Southern Twist


Whether you like it or you don’t, Southerners are deeply rooted in their traditions. This past weekend, my husband and I had the pleasure of experiencing one of Mississippi’s oldest. The State Fair is held each year at the Historic Fair Grounds in the capital city of Jackson and 2014 marks the 155th anniversary. The Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce, Cindy Hyde-Smith wrote in her welcome letter:

"The Mississippi State Fair means something different to each individual. To some, it is about entertainment like the carnival rides and concerts. For others, it mean the opportunity to participate in one of the many competitions such as the livestock shows."

This was in fact my first state fair. I’ve been to many carnivals and to my fair share (get it?) of county fairs and rodeos, but my expectations were high for an illustrious State fair. While the event itself wasn’t the fanciest or the most unique experience I’ve ever had, it was filled with a warming feeling of nostalgia during our day out.

I’m sure the fair has evolved over the years — heck, we used the fair’s app to help navigate through the maze of tents. But the experience felt like one right out of a 1950’s movie. The grounds were filled with brightly painted rides like the twirl-a-whirl and the giant ferris wheel. We could have tried our luck with the milk bottle toss to win a stuffed animal. We were even beckoned to be amazed and awed by a snake/woman hybrid, a two-headed baby and the elusive chupcabra of Mexico. These wonders of the world would have been available to us for the very reasonable entrance fee of fifty cents. That’s right, fifty cents.

Taking in the atmosphere made me think of that scene from The Sandlot, in which the boys ventured away from their baseball diamond for a night at the fair. I could only imagine how many kids throughout the last 155 years had visited the fair with friends. I’m sure many teens saw their first concert here and many young couples probably shared their first kiss on the giant ferris wheel. These thoughts made me feel like I has something in common with fairgoers of the past as I walked hand-in-hand down the midway with my husband.

However, the South never really allows for traditions to be set without putting it’s own stamp on them. There were plenty of stand out moments that I’m sure are unique to the Mississippi State Fair.

Excuse Me… Do You Have Anything Fat Free?

Typical Mississippi Fair Food

The South is notorious for a certain heart-attack inducing quality to our food. I hope everyone remembers to take their Crestor and Bayers before heading down to the Fairgrounds. The fare at the fair is all deep fried and DE-LICIOUS! If you have never had a fried oreo, fried cheesecake, fried pickle, or bacon dipped in chocolate, you are in for a serious treat.

If deep fried golden goodness is not your thing, stop by the Mississippi Cattlemen’s Association stand for an incredible array of beef dishes. Knowing their offerings are made with Mississippi beef, just makes the sandwich or steak taste extra delicious.

When I told my boss that I was planning to visit the fair, I was told to make sure that I found the Biscuit Booth. Apparently each year this booth is a major attraction as volunteers craft homemade fresh biscuits all day long. Before serving, these treats are also pumped with a “healthy” dollop of syrup. The best part? These biscuits are FREE! Any fairgoer can go up to the booth and collect a biscuit with a just a smile and a “hello.” If you can’t find the booth, check the fair map on the app. It’s the only food both listed, so you know it must be good.

As I think back for healthier options, there really isn’t much that comes to mind. While corn is actually a starch and not a vegetable, the grilled corn on a stick might be your most health conscious choice.

My recommendation is to visit the fair on your cheat day. Expect to come and eat well. You can always use that old excuse, “I only eat this at the fair.”

Now That’s a Competitor

There is a part of me that had a soft spot for young ranchers coming to the fair to show their livestock. My cousins all showed their cattle and pigs at their local fair. The 4-Hers or Future Farmers all swell with pride as they strut around the ring with their cow shampooed, blow-dried, and looking like its never seen a barn in its life. As one redhead led his showing around the arena, I heard a man behind me in the stands say, “now that’s a competitor.” He then preceded to explain to his grandson the finer points of cattle showing, pointing out the example’s form and handling of the cow.

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The boys have a uniform of sorts. Each lad was dressed in a plaid button down shirt, pressed blue jeans and true cowboy boots. Some even sported a buckle. I suspect these were won at the Jackson Rodeo earlier this year. The girls’ outfits were a bit more varied and I couldn’t help but smile. The young women were a mix of cowgirl and pageant queen. They too wore button down shirts and jeans but these selections came with a plethora of rhinestones. These girls love to bling. Their coifs were also curled so tight and pretty that even Shirley Temple would be jealous. All I could do was to sit back and thing, “you get it girl” as these 10-year olds led their cows around the ring showing the animal who was boss.

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Pork Chop Downs, Welterweight Division

Alright, in addition to the Biscuit Booth, I was also told to make sure to catch the pig races. I know… I was skeptical too. That was before we sidled up to a silver trailer and a sweet sign welcoming us to Pork Chop Downs. Two hefty brothers in overalls certainly fit the part of the pig race emcees.

Following traditional sport commentator guidelines, Ham Bone was the straight man while his brother Pork Chop provided the comedic relief. These brothers run the Show-Me Swine Races which is aptly named since these brother hail from the Show Me state, Missouri. As each set of pigs were lined up at their starting gates, the brothers would introduce each pig to the audience. If you thought race horses had clever names, you’ve never met the pigs at Pork Chop Downs. We were introduced to Squigley Ray Cyrus, Britney Spare Ribs, Magum P.I.G and Hamma Montana.

There are three races to each show. The first featured itty-bitty pigs that sprinted to the starting gates raring to go. Before the race could start, the announcer selected a cheering child from the audience to represent each piggy. If their lane won, that child would go home with a stuffed oinker of his or her own.

As a bugle blew, the pigs were off! They sped around the track towards a bowl of iced oatmeal and chocolate chip cookies. The following heat was what I call the welterweight division. These were your ideal looking pink pigs and boy did they haul their curly tails around each bend. I’ve never heard of pigs having a strong sense of smell but I am guessing they really love these cookies.

As the final race dawned, the heavyweights were introduced as Malaysian Pot Bellies. For this reason, small children supporters were not fitting to represent these athletes. Instead, Adults were selected from the stands but only if they too were sporting pot bellies of their own. It was hilarious to see children nominate their parents who in turn tried to suck it in for all they were worth!

Once five of the “fluffier” spectators were chosen to represent their five racing pigs, the bugle blew for the last time. And these pigs were… slow. While these pigs certainly didn’t sprint to the finish like the previous racers, they were no less entertaining. One waddled as quickly as it could down the homestretch while the others came to terms with what their bodies were built for. They started eating the sawdust lining the track.

Overall the day was filled with many firsts and many new memories. We do not know how long we will live in Mississippi, but local events like the fair will make us remember our time here with very big smiles and full hearts.