The show’s culinary traditions date back more than a century, and horsemen across the country look forward to eating their way across the showgrounds each spring.
It’s hard to think of the Devon Horse Show and Country Fair without conjuring images of lemon sticks, tea sandwiches and hand-cut French fries. The signature fare at “The Place Where Champions Meet” in Devon, Pennsylvania, is almost as impressive as the spectacular horses in the rings, and there’s something for everyone.
The various culinary selections are organized by a huge crew of volunteers who work year-round preparing for the 11-day event, which pays off with memorable tasty traditions. (And to make it even better, all the eating is for a good cause. Proceeds from the country fair—including money raised by food sales—have enabled Devon to donate more than $15 million to Bryn Mawr Hospital over the years.)
Fudge, Lemon Straws and Hot Dog Committees
Start with the fudge—the chocolate-y, melt-in-your-mouth treat that inspires lines snaking across the fair and panicked texts from friends across the country, begging attendees to please bring a few pounds home.
“Originally it was made by the chairs of the country fair in their homes,” says Veronica Finkelstein, chairman of the Devon PR Committee, who’s made her fair share of fudge and done stints on the Hot Dog Committee, among others. “It was considered part of the process to become a chair: You had to make fudge on your own. Eventually we consolidated and held fudge-making parties at the kitchen at Devon, and you could smell the fudge when you drove up.”
Sixty or so volunteers crammed into the tiny, old kitchen on the showgrounds to take turns stirring giant pots of fudge from a traditional recipe in the weeks leading up to the event—and they’d still sell out in the first few days of the show. These days Devon fudge—as well as the thousands of tea sandwiches previously put together by volunteers—is outsourced to a professional company to make sure that everything is produced in compliance with health codes. But there’s still plenty of labor occurring behind the scenes, like with the candy store volunteers, who wash and slice each lemon that becomes a lemon stick, often sold around the showgrounds by young volunteers.
Then there’s the tea cart. Originally tea at Devon was a serious affair. Well-heeled spectators would watch the competition while they were served formal tea service on china with silver. These days there’s still a tea cart, which serves classic tea sandwiches, as well as cakes and treats brought in daily from a local bakery, hot-weather favorites like gazpacho, deviled eggs, and hot and cold tea, of course.
There’s a wide variety of food at Devon, from the hamburger and hot dog stands (run by two different committees, by the way), to the local ice cream booth, to fried Oreos on the midway, to elegant sit-down fare to be catered this year by Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse, at the Devon Club.
And then there’s the food that doesn’t even happen at the horse show. Every year there’s a huge volunteer sign-up party, and each committee chair brings a hot appetizer and a cold one, and there are plenty of favorite dishes among the many at the spread. In 2008 Devon released a cookbook, “Appetizers At Devon,” with a collection of favorite recipes, largely gathered from sign-up party favorites.
Even if you can’t make it to the show this year, you can still celebrate with a few of these classic Devon-inspired recipes at home.
(Not Devon) Fudge
The Devon fudge recipe is a closely guarded secret, and various versions that have appeared on the internet claiming to be the original recipe have been roundly invalidated. In lieu of the real thing, try this easy home recipe instead, and make sure you head over to Pennsylvania in May for your fix. Note: You can only get Devon fudge during the Devon Horse Show and Country Fair. It’s not available during any other competition held at the showgrounds.
- 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
- 24 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
- 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
- 1 tablespoon dark corn syrup
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Grease the bottom of an 8″ x 8″ square pan and place parchment paper across the bottom, letting it hang over the sides of the pan. Combine condensed milk, chocolate, cocoa and corn syrup, and stir constantly over low heat until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth and shiny (about 15 minutes). Stir in vanilla, then pour into the prepared pan. Let chill in the refrigerator until firm, then cut into 1″ pieces.
TIP: You can add 1 cup of nuts or marshmallows with the vanilla to customize your fudge. Stir just enough to envelope the additions, then pour into the pan.
There’s nothing better than this sweet treat if you’re spending a warm afternoon outside.
- 1 chilled lemon
- 1 porous lemon stick (available from giambris.com for $4.75/ dozen)
Wash the lemon and roll on a table to soften the pulp. Carefully slice off one end of the lemon, so it will stand up when you set it down—the amount cut will vary depending on the shape of the lemon. Cut from 1⁄4 to 1⁄3 off the opposite side (the top) of the lemon. Make a small X in the flesh, and insert the stick into the X.
Cheesy Bacon Puffs
The cookbook “Appetizers At Devon” features around 200 favorite recipes made by the various Devon Committees for meetings and events. This one is a crowd pleaser and a great addition to a picnic basket or tailgate.
- 1 1⁄2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1⁄2 teaspoon salt
- 1⁄4 teaspoon pepper
- 1⁄8 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 1⁄2 cup water
- 1⁄2 cup butter
- 6 eggs
- 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- 8 slices bacon, crisp-cooked and crumbled
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Mix the flour, salt, pepper and garlic powder together. Bring the water and butter to a boil in a heavy saucepan. Add the flour mixture and cook for five minutes, or until the mixture leaves the side of the pan and forms a smooth ball, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Remove from the heat and let cool for five minutes.
Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the cheese and bacon. Drop batter by the teaspoonfuls about 2″ apart onto a lightly greased baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.
You can’t head to the Devon Horse Show and Country Fair without hitting the midway, and the delicious fair fare is hard to pass up. Try this recipe, adapted from geniuskitchen.com, when you’re in the mood for an indulgent treat.
- 1 package (20 ounces) Oreo cookies
- 2 cups Bisquick or other pancake mix
- 2 eggs
- 1 1⁄2 cups milk
- 3 teaspoons oil, plus enough vegetable oil for deep fryer
Preheat deep fryer to 375 degrees (use a thermometer if you wish to deep fry in a pan). Meanwhile, blend Bisquick, eggs, milk and 3 teaspoons of oil until smooth. Dip the cookies in the batter mixture until totally covered, then place in the hot oil. The cookies will float. Turn over the Oreo when the bottom side is brown. Check frequently—they’ll cook quickly. Serve warm.
This article first appeared in the May/June issue of the Chronicle of the Horse Untacked.
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