The History of Classic Carnival Foods

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The CNE brings us the anticipated weird and the wacky eats each year.  They bring us food truck events and cooking demos.  Yet a truly genuine experience to any town fair and carnival is only complete with gallons of freshly squeezed lemonade, hands sticky from spun sugar and faces dripping in caramel, cinnamon or frozen milk products (or all of the above). While our stomach are roiling with a cacophony of indulgences let’s consider how our nostalgic favourites came to be?

Cotton Candy

Invented back in 1899 and introduced at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, Fairy Floss, Candy Floss or as Canadians know it, Cotton Candy began simply as finely ground sugar melted and spun in a large centrifuge with holes to create fine threads of sweetness. During that fair boxes were sold for an expensive 25 cents yet people were so enamoured with the concept a total of 68,655 boxes were sold, equaling  a massive profit back then of $17,163.75.

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Mini Donuts

A lot of unconfirmed theories surround where the mini donut started. Of course they evolved from the their larger counterpart much like the cupcakes coming from cakes, yet the most common thread of speculation was that  they were created during the Spanish-American War when rations were tight and smaller portions were given out. Thanks heavens that is no longer the case as most people today can easily throw back a dozen or more.

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Funnel Cakes

Fried dough can never be a bad thing and the long history of funnel cakes, dating back to Anglo-Norman Medieval times, supports our love for it.  And while the current techniques and recipe are thanks to the Pennsylvanian Dutch, any grade school child in Ontario can be equally grateful to both since no trip to Canada’s Wonderland is complete without a massive plate of Funnel cake.

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The first snow cone making machine was invented in 1920, however the popular treat was already being enjoyed at home where cheap ice and mom’s homemade syrup made for an affordable summer treat. Simply shaved iced doused with flavoured sugar water, the world’s most popular  taste continues to be the classic fruity “rainbow” flavour.

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Ice Cream Waffle Sandwich

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Ice Cream Waffle Sandwich at The Ex.  Another confection with an unconfirmed history it is believed to have been the brain child of Sharole Levan and her other Conklin Carnival employees  on route to the CNE where it made its International Debut. Hot fluffy waffles sandwiching cold, vanilla ice cream; can’t go wrong with that idea.

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Candy Apples

In the case of my favorite carnival treat, the candy came before the fruit.  In 1908, William Kolb wanted a way to promote his hard cinnamon candy.  By coating an apple on a stick with the bright red sugary treat he hoped to bring in more customers who in turn would ask about the candy and purchase it.  Little did he anticipate that while customers did in fact asked about it, they wanted it with the apple.  Variations with caramel, toffee and nuts are just as popular but it’s the classic fire engine red that started it all.

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Corn Dog

It seems that everyone wants a piece of glory in the creation of the corn dog.  Whether it’s the mom and pop shop in Oregon or the creative father in Springfield, Illinois that can be credited, the corn dogs short history matters little when you get a hankering for a deep fried battered hot on a stick. But why “corn”? The batter consists of the smallest amount of cornmeal therefore giving its famous moniker.

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Deep fired chocolate bars or anything on a stick has becoming more and more popular at carnivals and fairs, it’s the classics that we can never resist.  And while their history are varied, the pleasure they bring children and adults alike never changes.

The History of the Ice Cream Cone


In 1904 at the St. Louis World’s Fair more than fifty vendors had ice cream stands and the edible ice cream holder, the cone, made its debut.  Up until then paper and metal cones were being used throughout Europe.  It is not known who actually created the first edible cone and is believed that multiple people may have created it all around the same time during the World’s Fair.  Since there were many waffle stands at the Fair as well it is believed that several vendors would roll the waffles and use to hold the ice cream.

Abe Doumar is credited for building one of the first cone makers by adapting a waffle iron into a cone oven.

The History of the Cheeseburger

There is no real consensus on where or when the cheeseburger was invented.  The trademarked name ‘cheeseburger’ was given to Louis Ballast of the Humpty Dumpty Drive-In in Denver, Colorado in 1935.  However one year earlier, Kaelin’s Restaurant in Louisville, Kentucky claimed to have invented it.  And some time between 1924-1926, Pasadena, California resident Lionel Sternberger staked his own claim.

The Juicy Lucy was developed and made popular in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  This cheeseburger involved having the cheese placed inside the raw meat and cooked until melted.

No matter where it started topping your burger with any type of cheese adds a great alternative to the normal fast food fare.

The History of the Hoagie

Much like the submarine sandwich, hoagies are made-to-order sandwiches filled with lettuce, onion, tomato, meat and cheese with an oregano-vinegar dressing on an Italian bun.

It has been agreed that it was created in Philadelphia but there are a few different stories on how it got its name.

The most widely accepted story takes us to Hog Island, an area of Philly, where a WW1 Shipyard employed many an Italian immigrant.  These workers would bring giant sandwiches made with vegetables, meat, cheese, spices and oil that they nicknamed ‘hoggies’.  Over the years after a change in spelling it became known as the hoagie.

A true Italian hoagie is made using Italian ham, prosciutto salami, provolone cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, onions and herbed vinaigrette.

The History of the Doughnut

It all started with the Dutch wondering what to do with leftover scraps of bread dough.  The Germans were dropping theirs in hot oil and making fry-cakes (olie-koecken) but the Dutch took it one step further by shaping them into knots (dough knots) and rolling them in sugar.

The hole in the middle was said to be created in 1847 by Mason Crockett Gregory because he hated his doughnuts having an uncooked centre.  It is also believed that since he was a sea captain he may have gotten the idea of the hole in his travels since most of the Germanic countries already had cookies and cakes with holes in the middle.

The first patent for a doughnut hole cutter however went to John Blondell in 1872 for a wooden version and in 1889 for an improved flute-edged cutter.

Currently you have a choice of yeast doughnuts, which are lighter, or the heavier cake style as well as different shapes, fillings and many, many different flavours.

Canada had the distinction of consuming the most donuts and having the most donut stores per capita.

The History of the Hot Cross Bun

Traditionally eaten by Christians on Good Friday these sweet buns made with currants or raisins and leavened with yeast are marked with a cross as a symbol of the crucifixion.  These crosses can be made by scoring cuts into the top of the bread, using icing, rice paper or pastry. But like most religious beliefs and traditions, different faiths have different beliefs on the meaning of these buns.

The Saxons believed the cross represented the four quarters of the moon and were eaten to honour the goddess Eostre.  Monarchs of Protestant England believed that the buns, baked from the dough used in the communion wafer, had too much hold over the Catholics and tried to have them banned from sale.  However popularity overruled and they were allowed to be sold on Easter and Christmas.

Hot cross buns also come with a few superstitions.  Hanging a bun in the kitchen protected the home from fires and ensured bread baking success.  To protect oneself from shipwreck, they should be taken along with you on any sea voyage.  And finally sharing a bun with another is said to guarantee a good friendship for the next year.

The History of the T.V. Dinner

For only 98 cents where else in 1954 could you get a Salisbury steak, turkey with stuffing, fried chicken or meatloaf served with potatoes and peas except in a Swanson T.V. Dinner.

Invented by Gerry Thomas to help capitalize on the post-war fascination with the television and the pull of time saving modern appliances more than 10 million dinners were sold in the first year of production.
Before the use of the plastic, microwave safe trays from the 80’s, the food use to be packaged in neatly divided metal trays that in 1986 were officially inducted into the Smithsonian.
While many other companies have created their own brand of microwave friendly entrees after more than 50 years Swanson still offers the same entrees that started it all off.

The History of the Pizza

Ironically the Italians did not create the first pizza.  Instead it was large, round, flat bread topped with oil, herbs, spices and dates from the Greeks that started us off with one of our fast food favourites.  Over time it made it’s way towards Italy where plain, untopped flat breads called ‘pizzas’ were sold on the street and in markets to the poor because of their lack of expense to make and the fact that they were filing and delicious.

It wasn’t until Queen Margherita in the late 1800’s tried the bread and loved it did they start getting topped.  Pizza Margherita, a popular choice today, came about when Chef Rafaelle Esposito was charge by the Queen to make a selection of pizzas for her pleasure.  Showing his love for his country he recreated the colours of the national flag by baking a pizza topped with tomatoes (red), mozzarella (white) and basil (green) thus creating her namesake.

Throughout the country more toppings were discovered and tasted as well as techniques such as using a specially designed brick oven to cook them in.

It wasn’t until after WW2 that pizza made it’s way out of Italy and into the US, England, France and Spain.

Today an average of 23 pounds of pizza, per person, per year is consumed by Americans and Canadians with cheese and pepperoni being the topping of choice.

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Since it’s creation, pizza now has many forms (calzones, thin crust), styles (ice cream pizzas, candy pizzas) and toppings (chicken and BBQ sauce).  Next to hamburgers it’s one of our favourite fast food choices.

The History of the Popsicle

Who would have figured that an accidental creation by an eleven-year-old boy would today be one of the most popular frozen treats?

It was in 1905 when Frank Epperson left a mixture of soda water powder and water, a popular drink in those days, overnight in the cold with a stick in it.  Little Frank had a cool surprise the next day to show his friends but it wasn’t till 1923 when he was an adult that it became a business venture.  Originally called the Epsicle, it was available in seven different fruit flavours.  Frank, realizing his success, changed the name to Popsicle, patented his inventions in 1924 and by 1928 he had sold more than 60 million of these ice pops.

There are currently 30 flavours creation available to date with the popular choice being orange and it is estimated that 3 million of these treats are sold every year.