FARMINGTON — The reason people continue to attend the San Juan County Fair in droves each year might have less to do with the lawnmower race, the carnival rides or rooster-crowing contest and more to do with the food.
Let's face it, the feast for the eyes may be taking second fiddle to the feasts on fairgoers' plates.
With a football-field-sized food court outside and a dizzying array of edibles for sale indoors, the county fair looks a lot like a food fair after all.
Like a homecooked meal on a holday you look forward to all year, the fair's food offerings are family affairs, down to the inlaws next door.
Even in the blistering heat of midday, a respectable line formed in front of Gwen and Sid Baze's funnel cake truck.
The couple have been selling their unique, steering-wheel-sized fried confections at the fair for 28 years.
"When we retired, we drove through Amish country and discovered their version they call fried bread," said Gwen Baze, 74, known simply as "the funnel-cake lady." "So Sid said, 'Let's do this.' I told him I didn't want to cook, but here we are thirty years later."
Originally a Pennsylvania Dutch dessert, funnel cake is named for the fluted spout used to pour the batter into hot oil.
On Monday, family friend and seven-year employee Heather Halbrook was pouring the donut batter in a series of quick circles and crisscrossing lines as the dough puffed and browned floating in the scalding-hot oil. Within seconds she corraled the bubbling dough with a metal hoop, flipped it, and in under a minute flat, dusted it with cinnamon and powdered sugar and served it with a choice of caramel, pecans, or apple or blueberry compote for added sweetness and flavor.
Senna Mason-Presley waited, all smiles, for her order, topped with caramel and pecans.
"They're just really good," she said. "I get one every fair, sometimes one each day. So good, and a little addictive too."
Mason-Presley -- she says her dad is Elvis' fourth cousin -- is part of the fair's royalty, a "Princess Attendant" dressed in western tack.
Later on in the fair she'll compete in junior rodeo roping. She was breakaway champion for her 2-second lasso at a Colorado junior rodeo in January.
"I maybe eat funnel cake slower," she joked. "I like to savor and enjoy it."
Right next door was Gwen Baze's daughter's truck, which offered hungry fairgoers a master class in what heights fried potatoes can achieve, if the proper tools are utilized.
Dede and husband Matt took up the carnival food circuit after Matt lost his job in 1995. The couple decided to add to their growing "carny" family and convoy together throughout the Four Corners area.
While Dede runs the counter, Matt is out back, loading his one-of-a-kind potato peeler with Idaho spuds.
"I had to modify this to fit the larger potatoes," he said. He spun two supersized potatos for each batch. The peeler is powered by two Craftsman handtools chosen to ensure both the speed and fine precision of the cut, he said.
"That's why they call me the curly-fry king," he said. "Nobody makes 'em bigger or quicker."
Precariously nested in paper boats, the couple's curly fries dwarf some tumbleweeds, So large, in fact, were the proportions that several customers lost portions of their salty snack to the ground on their way to the shaded eating area nearby.
At nearby Isabel's, Jerry and Isabel Montoya have made cooking at the fair a top priority. The couple have expanded to two locations, a main joint outdoors with smothered burritos made with extra-large tortillas delivered from Albuquerque.
"What keeps people coming is the food. It's the friendly people and food that wins the day," Jerry Montoya said. "We start at 7 a.m. and often go till midnight. We go through a 22-quart pot of beans ten times or more each day. We average two hours' sleep in nine days. If we didn't love it, we could be relaxing somewhere, but this is too much fun."
James Fenton covers Aztec and Bloomfield for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4631 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @fentondt on Twitter.