A lot has changed since 1912 when the Alameda County Fair made its debut. Horse racing was the staple from the beginning as the idea for holding a county fair on that property came from the businessman who had purchased the Bernal family racetrack. Other features of the first fair also live on, such as the judging of farm stock, fruit preserves and embroidery.
The "modern fair" began in 1939, according to "Celebrating Family Fun at the County Fair," written by Pat and Bob Lane to celebrate the 90th birthday of the fair in 2002. That year the fair included a carnival, with four rides, 20 games and concessions.
But let's talk food. The first fair may have featured cotton candy, which was sold at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair as "Fairy Floss" for 25 cents a box. But corn dogs didn't show up in the United States until the 1920s and didn't become popular until the '40s.
No matter what was served in the earliest days of the Alameda County Fair, the fare continues to evolve in many ways, including international foods, burgers made with yak, llama or alligator, and put hot grease to increasingly good use as cooks deep fry everything from Oreos to Twinkies. This year, add deep fried jelly beans and deep fried butter.
New exotic foods for sale will include antelope sandwiches, chocolate covered scorpions, ants and crickets, python and raccoon on a stick. Jungle George was chosen from food vendors all over the West Coast as the purveyor.
"We select the vendors based on a list of criteria, however, the uniqueness of the menu is definitely a consideration," said Marketing Manager April Mitchell.
If the scorpions and llamas don't call to you, show up July 2 to see the creation of what could be the Largest Hamburger in the World. It will be grilled fresh and served at 99 cents a bite, in keeping with this year's "99" theme since 2011 is 99 years after the first Alameda County Fair in 1912. Proceeds will go to the Alameda County Community Food Bank.
The goal for the biggest burger is 625 pounds, which is 2,500 quarter-pounders and has 1,375,000 calories, enough to feed one person for one year and 10 months. It will be trimmed with 50 pounds of cheese, 20 pounds of onions, 12 pounds of pickles and 30 pounds of lettuce and placed on a 110-pound bun, and will take 10 hours to cook with a crew of 10 from Juicy's Outlaw Grill working on it. A crane will be required to flip the burger.
International food is a feature, too, with Festival Square welcoming Spice of India Weekend on June 25-26, and a Hispanic celebration July 9-10. Other food features are the ninth annual BBQ and Chicken Cook-off from June 30-July 4 and the third annual Gumbo Cook-Off on July 2. Farm Fresh Thursdays will be all about urban gardening, featuring local produce and demonstrations.
"Fairs are a great place in offering unique food that you just can't get anywhere else. It's just part of the fun of going to the county fair," Mitchell said.
"Fairs have a tradition of showcasing the new and unusual," she added. "Eli Whitney's cotton gin was first introduced at a fair."
From a complete schedule of events, go to www.alamedacountyfair.com.
It's Fair time!
June 22-July 10
Fireworks show at 9:15 p.m., Friday, July 1
Best viewing location is from the Grandstand area.
Monday, Wednesday, Thursday
11 a.m.-10 p.m.
10 a.m.-10 p.m.
10 a.m.-9 p.m.
Admission at the gate
Adults (13-61) - $10
Seniors (62 and up) - $8
Children (6-12) - $6
Under 6 - Free
General (Gates 8, 12) - $8
Preferred (Gate 8) - $15
Preferred VIP (Pleasanton Ave.) - $20
Unlimited, weekdays - $25
Weekends - $28