What's Minnesota's budget meal secret? Food with a handle

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The annual Minnesota State Fair, held in St. Paul, lasts just 12 days, ending on Labor Day. Officially, it's a confab for farmers and showcase for prize husbandry and cooking techniques, but locals love it just as much for its midway rides, concerts and novelty foods. The Fair is so popular, with nearly 1.7 million tickets sold, that vendors can make their entire year's income in less than two weeks, all on food items costing $3 to $7.

The most celebrated item of the Fair? Anything on a stick. And I mean anything. In fact, the dominance of the category has become an attraction unto itself: Souvenir shops sells t-shirts with checklists for all the sticked munchies on sale each year. In eras past, only the poorest people fried food on a regular basis, mostly because it could mask spoiled ingredients or compensate for a lack of leafy greens. But in modern America, fried food is a staple, and it's pretty much become Americana in an edible form. It's still cheap, too.

I visited the storied Fair this year -- and saw Garrison Keillor perform -- with a mission to document as many foods on a stick as I could. And I found plenty, from plain old corn dogs to a surprising Italian pasta dish rendered a la stick. By my count, I found more than two dozen things on a stick, but maybe you can spot even more during my whirlwind tour of the 2009 fair and my visit to downtown Minneapolis.
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