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Published:June 10th, 2008 20:29 EST
American Junk Food: Cotton Candy

American Junk Food: Cotton Candy

By Daniel Mabee

State and county fairs have been a fixture in American culture for over a century. Every one has its unique flavor, but you will never find one without rides, bamboozling games, and of course, junk food. You will find corn dogs, popcorn, and candied apples... but nothing is quite as at home at a carnival as cotton candy. Massive, soft, and terribly sugar-sweet, few foods are quite as colorful and inviting as a stick wrapped in pink cotton candy.

Cotton candy was fittingly introduced to the world at the St. Louis World Fair in 1904. Then, it was known as fairy floss - a name which still sticks in Australia. The geniuses behind the new snack were a pair of entrepreneurs named John C. Wharton and William Morrison. Unsurprisingly, their gigantic balls of spun sugar were a tremendous hit with fairgoers, selling nearly 70 thousand boxes of the stuff at the then-hefty cost of 25 cents per.

Finally, a socially acceptable way to eat pure sugar had arrived. How had they done it? Science! Or, rather, industry. Just as the industrial revolution had enabled America`s travel, work, and medicine, it had also enabled America`s sweet tooth. Fairgoers marvelled as a sugary mixture was poured into the center of a large machine, and produced brightly colored, soft, melty candy.

Modern cotton candy machines work just as they did a century ago. There is a center vat, surrounded by a large metal bowl. Sugar is packed into the center vat, heated, then spun out into its well-known form and caught in the bowl. An operator rolls a paper cone around the rim of the bowl, and the heated fairy floss naturally comes together to balance in one huge mass at the end of the cone, producing the loved treat.

Colorful, sweet, and simple, cotton candy is the perfect fair food. It may not last long, but I have yet to meet a person who would prefer to pocket their sugary delight.

Buy it, eat it, love it - but be ready to get a little sticky.