The World Ag Expo is a three-day farm equipment extravaganza that will draw thousands of visitors to grounds of the International Agri-Center in Tulare next week. But amid all those towering tractors and technology is some of the heartiest home cooking you will find.
Nearly 40 nonprofits, schools and civic organizations sell foods made with secret recipes, locally sourced meats and quality ingredients.
Dorinne Henken, executive director of Love INC of Tulare County, one of the vendors, says she would never allow a tasteless, grainy slice of tomato on her group’s premium Angus burger.
“I personally buy the tomatoes and ripen them myself if they are not ready yet,” she says. “There is nothing more disappointing than biting into a tomato that is not ready to eat.”
The beef is raised specially for the expo by one of the organization’s board members. Angus cattle are prized for the flavor of the meat.
“It is almost like eating a steak,” Henken says. “It is that good.”
As visitors walk the grounds they will find no shortage of food options, including steak sandwiches, hamburgers, deep pit barbecue, breakfast burritos, barbecue chicken sandwiches, hot dogs, nachos, linguica, and tri-tip. You may even be tempted to try something you’ve never eaten, like fried bologna on white bread. There are even a few vegetarian options.
Certain to produce long lines once again will be the rib-eye steak sandwiches from Sundale Union Elementary School District. The half-pound, Harris Ranch cut of beef is an expo favorite. With or without the grilled onions, the sandwich draws crowds every year.
Terri Rufert, Sundale’s superintendent, expects to sell about 15,000 sandwiches during the three days of the expo. What makes the sandwich so special? Rufert says it is the quality of the beef and the preparation of the steak. Two of her staff members came up with a blend of spices that is used as a dry rub. The spices help accentuate the flavor and tenderize the steak. As for the recipe, it’s a secret.
“I know all the ingredients; I just can’t tell you what they are,” Rufert says.
There are no secret ingredients in the fried bologna sandwich made by the United Way of Tulare County. It is just good old fashioned comfort food.
Darlene Mayfield, director of resource development for the United Way, says they buy about 100 pounds of Farmer John bologna for the expo. The all-beef bologna comes in 20-pound chubs, and volunteers hand-slice thick slabs to be fried in creamy butter. The meat is cooked on a griddle and charred until the bologna is slightly crispy. You can add grilled onions if you like, or let the meat go solo between two pieces of white bread.
“You really don’t need any condiments for this sandwich,” Mayfield says. “And while it may not be good for your heart, it sure is good for your soul.”
Mayfield says that the sandwich always gets curious looks from foreign visitors to the expo. But once they smell it frying on the grill along with the fresh onions, they have to try it.
“If you can get that smell of those grilled onions going, you can draw people to your booth,” she says. “And once they see someone biting into the sandwich, it just makes their mouth water.”