Pickle people are just different.

After years of bringing her fudge business to festivals far and wide, Anne Wateska has found that the people who sample and then buy her unusual pickle-flavored fudge fit a certain profile. With her husband Jeff, Wateska is the proprietor of Wow Fudge, a new food vendor at the 2023 Minnesota State Fair, and supplier of one of this year's many, many dill-ights that will be enticing foodie fairgoers.

The Wateskas' contribution to 2023's pickle-mania is St. Paul Pickle Fudge, a vanilla and dill flavor that doesn't contain any pickles, but still evokes the essence of a preserved cucumber. "It's weird, but it works," Jeff said.

Their business has taken them to events all over the country, including major pickle-stravaganzas in Mount Olive, N.C., for the North Carolina Pickle Festival, and Pittsburgh (home of Heinz) for Picklesburgh. To meet demand, they carry about a half-dozen varieties of pickle fudge, from peanut butter pickle to pickle bourbon. No matter where they go, pickle fudge is inevitably their most sampled flavor. And Anne has a theory as to why.

"Pickle people are hands down cheerful, fun, goofy, a little bit weird, friendly," she said. "They're out and about, they go to farmers markets, they support small businesses, they go to festivals on rainy days, and they're just really nice and optimistic. I don't know that it's a taste they're looking for, but it's almost a pickle personality."

Food vendors at this year's State Fair are banking on that good-natured and adventurous pickle personality to be their bread and butter. When the list of official new foods for 2023 was released earlier this summer, a clear trend emerged. In addition to pickle fudge, there was pickle lemonade, pickle pops and pickle cheese curd tacos.

(And those are just the official entries. Other vendors have quietly added to their menus everything from cheese fries loaded with pickles to a dill pickle doughnut.)

Out of the 110 applications for the fair's official new foods list, 10 of them "had pickles in them or were based around pickles or were pickles," said Danielle Dullinger, the State Fair's food and beverage manager. Is that jarring figure normal? "No."

But there's always at least one ingredient that gets a little extra attention. "One year it was the Sriracha year," Dullinger said. "Three hot honey applications were submitted this year and two made the list." Bacon has had many turns in the spotlight, too.

Pickles have, of course, always been a centerpiece of the fair, albeit mostly in cabinets lined with ribbon-bedecked jars — the contest winners.

"There are pickles everywhere, from our Agriculture Horticulture building, where people submit their prizewinning cucumbers, and in Creative Activities, where they're pickling and they're canning," Dullinger said. "Not to get too deep about pickles, but agriculture is the heart of our fair — the big circle of the food cycle."

But this year's extreme interest in pickles is different. Dullinger, and others, chalk it up to one of 2022's most successful new foods: the Pickle Pizza from Rick's Pizza.

Tristin Ukmar first developed that pie, with a dill cream sauce base and sliced pickles on top, for the Calgary Stampede in Alberta in 2018. And "it just blew up." The next year, "everyone comes in with pickle corn dogs, pickle lemonade, pickle soda," Ukmar said.

He brought the pizza to the Wisconsin State Fair and the same thing happened. Still, he didn't know what to expect when he was invited to be a vendor at the Minnesota State Fair last year. He certainly didn't expect lines a half-block long to be forming outside his stand each day when he opened.

"We were just happy to be there, get our foot in the door and make a name for ourselves," he said. "We had no idea it would be what it was." Now, the pickle pizza effect that swept Calgary and Wisconsin has come to Minnesota.

Better relish the moment. Looking at this year's new foods list, one unusual ingredient could very well become next year's new trend. Said Dullinger, "Maybe it will be lutefisk."

Where to get your pickle fix

Pickles are everywhere at the 2023 Minnesota State Fair. The only dill-emma? Where to start. Don't get yourself in a pickle — just use this guide to find your favorite vendor and get in the queue-cumber.

New foods

Hamline Church Dining Hall: Dill Pickle Lemonade Paleta
Local paleta shop La Michoacana Rose developed a new flavor, available from a cart at the front of the dining hall. "I wanted to create something out of the box that has never been done and something that would tie in to what the fair somewhat already offers and people love," said owner Elizabeth Raygoza. Fried pickles were on her mind when she came up with a pop of fresh lemonade, sugar, dill pickle juice and two slices of pickles. She had no idea "that we would be making it a pickle experience for pickle lovers at the fair."
Dan Patch Av. between Underwood and Cooper streets.

Mike's Hamburgers: Pickle Fries
Mike Hohenwald was discussing new food ideas with his wife, and the conversation just happened to take place over a plate of battered and fried pickle spears at a restaurant. They "loved them," Hohenwald said, and came up with their own version, Pickle Fries. Thin-cut pickles are lightly coated in cornmeal and seasoned mustard batter, then fried and served with a side of chipotle sauce.
Corner of Carnes Av. and Nelson St.

Nordic Waffles: "Kind of a Big Dill" Pickle Lemonade
The team at Nordic Waffles sensed that pickles were newly in vogue when they noticed everyone was "abuzz" about them at food shows this spring. Chef Stine Aasland came up with "Kind of a Big Dill" Pickle Lemonade to complement her other new food item, the Bacon-Wrapped Waffle Dog. Nordic Waffles teamed up with Urban Growler to infuse pickling spices into its Nordic lemonade, resulting in a brew that's "sweet and sour, with just the right hint of salty and spices," said CEO Jeremy Ely.
West End Market, south section

Richie's Cheese Curd Tacos: Dill Pickle Cheese Curd Taco
For its second year at the fair, this vendor combined many of its menu items into one, and inadvertently hit on the pickle trend. "We've made cheese curds for many years. We've made deep fried pickles for years. We've made 'regular' tacos for years. We've now combined all three for something truly spectacular that has already been a hit at other state fairs," said Teri O'Neil, whose husband, Richie O'Neil, is the creator of the dish. Tangy pickles, cream cheese and cheese curds are stuffed into a tortilla and fried, then topped with a sweet roasted raspberry chipotle sauce.
Judson Av. between Liggett and Clough streets.

Soul Bowl: Miami Mango Pickles
Soul Bowl chef Gerard Klass didn't know he was tapping into a trend when he developed his new food, a take on a Mississippi summer snack called Kool-Aid pickles, where Kool-Aid is added to the brine. "The process plays on the sweet flavors from a bread-and-butter pickle but takes it to the next level," he said. For the fair version, he is flavoring pickle spears with Soul Bowl's Miami Mango Punch, an orange-mango drink. They're served cold in a resealable pouch. "We didn't know we were part pickle craze, but we are excited to share this Southern treat with fairgoers."
Food Building, east wall

Wow Fudge: St. Paul Pickle
Anne and Jeff Wateska started selling pickle fudge six years ago at pickle festivals, but have found that it's popular even at non-pickle-themed events. This new vendor for the 2023 Minnesota State Fair designated their original vanilla-dill flavor as St. Paul Pickle. But they have a whole pickle-flavored series, including pickle peanut butter and pickle bourbon. Anything to make "pickle people" happy, Anne Wateska said. "Because I sell chocolate, I run into a lot of chocolate snobs who look at fudge and their nose goes up," she said. "But pickle people are the opposite of chocolate snobs. They are just up for a good time."
Creative Activities Annex, south wall

Also try: Loaded Pickle Cheese Fry at Attavio's Fries, Cooper St. between Dan Patch and Judson Avs.; Dill Pickle Donut at Fluffy's Hand Cut Donuts, between Liggett and Chambers streets.

Returning favorites

The Perfect Pickle: Deep-fried Pickles, Pickles on-a-Stick
For its 25th fair, Perfect Pickle is expanding to a second location — a new building on the North End — which might alleviate some of the lines for its deep-fried pickles and giant pickles on-a-stick. Though their menu is short, they've innovated over the years by trying pickle freezies and chocolate-dipped pickles. Still, "I would be surprised" if many of the newer pickle items have staying power, said Perfect Pickle's Jen Finger. "Every few years there just seems to be that ingredient that everybody's experimenting with. Some of them work, and some of them don't."
W. Dan Patch Av. and Liggett St. and Underwood St. at Lee Av.

Pickle Dog: Pickle Dog, Fire Dog, Reuben Pickle Dog, Whole Dill Pickle on-a-Stick
Pickles are not just a trend for this longtime vendor, which has been peddling whole dill pickles on-a-stick and three versions of the Pickle Dog, which is a pickle-pastrami roll-up, for decades. "We've seen some pickle foods come and go over the 35 years we have been at the Minnesota State Fair," said Ann Benson of Pickle Dog. "Pickle Dogs are loved by many and stay strong."
Carnes Av. between Liggett and Chambers streets.

Rick's Pizza: Pickle Pizza
The Pickle Pizza was a runaway hit when this vendor debuted last year. "There's something about pickles in Minnesota," proprietor Tristin Ukmar said. "Pickles are almost like a spicy, thrilling food to people in Minnesota." Though 2022 was the pizza's first season in Minnesota, it's been a big hit for Ukmar at other events. But he doesn't take credit for the initial idea. "I didn't invent the pickle pizza," he said. "We just kind of perfected it."
Cosgrove St. between Wright and Dan Patch Avs.

Also try: Dill & Curd Hummus Bowl at Baba's Hummus, Underwood St. between Lee and Randall Avs.; Blacklist Dill Pickle Kölsch at Giggles' Campfire Grill, corner of Lee Av. and Cooper St.

Pickle pizza beyond the fair

QC Pizza: Kinda Big Dill Pizza
Before there was pickle pizza at the Minnesota State Fair, there was this Mahtomedi shop, where owner Dennis Schneekloth came up with a ham and pickle roll-up-inspired pie during a business-crushing polar vortex. The pie — with garlic dill sauce, smoked Canadian bacon, two layers of crispy pickles and house mozzarella cheese — gave QC Pizza the boost it needed, and Schneekloth even shipped the pies nationally. Then, Rick's Pizza took off at the 2022 fair, and things got even more interesting. "It was insane," he said. "We couldn't keep up." Rather than brave the long lines for the State Fair stand, people were coming to QC Pizza instead. "I remember that Labor Day Weekend going through 500 pounds of flour." This year, he's ready for the pickle rush. Schneekloth hasn't gone to the fair to try his competitor's pie, and doesn't plan on it. "I'll be working," he said. 3150 Century Av. N., Mahtomedi

Also try: The Happiest Meal at Bricksworth Beer Co., in Burnsville and Minneapolis' North Loop; Pepperoni & Pickle at Good Times Pizza, 322 W. 38th St., Mpls.; Carl the Cuban, McLovin' It, at Red Wagon Pizza Co., 5416 Penn Av. S., Mpls.; Dill Pickle Ranch at Slice Brothers Pizza, at Midtown Global Market and 519 E. Hennepin Av., Mpls.; and Perfect Pickle Pie at Young Joni, 165 13th Av. NE., Mpls.