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Orange County

Sugar, Then Add Magic

Confections: Big Sky Concessions brings cotton candy, the quintessential fair food, to Costa Mesa. It's made on-site and served on a paper cone.


With the scent of melting caramel and butter mingling in the air, Brit Barnes stood over a vat, wrapping web upon web of a bubblegum flavored confection onto a cone.

Within five minutes, the veteran confectioner had twirled and hung six bags of pink, blue and purple cotton candy from the ceiling of the family's narrow trailer, tucked into the food court of the Orange County Fairgrounds.

"Timing is important and it can be a mess," Barnes, 20, said as he wiped sticky threads of spun sweetness from his hands and apron. "I'm covered in sugar all day long."

Barnes, who has been making the quintessential fair food each summer since he was 5, is part of a 30-year family tradition of selling treats such as candy apples, popcorn and snow cones at county fairs. The Barnes' Big Sky Concessions has three colorfully designed 20-foot trailers parked at this year's fair in Costa Mesa, which runs through July 28. They'll travel to at least three more county fairs before summer's end.

These days, most cotton candy purveyors sell pre-made products sealed in plastic bags. The Barnes family prefers to whip it up on-site and serve it on a white paper cone--which fascinates fairgoers young and old.

"Little kids come up to us with their parents and say, 'Mom, how does that happen?' " said Barnes' mother, Judy. "We just tell them it's magic."

Magic or not, the art of cotton candy making still requires a little help from science.

A mixture of sugar and powdered food coloring called flossine is poured into a centrifuge. As an electric current melts the sugar, the center chamber slings it into tiny holes in the machine's circular vat, where it eventually turns into the thread-like froth.

The candy concoction, first called Fairy Floss, was introduced to the public at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, where it sold for pennies.

Cathy Satariano of Long Beach asked for cotton candy on a stick for her 4-year-old son, Jack. "I just think it's more fun on a stick," Satariano said as she handed a puffy pink cloud of sugar to her son.

"I like cotton candy the best," said Jack, his smile wide as he swiped sugar from his face. "It tastes good."

Others prefer the bagged version of the treat, saving some for later as they stroll through the rides and games at the fair.

"It's good," said 10-year-old Leah Heit as she popped a handful of blueberry-flavored cotton candy into her mouth. "I like the way it dissolves in your mouth. It's great fair food."

For the Barnes family, cotton candy and the other fair treats represent more than just good summer business. Over the years, they have built relationships with Orange County Fair vendors and their families who travel the same summer circuit.

"We watched our kids work and grow up together," said Judy Barnes, 49, a high school English teacher in Billings, Mont. "It has taught our kids responsibility and how to maintain a strong work ethic."



Today's Highlights at the O.C. Fair

Hours: Noon to midnight.Address: 88 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa; (714) 708-FAIR More information:

11 a.m.--Thunder Center Martial Arts

Noon-2 p.m.--Home Winemakers' Day

Noon--BluesFest: Rocco De Luca

Noon--Stuart Span on Roses

1 p.m.--Street Smarts--Assault Prevention

1:30 p.m.--BluesFest: Deep Water

3 p.m.--BluesFest: Eric Sardinas Group

3:30 p.m.--Flying Geese Quilters Demo

4 p.m.--Innisfree Irish Band

4:45 p.m.--BluesFest: John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers

6:30 p.m.--BluesFest: John Hammond's Wicked Grin Band

8:15 p.m.--BluesFest: Koko Taylor and Her Blues Machine

8:30 p.m.--Fab Four

Source: Orange County Fair & Exposition Center

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