By Alexis Cope
There is nothing like the North Carolina State Fair. Let’s be honest: that rush when you walk through the little gate and see the ferris wheels twirling high above the tents, when you’re hit by the confusing and jumbled smells of ten different food vendors all at the same time, when you see those colorful, flashing lights, when you watch game winners carrying their enormous stuffed monkey on their shoulders as they walk by; there’s nothing like it. It’s like stepping into this little chaotic and fantastic bubble of a world where everyone and everything is full to bursting with that contagious energy you just can’t find anywhere else.
All’s fair in love and war, as they say. And at this fair, anything goes, especially when it comes to food. Deep fried, baked, stewed, aged, it doesn’t matter, it’s there somewhere. But, what’s the best, and what’s the worst? What wacky and wild things can you find to crunch and munch at this crazy once-a-year-here-for-a-week party?
When I visited the NC State Fair this past week, I ate as much food as I could hold, looked at more cases of food than I think I ever have, and took so many pictures my phone ran out of space, all with the hope of compiling a list of all the outrageous things that came out of the fair this year.
So, welcome to the North Carolina Food Hall of Fame: 2019 inductees edition.
Best Fried Food:
Deep Fried Mac-n-Cheese
Who doesn’t love a good mac-n-cheese? So it’s no surprise that these little morsels won my award for best thing fried; with a golden crunchy outside and cheesy, stringy, warm inside, each bite was delicious. I’m just surprised nobody came up with this idea earlier.
Worst Fried Food:
Deep Fried Pickle
While I didn’t actually eat any of these, I did get a chance to look at one, and it was not a happy sight. Besides, who would do such a thing to a perfectly good pickle?
Yes, I love onions. Yes, I love onion rings. So yes, I loved the bloomin’ onion. But forgetting about taste, it just looked super fun and exciting, not to mention it was the perfect finger food to share.
Most Canned Food In One Spot:
The Food Preservation Competition Room
There were cases with shelves upon shelves filled with this year’s competitors in the Food Preservation competition. Delicious looking jams, jellies, relishes, and pickled fruits and vegetables were packed into little mason jars, some with winner’s ribbons stuck on top. If only I could have tasted them all.
Muscadine Grape Slushie
Just the sound of this alone was enough to make me turn my head, and even though I wanted to try this crazy concoction, the stand had run out when I came by. Muscadines are a very southern grape, and I’d only ever seen it used in jellies, so I found this use of the fruit actually pretty interesting.
Best Crazy Flavor:
Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream
I love pumpkin everything – if it’s done right. And this was done right. Creamy, flavorful with a hint of cinnamon and nutmeg; it was just spot on. Unfortunately, I can’t get any more of the pumpkin goodness until next year; Smitty’s Homemade Ice Cream is based in Burlington.
Fresh Pumpkin Sticky Bun
This thing was enormous! It weighed at least two or three pounds, was at least two inches tall, and slathered in some sort of pumpkin compote that was just delicious. It took four of us to make a dent in this monster of a cake, and even then we couldn’t end up finishing it.
Busting the scale was a beast of a pumpkin from Morgantown, West Virginia belonging to Dustin Trychta. At 1,549.5 pounds, it won by a landslide and was awarded the coveted blue ribbon.
Weighing in at 1,506.5 pounds, this year’s state winner set the new record for prodigious pumpkin plumpness. The pumpkin was grown by Danny Vester in the small town of Spring Hope.
I’ll just say it. Popcorn covered in caramel. Makes your mouth water, doesn’t it? Rightly so, because this kettle corn was “delish.” The perfect snack to take with you as you wander around the fair.
Best Fair Food of 2019:
All right, I admit it, I’m a sucker for a good funnel cake. But when they’re fresh and hot and covered in powdered sugar, who isn’t? Besides, fair funnel cake is like no other. Our plate of chewy, melt-in-your-mouth goodness was gone within two minutes – no joke – and was the absolutely perfect way to end my night.