Debbie Matthews: Ag me, please
For the past five or six years The Kid and I have enjoyed a delicious tradition. We ruthlessly ration our food intake on Friday, and on Saturday, with growling bellies, we head over to the state fairgrounds to graze our way through the Got To Be NC festival.
Last Saturday was the big day.
On the surface, it looks like State Fair-Lite. There is plenty of free onsite parking. No need to pay some guy $100 to park in his front yard so you can hoof it the remaining 16 miles to the fairgrounds.
It’s also free to enter. Once inside the fence, there is a midway, with rides and games. There are food stands and souvenir vendors.
We pass them with barely a glance, intent on our ultimate goal, the exposition building. Inside is the food, wine, and beer expo. For $2 apiece, we get entry and a big sheet of coupons for the purchase of some of the vendors’ wares.
Upon entering, we were faced with rows and rows of friendly people offering sample after sample of products made in North Carolina.
The first treat I tried was a boiled peanut. Petey and The Kid have tried them and don’t get it. But I adore them, if they are cooked right — and these were cooked absolutely right: salty and chewy.
Wine was a huge presence. The Kid’s 21st birthday was on the day of our visit, so ID was in hand and ready to be produced on demand. Unfortunately, the only ones to ask for proof of age was a beer vendor who sold half glasses for $1. The Kid was disappointed, but excited to try Lilliputian cups of all types of the grape (purely for culinary research purposes, I was informed).
I was looking for a particular wine table. Last year I had tried a grape juice slushy and loved it. I found my man, and purchased a large cup of the frozen purple concoction. It was a lucky thing, because many of the samples we tasted were salsas and very spicy barbecue sauces.
The Kid tried a salsa that scared me way too much too sample. It was made with ghost peppers — one of the hottest peppers on earth. Much of my grape slushy was then consumed trying to put out my child’s burning taste buds.
At the very back of the hall, at the very end of our tour, I met a very nice man who was selling something called Bezzie’s Sauce. It had a wonderful combination of heat and sweet, with a little smoky aftertaste.
I purchased a bottle to take home. Tomorrow night we are having Bezzie’s sauce on barbecued meatballs, and a new potato salad I am trying out on Petey and The Kid (I’ll let you know soon how the new tater recipe turns out).
We found the folks from D'Vine Foods. They make a special favorite of mine — sassafras jelly. I bought some at last year’s event and was eager to purchase more. They had moonshine jelly, but hadn’t brought the sassafras. Fortunately, they are at the Raleigh Farmer’s Market each day, so I can procure it at my leisure.
There was a very sweet girl manning the Anne’s booth. They make dumplings and chicken base you may have seen in your local grocery store. They also make a few sauces. From that booth, I bought a yummy honey-mustard dressing that I can’t wait to use on my buttermilk chicken tenders.
We sampled cheese straws from GinnyO. They are pretty much world famous. They have been featured on the Food Network. Oprah loves them. They have been served on Air Force One, and the Governor’s Mansion, among other illustrious places. I make my own, but these were really good, and pre-made, so I didn’t have to get cheese under my fingernails making a batch myself.
As we walked around, I kept thinking about those cheesy little delights. Before we left the building, I ran back and bought a box to take home. They are now in my kitchen being severely rationed to make them last.
We left the Expo building stuffed to the gills with all the samples we had consumed. So, of course we gave up and went home to take a nap, right?
Not a chance. We couldn’t resist, and purchased some fair food for a second lunch.
At last fall’s State Fair, there was a booth selling shark kabobs. I developed a taste for shark when I lived in Puerto Rico. The shark guy was at the Agfest, and I was overjoyed to introduce it to The Kid.
A big hit.
Our lunch also included some terrific stuffed grape leaves, and a perennial fave, fair fries.
But the best thing was, we actually remembered our tankard from Pappy’s sodas (now called Frankies), so we got my very favorite brand of root beer, and $1 off our purchase.
As usual, we had an amazing day, and ate way too much excellent food. We fought off a food coma, and made our way home — to try and decide what we were having for supper.
Thanks for your time.
Debbie Matthews lives, writes and cooks in Durham. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.