A culinary fair tradition

Oct. 26, 2013 @ 08:11 PM

Like my family, you probably went to the N.C. State Fair this past week, too, each person zeroing in on something. I wanted to go to the rabbit barn. My husband wanted to try the fried Oreos. My son wanted to go right to the Wiggle Wurm (that’s how the ride is spelled). We all went to the North Carolina Pork Council’s food tent for some great Eastern Carolina barbecue, and lamented the council’s plans to make this the last stop of the Pork Chop Shop. Hopefully it’ll change its mind. While others might like trying deep fried fare at the fair, I’ll take some Carolina cooking any day.
The theme of the fair this year was “North Carolina’s Homecoming.” It seems that most folks who go to high school or church homecomings are already there in town. College might require travel if there’s a football game involved, but for the most part it seems that homecomings are more like just going where you already go. In a celebratory way -- an annual event to crank up the regular visits into something more. I go to the N.C. State Fairgrounds a few times a year for other events, but nothing compares to the fair. Even when news came of a terrible accident on a ride Thursday night, the fair opened Friday and people were still coming. To homecoming, because it’s tradition.
Part of my N.C. State Fair tradition is helping to judge a few of the Specialty Cooking Competitions. Once or twice a fair for the past few years, I’ve been in the judges’ booth along with other local media, homemakers, teachers and chefs. Most of us recognize each other from year to year, coming to our homecoming of the cooking competitions. We chat and taste and choose by consensus and voting. We don’t know the names of the cooks until the winning dishes are declared and announced to the crowd waiting outside. Being among the taste-testers has meant trying new foods, like gator and sheep head fish, both of which weren’t bad. It’s also given me good ideas for fall dishes to try at home, changing for my own taste. Entering the cooking contests is tradition for some home cooks, too, as the names of the winners each year are familiar. The fair distributes booklets of the previous year’s winners, so a real cooking contest fan could compile them all into their own home cooked State Fair cookbook.
I have a nice collection of beautiful cookbooks in my kitchen that are used occasionally. The recipes I like to make are dog-eared copies or handwritten notes and taped to the inside of a kitchen cabinet. I got the idea from my mom. If a recipe’s good enough, you don’t need a fancy cookbook stand. Just keep that recipe next to your plates and bowls. The stuff we treasure most isn’t always crisp and shiny, but certainly well-loved. Whether a stuffed animal or a favorite recipe, it’s about comfort.
Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan may be reached at dvaughan@heraldsun.com or 919-419-6563.