Behind the scenes: Judging the SPAM competition

October 26, 2014 By: Category: 2014 N.C. State Fair

Competitiors drop off their SPAM appetizers.

Among the popular competitions at the State Fair are the daily cooking contests in the Education Building. These competitions run the gamut from peanuts, apples and sweet potatoes to pork, beef and SPAM. Last year at the fair I was able to fill in for a judge at the peanut competition. This year, the call came for a judge for the SPAM contest.

As a fan of the weird and unusual, I was all for tasting the two dozen or so SPAM appetizers vying for first place. There were six judges divided into two teams. My team included two veteran cooking competition judges, and together we tackled half the entries while the other team sampled the remaining appetizers.

Each appetizer was identified only by a number, and judges were allowed to see a copy of the recipe. The appetizers were judged on taste (35 percent), creativity (35 percent) and presentation (30 percent). Our top three choices were sent to the other judges, and their top four were sent to us. From the seven top entries, we individually chose our top three choices. The winner was SPAMento Cheese Baby Reds by Bill Kirk of Cary.

Judging the SPAM competition was interesting, and the entries were surprisingly good. My limited experience with SPAM includes cooking it in the frying pan and having it for dinner when I was younger. These dishes were not the SPAM of my childhood. The contestants really kicked it up a notch by combining SPAM with ingredients that were surprising and different. One SPAM dish included hummus, another Texas Pete hot sauce.

What set the winner apart was the presentation. These little baby reds resembled deviled eggs. We all agreed that the dish, which was room temperature, would be even more delicious served warm. Kirk won $150 for his first-place dish. James Dyczewski earned $50 and second place for his Asian Spam Rolls. Third place and $25 went to Sara Brewer of Hillsborough for Savory Spam Biscotti.

Bill Kirk of Cary placed first with his SPAMento Cheese Baby Reds.

“All the cooking competitions were up this year,” said Lisa Prince, cooking contest coordinator. “We had 51 entries for the apple contest, which is incredible for a weekday competition. Sweet potatoes are always big, too. Everyone loves to cook with sweet potatoes.”

Recipes for this and other specialty cooking contests are on the State Fair website under competitions and special cooking contest.




Milking parlor in Graham Building open 24 hours

October 25, 2014 By: Category: 2014 N.C. State Fair

The milking parlor in the Graham Building is open 24 hours.

It’s Dairy Show weekend at the N.C. State Fair, and the Graham Building is full of Jersey, Ayshire, Holstein, Guernsey and Brown Swiss cows. In addition to being combed, trimmed and fluffed for showing, these cows will have to be milked twice a day.

The milking parlor in the Graham Building milks around 150 dairy cattle twice a day Thursday through Sunday. For several years this milk was hauled to Ashe County Cheese in West Jefferson to be used in their cheeses. This year, the milking parlor received its Grade A certification and will be used to make Howling Cow Ice Cream at N.C. State University. The proceeds from the milk sales go to support youth programs with the N.C. Purebred Dairy Cattle Association.

“When the milk was sent to Ashe County Cheese, we would pay a hauling fee,” said Nancy Keith, superintendent of open and junior dairy shows. “Howling Cow is a lot closer, so the money we used for hauling can go back into youth programs.”

Show workers and exhibitors like that this milk is used as well. “Many fairs just dump the milk out,” said Keith. “We are all glad that we can use it and have the money go to a good cause.”

The milk parlor has six milking stations. Teat cups are placed on the cows and the milk is pumped to a holding tank. From there, the milk can be dumped if the cow is on antibioctics or pumped into a large refrigerated stainless steel tank. Barn manager Earl Franks estimates anywhere from 500 to 800 gallons are pumped into the tank daily. The N.C. State Dairy Processing Unit picks up the milk early each morning.

Franks, who has worked in the milking parlor 38 years, says it takes about five or six minutes on average to milk a cow; some might take longer. “Dairy cows are about the prettiest animals there are, and mixing the different dairy breeds makes a good-tasting milk,” he said.

Howling Cow Ice Cream is served at the N.C. State Dairy Bar by the Hobbies and Handicrafts Building.

A (not) deep fried review: Some like it hot

October 24, 2014 By: Category: 2014 N.C. State Fair

One of the hottest food items on the fairgrounds is also one of the coolest. Country Folks Creamery from Clayton introduced the Carolina Reaper Pepper Ice Cream, made from a pepper that is so high on the Scoville Scale that you have to be over 18 and sign a waiver to purchase it. But a 2.2 million Scoville heat unit rating didn’t deter the Deep Fried Crew from trying it out.

Candy Apple and I both like very spicy foods. Keith, our brave co-worker, says that he like things a little spicy. Check out the video to see how we faired.

We enjoyed it and we talked another family into giving it a try as well. (Their reaction was mixed.) After finishing the Carolina Reaper Pepper ice cream, we tried out their other new flavor, Krispy Kreme (our review is also on the video). It had a subtle glazed doughnut flavor, and it was well-blended into the ice cream so there wasn’t a chunky texture to distract you.

We dare you to give the Carolina Reaper Pepper Ice Cream a try, especially if you can double-dog-dare a friend to try it with you.

I’m guessing our co-worker Keith won’t be volunteering for any food review assignments with us again! But he was a great sport and gives the every-man-point-of-view when it comes to how hot this ice cream really is.

Campers on Mission serves fair workers in Heritage Circle

October 24, 2014 By: Category: 2014 N.C. State Fair

Campers on Mission serves about 900 meals a day.

For more than 25 years, the State Fair has been a ministry for N.C. Campers on Mission. While most visitors are enjoying the rides, exhibits and their favorite fair foods, Betty and Bill Wilson of Greensboro and their cadre of volunteers are serving meals, offering haircuts and listening to the workers that call the fairgrounds home during the run of the fair.

The N.C. State Fair is the largest mission project tackled each year for N.C. Campers on Mission. Not including local exhibitors and vendors, about 500 travleworkers converge on the fairgrounds to work concessions and carnival rides.

Campers on Mission members put together treat bags for fair workers.

The ministry collects supplies year round through area churches and the Raleigh Baptist Association, including toothpaste, toothbrushes, canned soup, deodorant, peanut butter and grape jam. The Wilsons’ estimate that Campers on Mission serves about 900 meals every day of the fair. “Last year we served about 10,000 bowls of soup,” said Bill Wilson. “This year we are running about that average.”

Camper on Mission volunteers give about a dozen or more haircuts each day.

The mission also offers haircuts, a clothes closet and a friendly place for fair workers to go.  “In addition to meals, we do a lot of listening and talking,” Wilson added.

Campers on Mission also hosts a variety of entertainment daily at 12:30, 1:45, 3 and 4:15 p.m. plus church services on Sunday mornings at 8:30 and 11 a.m. Stop by the 156-year old chapel in Heritage Circle to see a schedule of performances. Church services are open to all fairgoers.

N.C. Campers on Mission has about 200 members. In addition to their fair ministry, they volunteer at Baptist Children’s Homes, street festivals and building projects.

Record-setting giant pumpkin on display at the N.C. State Fair

October 23, 2014 By: Category: Uncategorized

Danny Vester with his state-record giant pumpkin at the Expo Building at the N.C. State Fair.

Within two months, Danny Vester of Spring Hope had set and broke his own state record for giant pumpkins as a first-time grower. Clearly he understands a thing or two about growing these mammoth fruits.

Vester has the 1,404.5-pound pumpkin on display in the Expo Center and was recently there answering fairgoers’ questions. His previous record pumpkin was 1,296 pounds, which was set in September.

When that “smaller” pumpkin was weighed, Vester was happy he set the state record, but  he had his eye on another one in his 5,400-square-foot garden.

“I knew this pumpkin was over 1,200 pounds, and I knew it was growing fast,” Vester said.

The retired telephone company worker bought his pumpkin seed via the Internet from a giant-pumpkin grower in Pennsylvania. The seed came from a 1,744.5-pound pumpkin. The cooler weather up North helps growers produce much larger pumpkins than we grow in the South, he said, but he has been thinking about ways to better manage some of the conditions here that hinder growth.

“Here we have a whole different environment that is not great for growing pumpkins, ” Vester said. “Part of it is figuring out how to work with the environment, and figuring out the unknowns.”

One of the factors he has focused on is getting faster runoff with water to avoid saturating the soil. Vester said he has spent a lot of time trying to figure out better growing techniques. “I’ve got some ideas for next year. I’ll be putting them into action and then see what Mother Nature throws at you. Mother Nature will always shoot you a curve.”

One new idea he plans to incorporate next year is to put wind breaks around his pumpkin patch.

One tip he passes along to would-be growers: “Don’t try to grow a giant pumpkin until you get about 200 leaves on the ground, because every leaf has a root node, so 200 leaves is 200 roots.” But the bigger tip he wanted to share was that anyone with some garden space can grow these plants, too.

 Be sure to check out Vester’s record-setting pumpkin in the Expo Center.








Entertainment Spotlight: Fire Safety Show

October 23, 2014 By: Category: 2014 N.C. State Fair

Firefighters Daniel Brown and Holt Alcon get the parents involved to show the importance of working smoke detectors.

For most families coming to the State Fair, acting silly and having fun is just part of having a good time. For the fire education teams performing in the Fire Safety Show in Kiddieland Fun Park, acting silly and having fun is their way of teaching important fire safety lessons to young fair attendees and their families.

“Fire Departments from across the state bring their clowns, puppet friends, inflatable fire prevention houses and other props,” said Jan Parker, fire prevention specialist with the Office of State Fire Marshall. “We bring the best fire education teams from across the state to perform at the fair. Our biggest group is the Elizabeth City Fire Department, which brings 18 firefighters for their shows the final weekend of the fair. They even came the Wednesday before the fair opened to build their set.” Other fire departments participating include: Rocky Mount, Raleigh, Greenville, Thomasville, Wadesboro, Pinecroft-Sedgefield and Chapel Hill.

Daniel Brown and Holt Alcon from the Pinecroft-Sedgefield Fire Department skit included magic tricks that encouraged kids to stop, drop and roll, and even gets parents involved to show the importance of working smoke alarms, and listening to the alarms if they starting beeping. The skit also showed the importance of replacing the batteries in the smoke alarms to keep them going strong.

“The main goal of our fire education teams is to educate families about working smoke alarms and fire escape plans,” said Parker. “This is an important message for families to hear because we are actually seeing an increase in the number of fire deaths in North Carolina. This year we have had 67 fire-related deaths already and still have a few cold months, when families are using their heaters and fireplaces more, to go.” In 2013, North Carolina had 75 deaths from fires.

The Fire Safety Show is in Kiddieland Fun Park daily at noon, 3 p.m. and 6 p.m.

The Elizabeth City Fire Department encourages children to stay low, under the smoke, in this skit.



After 60 years, Carl Beard still works poultry exhibit one year at a time

October 22, 2014 By: Category: 2014 N.C. State Fair

Carl Beard

Carl Beard has worked at the State Fair poultry exhibit for 60 years. Photo courtesy of Robert and Robbie Bailey.

Guest author Robbie Bailey grew up in Raleigh, but now lives with her husband in New York City, where they are professional photographers. She still returns to Raleigh for the State Fair when her schedule allows it. The Baileys’ photographs of poultry exhibitors are on display in the south lobby of Dorton Arena.

Those of us who grew up in Raleigh know that the first hint of autumn is often timed perfectly with the arrival of the North Carolina State Fair. It is a treasured yearly tradition that usually involves family, Ferris wheels, funnel cakes and fireworks. Some of you might also have fond memories of holding your first bitty chicken or a yellow baby duckling.  If you did, you may have crossed paths with Carl Beard. He has been working faithfully in the State Fair poultry tent for the past 60 years.

To be completely accurate, it wasn’t always a tent. The poultry exhibit started out in an old building with dirt floors that turned into thick red mud whenever it rained. It had a loft where Carl and his buddies bunked down during the fair. He remembers doing more shivering than sleeping.

Just across the way was a shiny new building known as the State Fair Livestock Pavilion, an architectural gem that would later be named the J.S. Dorton Arena. The year was 1954 and Carl was 24 years old. Marilyn Monroe had just married baseball player Joe DiMaggio, and Dwight D. Eisenhower was the president of the United States.

Carl was supposed to work at the poultry exhibit for only that one year. It was a duty normally assigned to his father-in-law. That particular year, Carl’s mother-in-law became ill and Carl’s father-in-law asked him to go and work in his stead. So, he packed up his pickup truck in Maiden and headed toward the state capital. The only travel route available at that time was N.C. 64 and it was a road that meandered slowly through each and every small town on the map between here and Hickory. The travel time of that first trip took almost seven hours. Young Carl had no way of knowing that he would be taking a similar journey every October for the next 59 years.

Let’s fast-forward to 2014. It’s Sunday morning and I am sitting next to Carl in the poultry tent. To catch him seated is rare. He tells me that he and the crew were up at 5 a.m. moving turkeys around. The gates open at 8 and all the birds need to be fed and watered and the floors need to be swept. During the fair’s 11-day run, over 3,000 chickens, ducks, and turkeys will be in their care. That doesn’t include the set-up and breakdown that requires him to live out of an onsite camper for almost two weeks. He is 84 and I am awed by both his enthusiasm and his durability.

‘Let’s go one more time’

We begin our impromptu interview with hundreds of roosters crowing randomly from just a few feet away. The noise is so magnificently maddening that I have to lean in close to speak. “Can you hear me all right?” I ask without trying to yell in his ear. “Yes, mam! You’re sitting on the side of my hearing aid so I can understand you just fine!”

“Why do you do this?” I ask. Before he answers, he pulls a handkerchief from his pocket and gently blows his nose. The sight of the handkerchief awakens memories of my own farm-boy father, and I smile and do my best to hold back the lump that has suddenly appeared in my throat.

“Everyone here at the State Fair has been really good to me,” Carl says. “And I mean everyone, from the folks in the front office to the maintenance crew here on the grounds. That’s why I come back.

“My late father-in-law lived by himself for years and I used to go by every afternoon and check on him. A few weeks before the fair was supposed to start, I would notice him setting various things out on his front porch. I asked him what he was doing. He said that he reckoned he’d go back with me to the State Fair one more time. That went on for years until he could no longer make the trip. And I guess that’s me now. I can’t do it anymore without the help of my son, David, but I just keep telling myself … let’s go one more time.”

I inquire about some of Carl’s best memories and he tells me that he has most enjoyed the opportunity to meet and talk to new people here at the fair. He believes he’s met some of the finest ones around. When I joke about any politicians or celebrities that he’s encountered, he fondly recalls memories of Gov. Jim Hunt. “He would come over and eat with us four or five times during the fair,” he says. “It seems that nobody would bother him (or perhaps they just couldn’t find him) when he was over here with us, and he seemed happy to take a break and find a few moments of peace.”

I then ask about the late Jim Graham. “You only had to tell the Commissioner your name one time and he’d remember it the next year when he saw you. That’s what I liked about him.”

When asked about his family, Carl proudly boasts that he and his wife, Cleo, have been happily married for 65 years. They share four children, 14 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. As mentioned before, Carl was able to make it to the 2014 North Carolina State Fair with the help of his devoted son, David. Cleo hopes to join them both here this weekend.

Before starting my interview with Carl, I had the privilege of speaking with Dr. Carm Parkhurst. You would be hard pressed to find a man more qualified in his field of expertise. In addition to being a well-respected professor emeritus of poultry science at N.C. State University, he is currently the general division director of the State Fair Poultry Competition where he and Carl have worked together for over 30 years. He regards Carl as the “architect” of the poultry tent. Carl also clerks the competitions and helps report the results back to the American Poultry Association. Dr. Parkhurst believes that Carl and the other yearly participants are helping to maintain a genetic pool of poultry that are both valued for their breeding potential and the continuation of many poultry species that might otherwise go extinct. How cool is that?

If you’d like to add a special treat to your fair activities this year, I’d highly recommend a visit to the poultry exhibition. If you’re lucky enough to run into Carl, I hope you’ll stop and shake his hand and thank him for his 60 years of service and for a job well done. We all hope that he will keep coming back … for one more year … for many years to come!

North Carolinians love Krispy Kreme

October 21, 2014 By: Category: 2014 N.C. State Fair

North Carolinians pay homage to the Krispy Kreme doughnut in a variety of ways.

The winner of the N.C. Egg Art contest is a Krispy Kreme burger with all the fixings. North Carolina’s Egg Farmers sponsor the N.C. Egg Art contest, which has to have a State Fair theme. The winning artist is Jacqueline Breckling from Cary. You can find the egg art in the Hobbies and Handicraft Building.


This Lego Krispy Kreme store depiction earned a second-place ribbon for Howard Maye of Raleigh in the North Carolina travel theme category. It can be found in the Hobbies and Handicrafts Building.

Miss Debbie’s Specialty Apples created the Krispy Kreme Collection for this year’s State Fair using a variety of Krispy Kreme flavors. Miss Debbie’s is found in the Commercial Building.

And of course, you can’t forget about the Krispy Kreme burger or the Krispy Kreme Sloppy Joe.  Another new item this year is Krispy Kreme flavored ice cream by County Folks, which is near Kiddieland.

And apparently our love of donuts runs deeper than just food. These beauties were found on the midway.

Lutz’s cattle is a 79-year fair tradition

October 20, 2014 By: Category: 2014 N.C. State Fair

Wayne Lutz outside Dorton Arena in 1965. (Photo from the Hickory Daily Record, Oct. 14, 1965.)

For the past 79 years at the N.C. State Fair, Lutz dairy cattle have always shown.

And in 62 years, Wayne Lutz has never missed an N.C. State Fair. He was 9 months old when he first came to the fair. By age 3, he was showing Jersey cows. Over the years, Lutz has won countless blue ribbons and Best of Show honors. He is also one of the exhibitors who remembers the days of showing in the “cow palace,” an affectionate nickname given to Dorton Arena back when it was used for livestock shows.

“The livestock barns were metal-roof buildings open on the side,” said Lutz. “You had a short walk to Dorton from the barns to show your cows. I remember that walk, and the atmosphere of showing in such a big building.” One of his most memorable moments in Dorton Arena was in 1965 when a young Lutz won the Kenneth R. Myatt memorial award in the junior dairy show. “This award was given to the grand champion of the junior show,” said Lutz. “I was proud to win it the first year it was given.”

“Back then there was a whole barn just for the Junior Livestock show,” he said. “Each county had an area, Rowan County might have 20 stalls. Before you came to the State Fair you had to win a blue ribbon at a county fair. There was a lot of competition, so you always had to do your best.”

For Lutz, showing cows isn’t about winning ribbons, it’s about camaraderie. “Shows are where your friends are, where you have a good time,” he added. He instilled this in his three daughters — Whitney, Kelsey and Avery — who grew up showing at the fair through their 4-H groups. As a family they would travel to livestock shows at the Dixie Classic Fair in Winston-Salem, the N.C. State Fair, even fairs in Ohio and Florida when his daughters were younger.

This past Sunday Lutz, along with three others, was inducted into the N.C. State Fair Livestock Hall of Fame. He joined a group of 145 other men and women who are strong supporters of livestock at the fair. Lutz was honored for his longtime involvement and support of shows at the fair. Many 4-H kids have grown up showing Lutz’s cattle at the fair.

Wayne and Karen Lutz with daughters, Whitney and Avery, and grandchildren Coet and Piper.

“Lutz cattle have shown at the N.C. State Fair for 79 years and will continue to show at the fair,” he said. Lutz has grandchildren who will be able to follow the family tradition. “Showing cows is about trying to have fun,” he said. “If we do good, that’s great – if not that’s OK, too. What I want to be known for is having a good time, making people laugh and having a good time.”

Dairy cattle shows start Friday in the Jim Graham Building. Check out the daily schedule for times of shows.


New-entertainment spotlight: Amanda Durnell of Down to Earth Aerials

October 18, 2014 By: Category: 2014 N.C. State Fair

Amanda Durnell of Down to Earth Aerials

Amanda Durnell  of Raleigh is someone to look up to. Way up. She is part of Down to Earth Aerials performing daily in front of Dorton Arena. Down to Earth Aerials is one of 20 free acts offered at the fair.

Durnell started learning aerial fabric and static trapeze at 32 years old at the New England Center for Circus Arts in Vermont. “I was about 40 pounds overweight and depressed,” Durnell said. “Learning this was a great outlet, mentally and physically. The brain tries to take the easy way, not the right way” She has been performing at street fairs, festivals and other celebrations for about five years. This is her first time at the N.C. State Fair.

To prepare for her show, Durnell uses rosin on her hands and sprays tuff stuff (often called sticky spray) on her feet to help her climb and swing. Her equipment includes an aerial fabric, trapeze and a suspendulum.  “This piece of equipment is patented and made especially for aerial shows like this,” Durnell said.  “This is not something that you can make at home.”

Her shows are choreographed to music and last about 15 minutes. Most of it takes place up in the air so even a large crowd of fairgoers will likely have a good view.

One of Durnell’s favorite parts of the fair so far has been meeting Vanilla Ice during his sound check. She is most looking forward to when her family from Oxford comes up later in the week to see her perform, and then walk around and eat food.

Durnell has lived in Raleigh for about 17 years. When she’s not performing at the fair she’s teaching aerial dance at Triangle Yoga in Chapel Hill or aerial dance at Legacy Ballet in Durham. She will be performing daily on the north lawn of Dorton Arena. Check the daily program for times.

Durnell with Vanilla Ice






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