Rediscovering tradition at the N.C. State Fair

A trip to the fair is a journey of community, tradition, and the simple joy of a good biscuit


RALEIGH — I made my annual visit to the fair on Monday with my wife, Beth, and our sons, Everett, 13, and James, 8. I've been going to the state fair since I can remember going anywhere. I've seen it all, tasted it all and walked it all.

Each year, we dive into this kaleidoscope of food and fun, chasing the perfect bite amidst laughter and wild rides. With two adventurous boys, the new food choices often match the new rides in terms of excitement.

The 2023 N.C. State Fair featured 48 new food offerings, from a colossal shrimp pop (voted best new item by local media and our own A.P. Dillon) to Hungarian chimney cakes (a must-have if you like sweets). It's always fun to try new things at the fair (or at least see someone else try them - looking at you, fried butter). But, most seasoned fairgoers have their staples that they just can't miss. At the top of my list is a ham biscuit.

Cary United Methodist Church was the first fair vendor to serve ham biscuits back in 1916. The Apex Lions Club has an extensive following for their ham biscuit, which is part of a larger menu on the main drag at the State Fair.

My go-to ham biscuit has always been at the Pittsboro Kiwanis Club booth with its "World Famous" ham biscuits. Since 1964, this booth has been a fixture at the fair, mirroring my theory that a limited menu often leads to perfected offerings. As a self-proclaimed connoisseur of Carolina-style hot dogs, I find the best hot dogs at the spots with the fewest options beyond a hot dog and its four accepted condiments (mustard, chili, slaw and onions). The same is true with the Pittsboro Kiwanis Club, where your options are a ham biscuit or nothing when it comes to food items.

The Kiwanis Club was my first stop on arrival Monday, but by mid-afternoon, as the crowd's breakfast cravings gave way to a hunt for fried delights, my path led me back to the ham biscuit booth. I was welcomed by the friendly faces of volunteers - Sledd Thomas, Jack Moore, Charlee Moore and John Justice. Chatting with Sledd, I learned about the booth's over 60-year tradition of serving ham biscuits to fair-goers. The camaraderie among the volunteers added a dash of community spirit to the simple joy of a good biscuit.

Standing there, with a ham biscuit in hand amidst the buzz of conversations and the diverse aroma of fair food mingling in the air, the essence of the fair came alive. It's about community, tradition and those simple joys that weave us together. Stick to your favorites at the fair, but next year, if you need a new food item, might I suggest an old staple that you might not have made your list before.