Funnel Cake Adventures
by David "Sumoflam" Kravetz
**Originally written for www.aceweekly.com**
It all started with a tweet from @AceWeekly. (Translation: It all started with a Twitter message from the editor of Ace Weekly. See legend below for other Twitter-speak used in this article). Then came more tweets about #Funnelcakes and #Funnelcakedisappointments, etc. Apparently, at the first festival of the season in Lexington, there were no Funnel Cakes and Ace Weekly was not happy. Many other LexTweepers tweeted in about possible #Funnelcake.
That was about two weeks ago. In the course of all of the Funnel Cake tweeting, I started tweeting in and looking for Funnel Cakes to appease Ace Weekly’s palette along with the others.
The MayFest in Lexington came and went, but alas, no Funnel Cakes. The next weekend was Gardenside’s Fair. Turned out there were Funnel Cakes there, but Ace Weekly couldn’t make it. Plans were laid to hit the annual St. Elizabeth Ann-Seton Country Fair at the big church a block from my house. That’s when I thought “Hmm, another opportunity to do a photo essay on something everyone else overlooks.” So, I tweeted in that I would be there with camera in hand to get Ace weekly’s first Funnel Cake bite of the season and would write about it and about Funnel Cakes in general.
As everyone that attends a fair or a carnival knows, there is always food sold in those little stands---and that is half the fun of going (the other half being the rides). The gyros, the sausages, the blooming onions, the corn dogs, the cotton candy and yes, the Funnel Cakes, among a growing list of absolutely unhealthy but joyfully yummy goodies.
Some examples of Funnel Cake Stands. But funnel cakes and pork rinds?
Other kinds of food stands at a fair
Most people get their Funnel Cakes without thinking a bit about where they came from and why they are so-called “fair fare.” But, I set out to get the inside scoop on things.
According to my research, the actual Funnel Cake that we know and love was created by the Pennsylvania Dutch in western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio. Called Drecter Kuche (yes, that is German because the Pennsylvania Dutch are actually the “Pennsylvania Deutsch”). The vintage recipe from the “Pennsylvania Dutch Cooking” cookbook is as follows:
Beat eggs and add sugar and milk. Sift half the flour, salt and baking powder together and add to milk and egg mixture. Beat the batter smooth and add only as much more flour as needed. Batter should be thin enough to run thru a funnel. Drop from funnel into deep, hot fat (375f). Spirals and endless intricate shapes can be made by swirling and criss-crossing while controlling the funnel spout with a finger. Serve hot with molasses, tart jelly, jam or sprinkle with powdered sugar.
Start out by adding the dough to the oil in a round former. Move from former. Let cook.
When nice and golden brown, put on a plate
Add sugar and other toppings, such as cinnamon or chocolate syrup
During the late-1800s and into the early 20th century, the Pennsylvania Dutch folk would have these for special harvest celebrations. They were a treat and not a normal part of everyday fare. But, as tourism increased, the Drecter Kuche were served in cafes and restaurants in the area and many tourists, mainly in the Midwest, carried this concept back with them.
But the history of “fried dough” foods actually goes way back into European history. In Finland they enjoy tippaleipä which looks very similar to Funnel Cakes. The history of tippaleipä goes back to the 1700s. German recipes for Drecter Kuche go back to 1879.
Tippaleipä from Finland
But these treats are typically unleavened (don’t use yeast). But attendance at fairs and carnivals can also bring out the leavened fried breads such as “elephant ears” in the US and “beaver tails” in Canada. Other similar snacks would include “Fry Bread” as found on the Navajo Indian Reservation in Arizona, zeppole in Italian areas and sopapillas as found in New Mexico and Texas. At fairs in Arizona you can get Navajo Tacos, fried bread covered with refried bean and taco fixings, etc.
Sumoflam with a friend in Dayton, Washington getting ready to enjoy a HUGE Elephant Ear
Back to the present and the subject at hand. May 30th came along and it was time to meet Ace Weekly and others at St. Elizabeth Ann-Seton. I had already done some early scouting and photos of the Funnel Cake stand on the premises.
The Funnel Cake Stand at St. Elizabeth Ann-Seton Fair
I met Susan Chafin and her husband. They are from New Port Richey, Florida and have run “fair fare” stands for over 30 years. Ironically, in all of these years they had never once been interviewed or asked about their Funnel Cake business. This was a first!!
L-Susan Chafin, stand owner R-Susan and some of her team
In the past they had operated pizza stands, taco stands, BBQ stands and others. They have been doing Funnel Cakes since the 1970s and currently operate three stands out of their Florida base and enjoy the travel and the fun. Their children operate the other two. The Chafins travel with the fairs from May to October and pull their stand with them. They stay in a travel trailer during their travels.
I asked Susan how many Funnel Cakes they sell a year and she had no idea. I asked her if the number could be in the tens of thousands and she doubted that. But, she did agree that they sell thousands of them a year.
Getting an order ready; patrons lined up for the goods; ready to go and eat; chowing down
Accompanying Susan and her husband were three other individuals. Two were from Florida and one was from Somerset, KY. They put in the hours, getting in at about 10:30 AM for a 12:00 noon start. Since they make the Funnel Cakes as they are ordered, they do need to premix their dough and have plenty on hand. By evening time they are pumping out hot Funnel Cakes by the dozens, working in a human conveyance system. Susan’s husband drops the dough through the funnel and into the oil and cooks them. Susan grabs the finished product and stacks it near the sales windows where the others put on the toppings…mainly powdered sugar, but also honey an even chocolate sauce. They also serve fountain drinks to wash it down with.
Susan Chafin stacks funnel cakes for the crowd; a happy patron with a chocolate sauce covered funnel cake
As soon as the four days at the St. Elizabeth Ann-Seton fair were done, the Chafins would take a couple of days off and then were off to Murray, KY for their next fair.
Our fearless Ace Weekly editor with her first funnel cake of the season. #funnelcakesatisfaction
Ace Weekly contributor Keegan Frank getting ready for his funnel cake
The editor of Ace Weekly showed up with a couple of other Ace weekly readers/contributors for the official “first bite of the season” ceremony. Needless to say, all were happy to have fresh, warm, sugary Funnel Cakes….even me.
David "Sumoflam" Kravetz gets ready for his first funnel cake of the season
A TWITTER PRIMER
Tweet - a message sent through twitter
Tweeps - Twitter people...people who send tweets
#word - Hashmark word. Hashmarks are used to create groupings that are easily searched in Twitter. So, #Funnel Cake could be searched and all of the recent tweets can be seen.
@name - the @ mark is used to precede the user name in twitter. So @AceWeekly would be Ace Weekly's user name. My user name is @sumoflam.
Follow - Adding a user is termed following in Twitter. So, if one were to add me as a friend in Twitter, they would follow @sumoflam.
For those wanting to know more, check out the Twitter Fan Wiki on the internet at http://twitter.pbworks.com/