On the food watch: Texas fried

State fair time is coming to an end, and I haven’t posted a word about fair events. But now, reports from my Austin TX friends from the state fair there. Featuring the award-winning Funnel Cake Bacon Queso Burger:


A combo of two fair favorites: funnel cake (deep-fried dough) and a bacon cheeseburger.

From the CultureMap Austin site on the 28th, “Funnel Cake Bacon Queso Burger wins big at State Fair of Texas fried food awards” by Teresa Gubbins:

In a major upset, Froot Loops were completely bypassed at the State Fair of Texas’ 13th Annual Big Tex Awards, announced at a judging ceremony on August 27. And yet, one dish won two awards: Props to the Funnel Cake Bacon Queso Burger, the big winner, earning trophies both for “Most Creative” and for “Best Taste Savory.”

Funnel cake made a brief appearance on this blog on 7/8/15, in the posting “Birch beer”, about Pennsylania Dutch food. From Wikipedia:

Funnel cake … is a regional food popular in North America at carnivals, fairs, sporting events, and seaside resorts.

The concept of the funnel cake dates back to the early medieval Persian [and Muslim and Jewish] world [see below], where similar yeast-risen dishes were first prepared, and later spread to Europe. Pennsylvania German immigrants brought the yeast dish, known as Drechderkuche [or Drechterkuche; German / Dutch Trechter ‘funnel’], to America and around 1879 developed the baking powder version along with its new name, funnel cake.

Funnel cakes are made by pouring batter into hot cooking oil in a circular pattern and deep frying the overlapping mass until golden-brown. The batter is commonly poured through a funnel creating its texture and giving its name. When made at concession stands, a pitcher with an integral funnel spout is employed.


… Funnel cakes are typically served plain with powdered sugar, but can also be served with jam/jelly, cinnamon, chocolate, fresh fruit, or other toppings.

On the antecedents of Drechderkuche, from Gil Marks, Encyclopedia of Jewish Food (2010):

  (#3) The zalabia story

The fried dough is shared throughout the crescent from northern India through Andalusia in Spain — a gigantic chain of complex cultural diffusion that, after the expulsion of the Moors and the Jews from Spain in 1492, ends up with the food among rural Christian folk of the German-speaking lands, who carried it with them to southeastern Pennsylvania and then on to other places in the New World.

Ruth Hutchison’s The New Pennsylvania Dutch Cook Book (discussed in my “Pennsylvania Dutch Country” posting of August 30th) relays the directions that her source (Kaye Schneitman) gave her, for a batter of milk (4 cups), eggs (4), baking soda (1/2 tsp, dissolved in a bit of lukewarm water), flour (see below), sugar (2 tbsp), and salt (1/4 tsp):

“Flour enough to form a batter that will run slowly through a funnel into hot lard [characteristically, not mentioned in the list of ingredients; the lard goes without saying]. Form the cakes any size or shape desired.”

Hutchison then continues:

The only thing to do is to start with, say, 3 cups of the flour and keep on adding until the batter seems satisfactory. After that the frying becomes quite an art, because all sorts of shapes can be achieved by quick twists and turns of the funnel [also not mentioned, except in the name of the dish] and covering and uncovering the opening [note: not just any old funnel, but one with a lever for controlling the flow of fluid — called a piston funnel or confectionaryfunnel]. Serve at once, sprinkled with powdered sugar.

[Digression: the funnel. From the website of a supply firm:

  (#4) KWIK PRO piston funnel, in stainless steel (made in France), in its stand

Kwik Pro piston funnel entirely of stainless steel, used for filling, dispensing, garnishing.
Suitable for liquid and semi-liquid preparations such as sauces, hot jelly, hot caramel…
Easy to use: pour by pressing the lever with your thumb.]

Hutchison’s recipe doesn’t tell you how many people it is expected to serve (4, probably, if they’re modest eaters), nor does it explain that funnel cakes are traditionally a breakfast dish (zalabia is a sweet dessert for special occasions).

Characteristically, the recipe is deceptively simple, but it’s also tricky — tricky enough that my Pa. Dutch grandmother (hereafter, Grandma Sue) never attempted to make it for the family — but then the family had 20th-century breakfasts, cereal from a box, eggs, toast, orange juice, that sort of thing.

(Ann Daingerfield Zwicky, who was a fabulous cook in several different cuisines, on several occasions tried to make milk pies and molasses pies (Flitche) from the recipes in Hutchison’s book. A loving gesture towards making for me some of Grandma Sue’s foods that had so brightened my childhood. Only 4 ingredients each, but she was ignominiously defeated. It ended in tears every time — hers, and mine in sympathy.)

In any case, growing up in the mid-20th century in Pennsylvania Dutch country, I knew funnel cakes only as a food of fairs and carnivals, the occasional summer church festival (especially strawberry festivals, where you could get homemade strawberries in syrup, to drizzle on your funnel cakes), and amusement parks (notably Hershey Park, where the funnel cakes came with hot chocolate sauce drizzled on them).



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