They’re sweet, spongy and a bit messy, but when it comes to fair foods, funnel cakes are a delicacy.
“What would a fair be without a funnel cake?” said Tammy Hert, who fries up the plate-size piles of goodness at Emma’s Funnel Cakes. The portable stand is part of the James H. Drew Exposition, the company that provides the carnival at the Appalachian Fair. Hert and four others, including manager Becky Graybeal, work in the small space adorned with colorful flags and lights. They spend nine months out of the year traveling from place to place to sell what they say are the tastiest funnel cakes around.
“Of course everybody’s going to say this, but I do believe ours are the best,” Hert said. “We put love and pride into what we do. I enjoy my job tremendously. It’s an honest living and I like to be a people pleaser.”
To further delight the taste buds of customers, Emma’s Funnel Cakes offers toppings in addition to the traditional powdered sugar. Chocolate syrup, strawberries and cinnamon sugar are just a few of the options. Before the mouth-watering finished product makes it into the hands of fairgoers, Hert pours the batter into metal rings sitting in 400-degree oil. She can fry 14 to 16 cakes at a time.
“You’ve got to be able to handle the heat,” Hert said. “When we get really busy, we start bumping and knocking each other and we can’t say we’re sorry all the time, but they know that we don’t mean it when we bump into one another. We get a little crowded in here sometimes. When someone buys five funnel cakes, four lemonades and two corndogs, we’re all running and grabbing and snatching to get people what they ordered.”
The batter is made from a special funnel cake mix that is ordered in bulk. Because Hert and the crew never know if they will sell 50 or 500, they stay prepared for big business. Coffee creamer or vanilla, plus water and the mix, forms the batter. It has a sweetness that sometimes doesn’t even need powdered sugar, Hert said.
As the lines get longer, Hert puts a pitcher in each hand and pours batter into the oil. She says a continual motion in the wrist often leads to the perfect funnel cake.
“Sometimes they’ll come out really thick and sometimes I’ll get a ‘woo-hoo,’ ” she said. “That’s the perfect funnel cake to me. Sometimes they hear me yell ‘woo-hoo’ really loud and they know I’ve made the perfect one.”
It takes about a minute and a half for the cakes to go from fryer to plate, and workers will even wrap them up for an on-the-go supply of fried, sugar-covered dough.
Hert’s been working in the Emma’s Funnel Cake stand for more than 10 years. Her husband Larry, is the ride foreman for the Moon Rocket. Their beagle keeps them company on the road, but she says they miss family while they’re away from their Louisville, Ky., home. During the off season, the funnel cake cook works with Alzheimer’s and dementia patients.
Emma’s Funnel Cakes is located on the Appalachian Fairgrounds across from Commercial Building No. 3.