When it comes to going to a fair or carnival, nothing is as traditional as eating the food on the midway. And when it comes to that food, nothing is more traditional – or yummy – than funnel cake.
It’s also kind of genius. Basically, this tasty treat is cake batter poured through a funnel into a deep fryer and then sprinkled with sugar. Calorie counting aside, what’s not to like about that?
But you might wonder: Where did this memorable little confection come from?
You’ve come to the right place.
Some of the first funnel cakes apparently were made in medieval times, based on recipes found in Anglo-Norman cooking manuscripts, according to the Gold Medal Products Co. website. They were named “mincebek”, “mistembec” or “cryspses,” all of which have their origin in the French language.
These concoctions were made with yeast or sourdough batter. Finished cakes were sprinkled with salt and served with syrup – which sounds pretty good. So good, in fact, that by the 19th Century they were given as holiday presents.
Then the Pennsylvania Dutch got involved and things really took off.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, German-speaking settlers moved into the Pennsylvania countryside. By the mid-1950s, there was a growing interest in the history of these people, where they had come from and the particulars of their culture.
To celebrate this culture, the Kutztown Folk Festival was formed. The first festival, held in the summer of 1950, drew 25,000 people to tiny Kutztown, located about 50 miles north of Philadelphia, according to the festival website.
A catch phrase of the festival is, “Eat till you ouch.”
Soon the festival grew from four to nine days in July – it still goes on, the 67th edition will happen in the summer of 2016. One of the main attractions from the very first few years were the funnel cakes – sold for 25 cents each at the first fair.
The recipe came from Emma Miller, who apparently had been making the cakes for her family. She made the cakes with her friends Grace Merkel Henninger and Stella Heinly, according to the website of Tori Avey, who writes about the history of food.
You have these three talented ladies to thank for the tasty treat you now get to enjoy.
Once people got a taste of what was being made, the funnel cake took off in popularity. The method for creating them was refined. These days, they are made by pouring the batter in a circular patent into hot cooking oil and then deep frying it.
They still come served with sugar, but other toppings can be chosen that range from fruit to chocolate and Nutella.
In short, it’s hard to go wrong when you’ve got fried batter to start with. Apparently, medieval cooks – and the Pennsylvania Dutch – felt the same way. Thanks to the work, and good taste, of these early pioneers, you’re time at the fair is that much more enjoyable.
While there are more food choices available than ever, it’s hard to beat the classic funnel cake.