The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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Funnel Cake - Folkways - February, 1984

By John Beard © 1984

Issue: February, 1984

folkwaysFunnel CakesWay back in 1862, a guy named William Penn set up what he called a “Holy Experiment” in a place called Pennsylvania. Not being a historical scholar, I’m not real sure just how the experiment turned out - except for the fact that it brought a whole passel of folks from the Rhine Valley in Germany flocking to America.

When they got here, most folks found it too rough to call them “Germans from the Rhine Valley” so they called them “Pennsylvania Dutch” for short. These Pennsylvania Dutch folks were a talented group - contributing beautiful pottery, silversmithing, paintings, and woodwork as well as the all important (though misnamed) Kentucky Longrifle and the Conestoga (covered) wagon.

Being so darned skillful and smart, it’s no wonder that they also donated a rich heritage of good cookin’. They often bragged that “Good lovin’ don’t last but good cookin’ do.” With this kind of background, it’s not hard to see where this month’s specialty came from. Some enterprising metalsmith teamed up with an adventurous cook to give us a treat called funnel cake.

The recipe for this confection got me a little confused. My research says that the recipe goes back two hundred years but the recipe calls for a “tractor funnel”. I reckon what happened was that this tractor funnel worked so well in the 1800’s that somebody came along and invented a tractor to go with it.

Well, no matter; on with the recipe. Mix together 1¼ cups flour, 2 tablespoons sugar, 1 teaspoon baking powder, and ¼ teaspoon salt. Slowly add a mixture of one egg and 2/3 cup of milk to flour mixture, beating constantly until smooth.

Heat some cooking oil over the fire or, if you have one of those electric frying pans, heat the oil to 375 degrees F.

Pour batter into a funnel with three-eighths to one-half inch opening. Holding this opening as close as possible to the oil, remove finger to release batter. Move funnel in an ever widening spiral until your cake is about two inches in diameter. Cover opening.

Cook until golden brown on both sides (twenty seconds or so per side). Remove and allow to drain. Dip in powdered sugar, molasses, honey or glaze and serve - they’re some kind of good!

That about does it this month. If you have any questions or ideas for topics or, if you just want to say hi, please feel free to drop me a note care of The Mountain Laurel.

Thanks for your help! We’ll see you next month.

Editors Note: The earliest settlers to this country may have gotten off the boat up north but it didn’t take long for them to start migrating south. This months FOLKWAYS column is about a recipe that is our heritage via these travelers. There was a large German settlement in Franklin County, and funnel cakes are still one of the most popular items at the annual Blue Ridge Folklife Festival.