The Fair: Best Elephant Ears in The Midway

One fair food item Mary really, really likes is Elephant Ears. These are rather simple to make. A yeast-based pastry dough is allowed to rise. The prepared dough is stretched into a flat shape like a pizza crust, then deep-fried till it’s golden-brown. After a few minutes rest, it’s sprinkled with either a mixture of brown sugar and cinnamon, or sifted powdered sugar, and served to a waiting fair guest. Personally, I don’t like these things anywhere close to as much as Mary does. They’re nearly always over-cooked, the sprinkled coating seems to get into, onto and around everything, and once I’m done eating even a portion of one, I end up needing a gallon of hot water just to get the sticky substances off my hands.

Then why was it, after I got one from the lovely Breann in the above pic yesterday evening, did I have to go back and get another one of these nasty beasties? What was so different about them that actually made me want more?? I had to find out …

To get the whole story, I went straight to the source. Bob Johnson is the cook in this Elephant Ears trailer from Heidi’s Food Concessions. When I picked up the first Elephant Ear, Bob had had a visitor from a competitor’s trailer. When the competitor left, Bob had turned to me and, noticing my interest in that conversation, said with a smile, “They’re always trying to get my secrets. It ain’t gonna matter since they just keep on usin’ frozen dough!” I’d noticed the commercial mixer in Bob’s trailer, and the half-dozen or so 5-gallon buckets of resting dough. When I went back for the second Elephant Ear, I specifically asked Bob about what he was doing differently from everyone else.

“I actually got this recipe from my father-in-law”, he began … and went on to tell a bit of the story of a true classic. It turns out the recipe in question is not only a closely-guarded secret, it’s been in the family at least 75 years, possibly more. This is the 19th year Heidi’s Food Concessions has had this Elephant Ears trailer located on this spot at the Monroe County Fair. It’s off the beaten path: Instead of being stuffed in amongst the rest of the tightly-packed food fair on the fairgrounds, this trailer is parked further north, a few hundred feet southeast of the new MB&T expo building, seeming almost lonely sitting there next to an ancient Michigan State Police car. But because of the truly old-fashioned recipe, and the wonderful and friendly service from family members, it’s worth seeking out.

Because of the Thompson family, I’ll never look at Elephant Ears the same way again. But you can be sure I’ll be paying attention to how Ears are made in a given trailer before I’ll buy one. If they’re anything like the ones from Heidi’s, I’m sure I’ll be craving more. Now, if I can only figure out what a proper fair drink would be for washing such a thing down …


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  1. It’s the lemonade shakeup, you silly.

  2. Nah, I’m looking at maybe having the first whole milk trailer out there, with everything set to 34 degrees F.

  3. I went to this booth myself last night! Great Ears and had lots of cinnamon on them…yum!

    It’s located next to the State Police and by Trinity Lutheran’s Food Stand – I actually think it’s a great location, since it’s by all the sit-down places and is easy to get to when you want dessert.

  4. My mom used to make fried bread dough for us when we were kids. We never put sugar on it though, just drizzled it with good old Calder Dairy fresh butter. Boy it was good. Since she’s been gone, articles like this bring back great memories, Thanks.

  5. Cyndi, I recently found an older Philadelphia Cream Cheese cookbook with a recipe for Crullers. Instead of the spiral doughnuts, these are to be cut square before being fried. I think they’d be great dressed the way you used to dress your mom’s fried bread dough. Thanks!

  6. Algae … dessert?? Those ears were dinner! 😉

  7. Elephant ears always have been my favorite festival/fair food.

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