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Amidst classics, new desserts are icing on the cake for this year's Food Row

“Mama” Jane Harris has a soft spot for the Elkhart County 4-H Fair.

A 31-year employee of Fort Myers, Fla.-based The Best Around Inc. concessions, Harris has traveled the country crafting her variations on the classic funnel cake, some of which, she said, have been featured on “The Today Show” and in publications abroad.

Of all the sites, of all the grandstands and festival fields she’s seen, she believes Elkhart County’s fair edges out other destinations.

“It’s one of my favorites,” Harris said. “Because everyone’s about family here. Period.”

The Best Around’s owners, Kevin and Gayle McGrath, have appeared annually in Elkhart County for 35 years, Harris for 31 years — more than enough time to familiarize themselves with the faces behind the fair’s function, including Ora Miller.

“I only saw him two weeks out of the year,” Harris said. “But what little I knew of him, he was honest, laid-back and a wonderful man to work with.”

Miller was the food concessions director for many years until his death earlier this year. The McGraths decided to honor Miller’s legacy in their newest menu item, “The Orie,” and it was Harris who devised the dessert.

It’s made of two small chocolate funnel cakes, bound together with a thick whipped sweet cream, in an attempt to mimic the look and taste of an Oreo. 

“Mama” Jane said the debut of The Orie, found just outside the grandstand for $8, has been a success comparable to the time when the company introduced a red velvet funnel cake, now one of its most popular items. When possible new menu options, like a funnel cake bacon cheeseburger and funnel cake on a stick, were posted for voting the upcoming Tennessee Valley Fair in Knoxville, Harris said The Orie was most in demand. 

“It will become a regular item,” she confirmed.

Another new dessert creation is the Kappa Cookie at Tri Kappa’s concession pavilion. For the first time, the Indiana philanthropic organization sourced ice cream from Goshen’s The Chief rather than its previous supplier, Sherman’s Ice Cream of South Haven, Mich.

“It helps localize what we do here,” said Tri Kappa member Danae Bell, who is co-owner of The Nut Shoppe in Goshen.

Customers can choose between a monster cookie or chocolate crinkle variety of the ice cream sandwich.

Individual slices of fresh pie, including cherry, apple, blueberry, strawberry rhubarb, pecan and peach varieties are $3.75 or $6 for the a la mode option with ice cream. Whole pies are $15. 

Bell said Tri Kappa’s fair sales have exceeded those of last year, when the group donated 10 $1,000 college scholarships to area students attending Fairfield, Northridge and Goshen high schools. The organization intends to do the same this year with its proceeds.

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