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With summer events canceled, this might be your only hookup for an elephant ear

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Elephant Ear

Summer’s canceled. Or that’s how it feels right now. Concerts, festivals and fairs. We won’t be enjoying those this summer. 

But you know what’s not canceled, for at least three weekends? 

Elephant ears, Krusty pups and Fisher scones.

Throughout July, diners can feast upon all those devilishly caloric and gut busting fair treats in a socially distant festival. The fair is setting up a drive-thru Fair Food-To-Go event during the weekends of July 3-5, July 10-12 and July 17-19. 

I reached out to talk about the offerings from Jim and Claudette Duris, who longtimers will know as the friendly family behind the Duris concession stands at the Puyallup Fair, which you young kids new to the area call “The Washington State Fair.”

Anybody who grew up here spent every September doing the Puyallup for a satisfying tour of gluttony.

I remember high tailing it to the fairgrounds for the chewy pull of a Duris elephant ear, the fried dough dessert that was dusted with cinnamon-sugar or raspberry jam. I washed down the chewy, hot dough with lemonade and a chaser of a Krusty Pup and Fisher Scone. 

Elephant Ear
A Duris Elephant Ear from the Puyallup Fair.

And everyone who grew up here knows the famous Duris strawberry desserts. And the baked potatoes with the fluffy interior. And, in recent years, the addition of Duris Deep Fried Butter and Duris Dole Whip booths throughout the fairgrounds.

If you’ve got a food attachment to the Puyallup Fair, chances are the Duris family is wrapped up somewhere in that fond food memory of yours. 

Really old timers will recall when the Duris family served their famous strawberry desserts outside the fairgrounds along the old food row (aka the food contraband alley), which was also home to the Fleischkuechle wagon, Crazy Eric’s and Earthquake Burgers. 

Of course, most of those fair vendors wound up inside the fairgrounds eventually.

THE DURIS FAMILY AT THE FAIR

For the Duris family, they ventured into the fairgrounds as an official fair vendor around 1981. 

They had a trailer at the blue gate for the first three years, recalled Claudette, who married into the Duris family. Jim Duris’s family members have been berry farmers here for three generations. 

How the Duris family wound up regionally known for their elephant ears came from their affinity for the nearby frybread (fried dough) booth in their first years at the fair. When that booth departed, that left an opening for their idea to serve another version of fried dough with their family’s famous berries. That was before they moved into the newly built Restaurant Building around 1985. 

ELEPHANT EARS: THE BEGINNING

When Jim was 22, as Claudette tells the story, he was “at a festival in Portland, he saw a guy doing fried bread dough.” He knew he could make it work

Jim got to work on his own fried dough recipe, which is a complete and total family secret that they will not share with anybody. You basically have to have Duris blood or marry into the Duris family to know how to make it. 

Here’s the basics: Elephant ears start as a stretchy handmade dough that’s pulled and manipulated into a flat disc, bigger than the size of a Frisbee, and then quickly fried until it becomes a perfect, chewy, slightly oily surface ready for a heavy slap of butter and a generous dusting of cinnamon and sugar or a smear of raspberry jam. 

Part of the ritual of eating an elephant ear is watching the stand employees stretch and pull and tug the dough into just the right lopsided shape before tossing it into the fryer. 

If you’re doing it right, you’ll do it half-and-half and enjoy both cinnamon-sugar and raspberry jam. 

Fisher Scone
Fisher Scones also will be served over three weekends at the Puyallup Fair.

THE EVOLUTION OF THE ELEPHANT EAR

Over the years, they offered all kinds of toppers for the elephant ears – from strawberries from the family farm to salmon and cream cheese (Claudette regrets that choice). 

“Maple syrup, chocolate syrup, peanut butter. We’ve tried everything. We’d trot around and try getting marshmallow whipped cream,” recalled Claudette.

They have fond memories of Jim’s mom showing up at the fair and making a big copper kettle of homemade apple butter. “You could smell it through all of the Restaurant Building. Since she (Jim’s mom) has passed on, we haven’t done apple butter. We’d love to find a practical way to do it, but it takes so much product to service all those stands.” 

At one time, they made all the raspberry freezer jam for their elephant ears, but as they increased their booths, they couldn’t keep up with demand and switched to a jam company. 

Cinnamon-sugar and raspberry jam were always the most popular, so those are the toppers that stuck around. 

A MINI DURIS EMPIRE 

From 1981 until now, they’ve grown to 15 stands across the fairgrounds. 

“Concessions is a very erratic way to make a living,” explained Claudette. “You have to make some decisions early on on how fast you want to grow and how to maintain quality of life. You don’t want heavy debt. It took us longer to grow. We built all of this on cash. It was terribly important to pay cash for everything,” she said. 

That’s something they’re thankful for now because their entire concessions season has essentially been canceled, save for a few events. And we all await news of the status of this year’s Washington State Fair.

“We won’t have a paycheck if the fair doesn’t go this year. We won’t have money for the next 18 months,” she said. “That’s OK because we’ve learned how to save and set aside for these things to occur. Nobody could have predicted covid, but other things happen. The fairgrounds catch on fire, contracts go up. Because Jim came from a farm family, we plan.” 

But you can help this small business survive the next year by showing up over the next three weekends and ordering a chewy, delicious elephant ear. Their Dole Whip also will be on the menu.

Diners just have to drive into the fairgrounds and roll up to order. 

“We’re going to use carhops. We’ll send somebody out to take the order from the car. We’ll produce the food in the stand and they’ll carry it to the cars. It’ll be fun,” said Claudette.

Other vendors will serve throughout the fairgrounds. Branks will be there with their barbecue and Murph’s also will be there. Fisher Scones will serve, as will Krusty Pups from the Sales family and Earthquake Burgers.

Here’s a map of the lineup so you can plan your entry, exit and stomach space  – https://www.datocms-assets.com/6258/1593534910-food-to-go-map.pdf

FAIR FOOD-TO-GO

When: July 3-5, July 10-12, July 17-19

Hours: 4-7 p.m. Fridays; 11-7 Saturdays-Sundays

Info: https://www.thefair.com/fair-food-to-go/

Please note: Debit/credit preferred

DID YOU HEAR? COSTELLA’S IS COMING TO SOUTH HILL

Did you catch my story about Costella’s opening in the old Hub space in South Hill? It’ll be an Italian restaurant, deli and Italian market. Read my story here.

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