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Because it’s strange and beautiful and hot, people from everywhere converge on Florida and they bring their cuisine and their traditions with them. The Zest celebrates the intersection of food and communities in the Sunshine State.

Come Fry With Me: Florida State Fair Funnel Cake Queen 'Mama Jane' Harris

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The Florida State Fair will look a little different this year, due to the pandemic. But one thing remains the same. As usual, serving up your deep-fried favorites will be “Mama Jane” Harris, who’s worked with The Best Around Concessions for more than 35 years.

Listen to the episode

The Florida State Fair will look a little different this year, due to the pandemic. But one thing remains the same: The food will be as over-the-top as ever.

As usual, serving up your deep-fried favorites will be “Mama Jane” Harris, who’s worked with The Best Around Concessions for more than 35 years. The Cape Coral-based company is owned by the McGrath family. But it’s Mama Jane who’s become a funnel cake virtuoso and media darling.

So how’d she get into this?

READ MORE: Florida State Fair Is Set To Begin, With COVID-19 Precautions

“I had two young boys, and I needed to make Christmas money, so I started working at the fair,” Mama Jane says. “I ended up having six children”—hence, the nickname—“so I still had to keep working at the fair every year to make Christmas money.”

These days, Mama Jane makes money and a name for herself as manager of The Best Around’s funnel cake trailer. She’s the evil genius behind sweet and savory funnel cake creations in flavors like red velvet, bacon maple, cotton candy and pizza. Her cheesy fried enchilada funnel cake won the people’s choice award at the 2017 Florida State Fair in Tampa.

“There is nothing I won’t try to fry,” says Mama Jane, who lives in Pensacola and travels from fair to fair about eight months out of the year. As her location changes, so do the names of her funnel cakes.

“If you’re up North, you don’t want to go up there with elephant ears. You want to go up there with fried dough, because that’s what it’s called up there,” Mama Jane notes. “And if you go to Canada, you don’t want to call it fried dough, and you don’t want to call it an elephant ear. You want to call it a beaver tail. … There’s different names for different regions. If you take elephant ears up North, you won’t sell a one. You change that name to fried dough, and you’ll be selling them all day long.”

And sell all day long, she does. Even health-conscious fairgoers can’t resist.

“Fried food is definitely not for everyone, but it also has its place,” Mama Jane says. “And its rightful place is at the fair.”

If you enjoyed this conversation with Mama Jane, then check out these episodes:

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