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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Fair food fuels fundraising for local clubs, nonprofit organizations

It’s positively primeval this piece of meat, all salty and smokey and weighing in at more than 1 ½ pounds.

The tendons – tough, fibrous, elongated – prove tricky to cut with a plastic knife and fork. Same thing for the leathery skin.

No matter.

Esther Livingston has a plan of attack for indulging in the extra-large drumstick. In fact, she employs the same strategy every year.

“I just tear it apart.”

The turkey leg is the top-seller at the Spokane-East Club of Rotary International, one of a half-dozen service clubs and nonprofit organizations to staff a food booth at the Spokane Interstate Fair. For most of them, the 10-day event, which started last Friday and runs through this Sunday, is their biggest fundraiser of the year. Monies raised through their fair food booths fill all kinds of needs and support all kinds of local service projects – from iPads for young patients at the Shriners Hospital for Children in Spokane to programs for youth with special needs.

That charitable aspect is one of the reasons Livingston opts for her favorite turkey leg – that, and, “It’s wonderful,” she said. “It’s juicy.”

This year, the 80-year-old waited an hour and a half to get her $8 drumstick. It was, she said, the longest she’s ever had to suppress her hunger for that particular piece of meat.

“They told me I could take it for free because I waited so long, but I didn’t take it because it’s a charity,” she said, noting she might share the thing with a couple of friends. Then, she nodded toward a man with a turkey leg at another table. “His isn’t as big as mine.”

Each leg weighs about 26 to 28 ounces, said Tom Warrick, a past president of the club. He’s been a member for about 38 years – “had perfect attendance for 27 of it” – and helped start the food booth. It’s staffed by volunteers.

Last year, the booth netted about $27,000, Warrick said. But there’s no set fundraising goal. “We’ll take what we can get.”

Top beneficiaries include Spokane Guilds’ School and Neuromuscular Center, Meals on Wheels and the Bambino Buddy Ball, a program which pairs special needs young people up to 20 years old with buddies so they can play baseball together.

When it opened, the booth solely served corn on the cob. Later, they added baked potatoes. They began serving turkey legs “I’m going to say 10 years ago,” said Warrick, 69. “We always ask, ‘Do you want the left or the right?’”

Might want to split it with someone – or several people. There’s 140 calories and 5 grams of fat per serving, and a serving size is 4 ounces. So multiply by seven.

“I don’t think Jenny Craig would approve. It’s probably the fattiest thing at the fair,” said Warrick, who baked the legs at 225 degrees for two hours Monday morning while Livingston waited.

What else was she planning to nosh on at the fair? “That’s gonna be it,” Livingston said. “Well, this and maybe a doughnut.”

VFW Post No. 51 is selling doughnuts for $1.50 each.

But the signature menu item at this stand is the P-51 burger – two patties, cheese, ham and bacon - for $7.50. Also on the menu: chicken strips, cheeseburgers, hot dogs, potato salad. Prices range from $1.50 to $7.50.

“I took ‘em down to keep ‘em affordable,” said Lynne Larson, 67, of Spokane. She’s in charge of this year’s booth.

Her husband Bob, a Vietnam veteran, has been a member of Post No. 51 since 1971. She joined the auxiliary in 2004.

She said she wasn’t sure exactly how much money the booth raises each year. But, she said, “This is our biggest fundraiser. All the monies we raise here go back to support our veterans.”

Proceeds from the Moonshriners booth go to the the local Shriners Hospital.

“Last year, we donated about $20,000 – all from the fair,” said Gabe Thompson, 41 and a member of the organization.

Its fair stand specializes in $4 elephant ears, that hot, sticky and sweet staple smothered with cinnamon-sugar. The deep-fried, scratch-made, butter-brushed dough is chewy and golden – “just like a doughnut,” said Thompson, who nibbles on the broken ears they can’t sell.

“It’s at the fair,” he said. “Do calories count at the fair?”

Sometimes, Thompson said, it seems like the line is “miles long. I’ve been at the fryer for three hours nonstop, making three (elephant ears) at a time every 15 seconds,” he said.

Violet Hawkins – Vi for short – and her late husband Burt helped start the stand in 1980. They got the idea to do elephant ears after her younger sister Harriet tried them at the Central Washington State Fair in Yakima. The couple tested dough recipes in their basement.

“We worked on it for months,” said Hawkins, 83. “The recipe hasn’t changed.”

It’s posted inside the booth. Ingredients are flour, shortening, powdered milk, salt, sugar, dry yeast and water. Exact measurements are secret.

Dough is machine-cut and run twice through a sheeter, which flattens the rounds of dough. They call these rounds “biscuits.”

Early on, however, “We didn’t have the press. We didn’t have the sheeter. It was manual labor,” Hawkins said, recalling how volunteers standing three in a row would roll each ear with a rolling pin, trying not to bump elbows.

She said she’ll buy three or four elephant ears and FedEx them to her sister, the one who got the idea for the food booth.

“I do it every year,” Hawkins said. “It’s a pastry that you just don’t get, except at the fair.”