By Ryan Cornell
FRONT ROYAL -- It can be difficult to tell what came first: the county fair or the deep-fried dessert.
Whichever the case, all sorts of fried foods are being enjoyed by visitors to the Warren County Fair this week.
One of the vendors keeping the high-fat, yet delicious, tradition alive is Strasburg resident Melissa Hooser.
In her first year at the Warren County fair and her second year in business, Hooser said she previously had served her deep-fried foods and lemonade at BryceFest and at Strasburg's Fourth of July festival.
She said fried Oreos are her "big hit." She takes a handful of Oreos and dips them into a bowl of funnel cake batter. Once they're fully covered, she drops them into the deep fryer.
Hours before the health inspector was set to show on Monday, she had a bit of a scare. "I went to put in the oil today and forgot to close the valve," Hooser said. "I was wondering why it wouldn't fill up. The oil started spilling on the floor."
She said she was slipping on the floor and wasted a lot of valuable oil, but luckily was able to clean the mess up before it did more damage.
Hooser also sells french fry-shaped strips of funnel cake covered in powdered sugar known as "funnel fries," and "deep-fried pies," which are two funnel cakes sandwiched by layers of fruit filling and topped with whipped cream and chocolate syrup.
While she works the deep-fryer, her ex-husband, boyfriend and son operate the neighboring Virginia Smashers lemonade stand. She said the lemonade has proven so popular -- she said that's what they're known best for -- it takes all three to work the booth.
Unlike a conventional hand-pressed stand, their lemons and fruit are smashed using a hydraulic-powered pump.
Hooser said she discovered the idea after researching online. The Internet was also the source of her ideas for her funnel fries and deep-fried pies. She said she will take something that everyone likes, tweak it and make it her own.
Biting into one of Hooser's fried Oreos, Roni Evans' eyes lit up brighter than the circus lights nearby.
"It's crunchy on the outside and gushy in the middle," she said. "It's a sweet explosion in your mouth."
Jessica Coburn reached over to have a taste and had a similar reaction. She admitted it was the first fried Oreo she's ever tried.
"It's like they dipped the Oreo in milk," she said. "The inside is soft. It was really good."
The two friends, who have been coming to fairs since they were little, were aware that fried Oreos probably aren't the healthiest food in the world and said they're going to have to burn it off at the Zumba classes they attend every Tuesday and Thursday.
Evans said she would like to try either a deep-fried cheesecake or a deep-fried chocolate chip granola bar.
John Hooser, Melissa's ex-husband who works the lemonade stand, said his next experiment is to fry chicken tenders in funnel cake batter and serve them with a side of butter and syrup.
In fact, when it comes to deep-frying, there doesn't seem to be any idea too outlandish.
The State Fair of Texas, known for its high-fat offerings, has been known to introduce some strange fried foods, including Pop-Tarts, jelly beans, butter, salsa, Coca-Cola and ravioli filled with beer.
Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or firstname.lastname@example.org