Volunteers help out at a fair favorite, St. Paul Lutheran Church’s Heavenly Scones stand. From left: Tamara Cates, Linda Erlebach, Shari DePauw, Raeshelle Meyer and Jan Dinsmore. Top right: Fairgoers can choose from a vast array of toppings including butter and cinnamon sugar. (The Enterprise/Yadira Lopez)

ONTARIO – Walk into the Malheur County Fair and turn right. Follow your nose for the smell of fried dough, or keep strolling past the booths until you see the sign: “SCONES.” 

If you’re expecting dainty little pastries studded with cranberries, you’re in for a surprise. At the Malheur County Fair, scones are fried and they come as big as your head. 

And they aren’t just any scones. These are Heavenly Scones, so no need to feel guilty about eating them.

Linda Erlebach’s mother bought the booth on behalf of the St. Paul Lutheran Church in the mid 1980s. Anywhere else they might be called elephant ears, but the sign on the booth stuck, as did the recipe, which calls for a little bit of whole wheat flour. (See? It’s not so unhealthy after all…)

The booth is a fair favorite, and this year’s fair – held last week – was no exception. If you came at the wrong time of day, you risked bumping into a line that stretches to the bathroom across the walkway.

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“The best time to get one is in the morning because they’re bigger than the plate,” Erlebach told one customer. By the afternoon they have to crowd the deep fryer with the little balls of dough.

“Every year I come to the fair, I have to get one,” said Nicole Herrera, as she painted butter on hers.

Behind the counter, volunteers whirled around, mixing the dough and plopping it into the deep fryer. In a few blessed minutes, the dough turned golden brown. Pockets of air bubbled inside, creating a perfect, hilly landscape for the vast array of toppings available: butter, honey, jam (strawberry and apricot), cinnamon sugar and powdered sugar. 

“Everybody’s got their own way of eating them,” said Erlebach. 

She is a traditionalist, preferring a butter-honey-cinnamon sugar combo.

Church members donate the ingredients, including the honey, which comes from a parishioner’s apiary. 

The younger members donate their time. Erlebach’s grandson is the fourth generation to work at the booth. Proceeds go to the Giggles and Grace Early Learning Center and other programs run by the Ontario church. 

At the red picnic tables in front of the booth, fairgoers last week dug into their scones, no forks required. Grease spots dotted the paper plates, toppings clung to sticky fingers, and grins lined people’s faces. 

So what’s the secret ingredient? Erlebach shrugged.

“It must be that Lutheran love,” she said. 

Reporter Yadira Lopez: 541-473-3377 or yadira@malheurenterprise.com.

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