What would National Potato Month be without one of Americans’ favorite potato preparations — french fries?
And what would the local french fry scene be without the venerable Lancaster County stand that LancasterOnline readers in July voted their No. 1 french fry purveyor in the area?
That would be Fink’s French Fries, the family business that’s been serving golden fried potatoes for decades at Root’s Country Market near Manheim and Green Dragon Market near Ephrata, and at fairs and festivals all around these parts.
Having just finished selling fries at the Denver Fair, Fink’s employees are firing up the fryer again for this week’s Ephrata Fair and next week’s New Holland Fair.
Liane Lefever took a few moments from her busy fair schedule to answer some questions about the french-fry life. She co-owns the business with her husband, Dale, with whom she bought it from “Mr. French Fry,” Clair Fink — whom Lefever called “Finky” — back in 1988.
Fink had the business for 42 years before that, Lefever says.
“It’s probably one of the longest-running family-owned small businesses in Lancaster County,” she adds.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Why are your fries so popular?
I don’t know if it’s the oil we use, or if it’s the loving care we use. It’s just that, when we bought the business from Finky, he just taught us how to do it and we just continue doing it that way. And the key to our customer service is that we know how to move people along so they don’t have to stand in line too long.
What kind of potatoes do you use in your fries?
There’s all different varieties. There’s not just one that we use. We have a local farmer that raises them for us. Sometimes we might use Kennebecs. Sometimes we might use Superiors. It just depends on what’s in season at the time.
What kind of potato makes good french fries?
That’s trial and error. Russets don’t work — they’re baking potatoes, not frying potatoes. There are table potatoes, and then there are potatoes that you fry. Some get too cold to fry, and it could be the same variety that fried last week won’t work this week because it was stored too cold. If potatoes get too cold, the fries can turn black or really dark brown.
What kind of oil do you fry in?
It’s just vegetable oil.
How do you cut your fries?
They’re hand cut. We don’t pre-treat them; there’s no chemicals on them. They are cut as needed. We cut a basketful as we’re frying. We don’t bring them in bags, already treated and cut, like some people do.
Do you peel them or leave the skin on?
We keep the skin on, because these potatoes have a very thin skin.
How do you know how long to cook your fries?
It’s gotten so it’s just by touch. You know how long to keep them in because you’ve been doing it so long; you know the feel of them. You can tell by the texture of them. Some people think they’re done when they turn brown. That’s not our french fry. Ours are done, but they’re not brown. We don’t want them brown. They’re still very crispy, but not brown.
What are the prices of your fries?
A small is $1.75 and a large is $3.50.
Does it get hot in the trailer when you’re cooking?
Yes. Very hot. We use fans, but sometimes they just blow the hot air around. It’s been a brutal summer. It’s probably been one of the worst summers (heat-wise) we’ve ever had. We’re looking forward to a better fair season this year; the Denver Fair had really good weather.
What do you like about being in the french fry business?
The people. I just enjoy the people so much, and I think that’s the No. 1 thing that I would miss when I’m out of this business. People recognize me wherever I go, and I just enjoy being around them.