BY ANDREW COPPOLINO | SEPTEMBER 2022
For Marianne Witzel, the idea to make fritters at the St. Jacobs Market came out of nowhere. Now the crispy-hot, sweet-and-tart treat that helps capture the essence of “Waterloo County Fare” is renowned among food lovers in wider southwestern Ontario.
When the Market expanded into its massive timber-beam structure in 1986, The Fritter Co. appeared on the scene the next year.
“My husband works at the Ontario Livestock Exchange nearby, and he came home with an idea that I should make fritters in the new building. I was a stay-at-home mum at the time, and I asked my sister, Joanne Guenther, to help,” Witzel says.
The business partners and their staff have never looked back since 1987, despite being furloughed for six months by the devastating fire that razed the Market in 2013.
Theirs is a case of humble beginnings. Neither of the two had cooking experience, but an aunt who made fritters got them going with a recipe which has only been slightly modified since then. The equipment they started with included two electric frying-pans, an antique apple-peeler and a Vega-Matic to slice them.
Today, apples from neighbouring Martin’s Family Fruit Farm are loaded into a single machine that peels, cores and slices the huge number of apples The Fritter Co. uses. A cook dips the apple slices into a basic pancake batter and deep-fries them in cooking oil.
“They get flipped to brown on the other side, removed and sprinkled with cinnamon-sugar,” Witzel says.
But it’s more like a generous showering than a sprinkle.
On a busy Saturday, the lineup for fritters is long. “We feel the pressure,” Witzel says. “We have a team of dedicated staff, nine on busy days with two or three extras over lunch.” That many staff for a single fritter that costs customers $2 is a testament to the demand.
There’s also fritters with ice cream, maple syrup or their house-made caramel, which has been a very popular seller. “That’s really taken off. We actually sell containers of caramel that people take home.”
Fritters are an ancient dish: Elizabethan cooks 400 years ago used the word to describe just about any scrap of food – meat, vegetable or fruit – that was fried, with or without batter.
The technique has been part of Waterloo Region’s long food history including the dish canonized by author and historian Edna Staebler: a “fetschpatze,” or “fat sparrow” is a little ball of dough fried in lard, a fritter.
Bite into a fresh hot fritter by The Fritter Co. and a few things happen. You get the immediate crisp of a warm, satisfying dough liberally seasoned with cinnamon and sugar. Then you bite through a slightly crisp apple slice which, as you chew, melds into a pleasing creamy texture that contrasts the blend of sweet and gentle tartness.
Amid the farmers and produce and livestock outdoors at the Market, you are also transported to a country kitchen of a fetschpatze era and a soothingly warm comfort food that all can enjoy.
Word of mouth gets a lot of the credit for the apple fritters’ popularity, according to Witzel. “People just seem to love them and keep coming back,” she says, sometimes questioning what it is exactly that makes the snack so wildly popular.
“‘Why, we ask ourselves?’ And then we eat a fritter again and it reminds us – these things really are this good,” she says with a laugh. “We cook a lot of them but don’t eat them often.”
And if you think the fritters are great at any time of the year, they are even better during the upcoming fresh apple season of autumn, Witzel adds.
“The freshest tasting apples make a big difference coming right off the trees. Apples are best in the fall, and so are our fritters.”
Andrew Coppolino is food columnist with CBC-KW and Metroland newspapers. The author of Farm to Table (Swan Parade Press) and co-author of Cooking with Shakespeare (Greenwood Press), he is the 2022 “Joseph Hoare Gastronomic Writer-in-Residence” at the Stratford Chefs School. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @andrewcoppolino.