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Wrestling program supplies fair fries

Wesley and Jennie Odello eat Tiger Wrestler fries at the Stevens County Fair. The fries are homemade and cut from potatoes in the food stand. Rae Yost/Stevens County Times.1 / 2
Morgan Wevley looks down the assembly line in the Tiger Wrestler fries food stand at the Stevens County Fair. She's standing by the equipment used to cut the potatoes into fry size. Rae Yost/Stevens County Times2 / 2

Every 12 minutes potatoes are turned into fries at the Stevens County Fair in Morris.

"Ten to 12 minutes, that's as fast as we can crank them out," said Kevin Wevley as he dropped baskets of cut potatoes into deep-fry oil on Aug. 9 at the fair.

Wevley and his wife Lori, son Gage and daughter Morgan are part of what they call the Tiger wrestling family which includes youth from Morris, Hancock, Chokio and Alberta areas. The Wevleys are representative of all the parents, wrestlers and other volunteers at the Tiger Wrestler fries booth each year. Wrestlers and family members have been making fries for about 20 years. Brad Gibson come up with the idea, Lori said. And ever since, those in the Tiger wrestling family have been making those fries, Lori said.

"This year we ordered 4,700 pounds of potatoes," Lori said. The food booth used a couple thousand pounds during the early years but the demand has steadily increased, she said. For a few years, the booth needed 4,000 pounds of potatoes.

"We've bumped it up. We ran out last year," Lori said. The potatoes come from Hayes Farms of Big Lake.

"This is the same (grower) that is used to get potatoes for the (Minnesota) State fair," Barry Erdahl said. Erdahl knows because he used to help make the wrestler fries in Stevens County.

Erdahl doesn't volunteer anymore but he and his wife Nancy make sure they eat the fries each season.

"We've got to get our first fries of the fair," Nancy Erdahl said as she ordered baskets of fries for herself and grandkids.

Three to 3 ½ potatoes make a basket of fries, Lori said.

During this work rotation on Aug. 9, Morgan was pushing the potatoes through a cutter that sliced the round potato into thick rectangular pieces for fries. Those cut potatoes were dropped into the fryer basket and, then, dropped into the heated oil. The deep-frying oil is made specifically for homemade fries, the Wevleys said.

"I try and do a half basket at a time," Kevin said of making the fries. "Anything larger than a half a basket takes too long to cook."

The food booth operates on a system: The potatoes can't be cut too early. Once the fries are made they can't sit too long. The process needs to follow strict safety and time guidelines, Kevin said.

But it appears no basket of fries would ever be in danger of waiting for a customer.

The Wevleys were steadily making fries as customers steadily came to order them. When a line forms, the potato cutter will slice more fries, the fryer will drop more into the deep fryer and more baskets will be ready.

While there are those who enjoy the fries as part of their fair tradition, there are still some folks who haven't eaten them.

"They are delicious," Betty Sayre of Cyrus said of the fries. She hadn't eaten the wrestler fries before. "Best I've tasted," she said.

First-time fry-eaters Tom and Thale Ludwick of Cyrus and Jermoe and Mary Hoffmann of Farwell were delighted with their baskets of fries.

"They really like them," Tom Thale said as he pointed to the two baskets being eaten by the Hoffmanns.

"They are good," Jerome Hoffmann said.

"I just love them," Thale Ludwick said.

Cutting potatoes, taking orders and cooking the fries requires volunteers to be on their feet all day and, some days, the fryers can make it hot under the tent.

Volunteers may leave hot and coated in grease and smelling like fries, but it's worth it.

The fries have raised money for wrestling mats, singlets, weight equipment and other items, Lori said.

"It definitely takes a village to do this," Lori said of making fries. "But we have got a pretty good village here."

The Stevens County Fair continues through Sunday, Aug. 13.