When I was asked if I would consider contributing to a food column for the Daily Bulldog my first thoughts were of family, of the women who taught me to cook and the food traditions I embrace today.
I grew up in the South and thoughts of food make me nostalgic for the kitchen at my Granny and Papaw’s house in Maryville, Tennessee. I think of the women in my family gathering in that space for a holiday or Sunday supper. With each woman contributing their specialty dish, we would squeeze into that space, which I know now was small, but when I was little, it seemed to expand to make room for every person who walked through the door. There was my Aunt Anita and her warm yeast rolls, my Aunt Judy’s potato salad, Momma’s deviled eggs and slaw, Miss Linda’s sausage balls and always at the center was my Granny with chicken and dumplings, fried okra, pinto beans and greens.
Momma was a very good cook and she loved to feed people, but she didn’t love to cook. Her style of cooking was focused on efficiency, taste and volume. What could be prepared that we would like and require the least amount of time in the kitchen? This made my Momma the queen of the time saving kitchen hack!
My love of cooking, of food traditions and many of the recipes I prepare mostly comes from my Granny. I like to make food that has a story behind it, that utilizes the amazing ingredients we have available in our community, that isn’t overly complicated or pretentious and that above all tastes good. With this context in mind, I reached out to women in the community I connect with about food and asked if they would join me in this endeavor.
Thinking about the first recipe to share was daunting. I ran through a long list and then, as I am prone to do now that I am over 50, I woke up at 4:45am on a Saturday morning with the thoughts above and a single recipe in my mind. Granny’s fried apple pies.
In my family, there was a large shared garden and fruit trees. The summers were spent tending the garden and preserving what was harvested. This was done out of necessity, not out of a love of gardening. I remember large metal screens in wooden frames stacked on the shed roof. They were covered with peeled sliced apples drying in the sun. These apples are unlike the varieties of apples we have available to us in Maine. They are small, a bright yellow-green, tart and very firm. In my memory, everyone seemed to have a couple of these trees growing in their yard. Once the apples were dried, Granny would bag them up and squirrel them away in the corners of the giant chest freezer in her kitchen. She used them to make fruit cakes and apple stack cakes, but most of them were for one recipe that she made often. Fried apple pies.
Granny would make these pies for no special reason other than to have something sweet in the house. I can see the plate on the stove, covered with a towel, where we could nab one whenever we happened by. They never lasted more than a day or so, and although best when hot from the skillet, they are also delicious at room temperature.
Several years ago when I was longing for Granny’s fried apple pies I called Momma to see if she remembered how Granny made them, she said, “She just mixed up her dough and stewed the apples with a little sugar, then roll out each ball of dough and put a spoonful of apples inside and fried it.” This is the thing about old recipes and old ways.. Most dishes they prepared didn’t have written instructions or ingredient lists. Instead, they existed as integral parts of daily life. The recipe below is my best attempt at recreating the fried apple pies I remember.
Sybil Pauline’s Fried Apple Pies
1 lb dried apples (unsweetened, tart variety if possible)
1 cup brown sugar
1 ½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ tsp cloves
½ tsp allspice
2 tablespoons butter
2 cups self-rising flour (White Lily if you can lay your hands on it)
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup vegetable shortening
¼ cup butter
¼ to ½ cup cold milk
Cooking oil (I use vegetable or canola) (½ inch depth in whatever size pan you use)
Place apples in a saucepan and add water to cover. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to medium low. Simmer, uncovered, 30 minutes or until apples are soft. Keep an eye on them, stir often and add water if needed. Scorched apples don’t taste good!
Remove from heat and let stand, uncovered, for 1 hour. Drain off any standing liquid. Mash apples coarsely with a fork or pastry blender. Again, drain off any standing liquid. The filling should be very thick.
Stir in butter, sugar & cinnamon. Cover and chill.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. Work in the shortening & butter with a pastry blender or fingertips until the mixture is crumbly.
Sprinkle milk, 1 tablespoon at a time, evenly over the surface and stir with a fork until dry ingredients are moistened.
Divide the dough into 6-8 equal portions. Roll each portion to about 1/8-inch thickness on a lightly floured surface and try to keep them as round as possible. The dough needs to be thin because these will be pan fried and if the dough is too thick, they will be doughy on the inside..
Add a heaping spoonful or two of apples to one side of rolled dough. After the first couple, you will learn exactly how much apples to place on the dough. If you put too much, the dough will not cover without tearing.
Dip your finger in water and rub around the edges of the dough where the apples are.
Carefully fold the dough over and press the edges together lightly to seal. Using a fork, crimp the edges to fully seal.
Once all the pies are all made, pour oil to a depth of 1/2 inch into a large, heavy skillet, preferably cast iron. Heat over medium-high heat. To check the temperature of the oil, insert the handle of a wooden spoon into the oil. The oil will bubble rapidly around the spoon end when it’s ready for frying. If the oil bubbles very vigorously, then the oil is too hot and needs to cool off a touch. If no or very few bubbles pop up – then it’s not hot enough..
Then, working in batches, fry the pies 3 minutes on each side or until they are golden brown, turning once. Drain well on paper towels.
If desired, dust with powdered sugar while pies are still warm. Serve warm or at room temperature.
NOTE: There will be more cooked apples than dough for pies. Leftover apples are never a bad thing in my opinion. I like to eat them on my morning oatmeal or spread on toast. I’ve also made this recipe with dried pears and dried peaches. With both of these, I did lower the amount of sugar in the recipe to ½ cup.