Faithful readers of this column (if there are any still alive after cooking and eating all the puffy tacos and corny dogs and queso) may have noticed a pattern: anything that’s good is better fried. And if you think pie is something that simply cannot be improved upon, you’ve obviously never held in your hand a warm half-moon of flaky pastry, its crimped edges barely containing a molten core of sweet fruit.
Lest you be further ill-informed, be aware that this portable pocket of goodness is no newfangled novelty à la the state fair but a fixture in the annals of Texas culinary history. Traditionally scraped together from leftover dough, plentiful fat, and less plentiful but easily preserved fruit, the fried pie has been many things to many people—a welcome guest at chuck wagon suppers, a coveted addition to school lunch pails, a sugar-scented memory of Grandma’s kitchen.
A fresh fried pie can be hard to come by, its last refuge the occasional bakery or barbecue joint. A mass-produced one can satisfy an urgent hankering (which is how I found myself parked outside a 7-Eleven one Halloween night so my friend Jessie, dressed as an uncannily authentic pre-cornrow Axl Rose, could run inside for a Mrs Baird’s lemon variety). But there’s nothing like the real thing.
Shirley Rooney’s Apricot Fried PiesMakes 4 to 6 pies Filling 1 pound dried apricots 4 cups water 1/2 cup sugar 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves Pastry 2 1/2cups flour 1/2teaspoon salt 2 tablespoons sugar 3/4cup shortening 6–7 tablespoons cold water
Cover the dried apricots with water in a saucepan and simmer until soft, about 1 hour. Mash well with a potato masher and add the sugar and spices. Set aside to cool.
Sift together the flour, salt, and sugar. Cut in the shortening with a pastry blender or two knives and gently combine till the mixture resembles cornmeal or tiny peas. Sprinkle water over the mixture, a tablespoon at a time, and mix with a fork, using only enough water to allow the pastry to hold together when pressed gently into a ball. Roll out dough to 1/8 inch to 1/4 inch in thickness. Using the bottom of a coffee can (or a 6-inch baking form), cut the dough into rounds and place 3 to 4 tablespoons of the filling on one half of each round. Moisten edges of the dough round with water, and pull the uncovered half over the filling, pressing together to seal. Use fork tines or your fingers to crimp edges of the dough.
Heat an inch of vegetable oil to 350 degrees and fry each pie until golden brown, about 3 minutes.
Adapted from The Texas Cowboy Kitchen, by Grady Spears and June Naylor. Published by Andrews McMeel Publishing.