Sugar’s Fried Pies

Some of my fondest childhood memories revolve around the daily meals my momma prepared for our family.

apricot fried pie 1Momma (or “Sugar” as everyone called her) was an Oklahoma farm girl and a terrific homemaker and fantastic cook who always seemed to enjoy maintaining a fastidiously clean house and caring for my father, younger sister, and me. This included preparing our favorite treats, usually on a weekly basis. For me this meant her coconut layer cake with crushed pineapple between the layers and creamy white icing, her Thanksgiving sweet potato pies (which for years I thought were pumpkin), and probably my all-time favorite, homemade apricot fried pies.

friedpie2I was about eight or nine years old when I first became interested in how Sugar went about making these delectable hand-held treats, as this was about the time in my life that I had the growing desire to learn to cook. She would start about mid-morning making the filling–dried apricots, sugar, a touch of cinnamon, and water, simmered until the fruit was tender. She then added a lump of butter, mashed the mixture by hand with a potato masher into a sort of lumpy puree and set it aside to cool while she made the crusts.

cutting out the doughEarly on Sugar’s fried pie crust was made from a biscuit-style dough, which as I think back was a bit ironic since she very seldom made biscuits. She would roll out the dough into a large rectangle about an eighth of an inch thick, and then, using a tea saucer as her pattern, cut it into circles about six inches in diameter. Gathering up all of the scrap pieces of dough, she reformed it, rerolled it, and cut more disks, continuing the process until every bit of dough was used.

crimping the doughLater with the advent of canned biscuits, and being the progressive cook she tried to be, Sugar just couldn’t pass up the convenience of popping open one of those cans and rolling each glob of dough into its own circle. But with that exception, the ritual remained the same, filling half of each circle with the cooled apricot filling prepared earlier. She then folded over the other dough half, carefully sealing each pie by crimping them with the tines of a moistened fork, and frying them in a large cast iron skillet of Crisco.

OMG, a snack! Eating one of those treats made me feel as though I had died and gone to heaven.

For those of you who may not be familiar with these little pockets of deliciousness, let me provide a little fried pie history, albeit a rather sketchy one. Research provides very little as to the when, where, and by whom fried pies were first created. Some claim they descended from New Hampshire’s crab lanterns, a fried apple pastry whose name is derived, according to the Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink, from “crab apple” and “lantern,” because of the “ventilating slashes that expose the fruit filling.” And some believe them to simply be a southern version of the turnover, born out of the leftover pie crust from making a traditional pie. In truth, both these and other speculations as to the pastries origin probably have some merit.

empanadaThe fact is, various cultures from around the world have made “hand pies” for centuries. Spain and Portugal have had their empanada, since at least the 1500s, the Indians their meat-filled samosa, the Italians, their cheese filled calzones, the English their savory pasties, and Poland, cheese calzone reducedtheir meat and vegetable pierogi, just to name a few of the more prominent of these portable meals and treats. History also shows that while these are most commonly of a savory nature, they can actually be filled with almost anything including fruits, berries, and jams.

So while we may not be able to pinpoint the exact origin of the fried pie, we can be certain they are an American South tradition with generations of passed down recipes. And although apple and peach are the most common, I can assure you that other popular flavors including cherry, lemon, chocolate, coconut, blueberry, and of course apricot are equally delicious.

friedpie4Fried pies are available at travel stops, convenience stores, BBQ joints, and some fast food restaurants across the southern states from Texas and Oklahoma to the Carolinas. But make sure that what you’re getting is a real fried pie and not one of the commercially branded baked pies, because they are definitely not the same. Better yet, try making your own from Sugar’s recipe which I’ve copied into the GrubAmericana recipe index. I know she’d be honored.

Make Em: Sugar’s Apricot Fried Pies

Try Em: Apple Valley Orchard, Cleveland, Tennessee, Mamaw’s Fried Pies, Whitehouse, Texas, Original Fried Pie Shops, Oklahoma, Texas & Arkansas

Twelve Days of Christmas Cookies

TreesWhat would Christmas in America be without cookies? There would be no snack for Santa, no visions of sugar plums for the children and no edible decorations for the tree. Christmas it seems was, above all other holidays, invented with cookies in mind.

While Christmas cookies have been around since Medieval Europe, it was the Dutch settlers who introduced them to America during the early seventeenth century. In fact, the word cookie comes from the Dutch word koekje, meaning “little cake.”

candy caneOriginally cookies were largely hand formed. But by the mid-1800s, cheap, elaborately decorated tin and copper cookie cutters were being imported to this country from Germany. These cutters, often shaped as stylized Christmas images, were designed not only for making cookies to eat, but also for ornaments for the tree. The widespread availability of these utensils significantly increased the popularity of Christmas cookies, and recipes began to appear in cookbooks showing how to use them.

The term “cookey” first appeared in print in 1703, but it would be 1796 before the first Christmas cookie recipe was published in this country. In American Cookery, considered by most food historians to be the first American cookbook, Amelia Simmons wrote the following:

“Christmas Cookey
To three pound of flour, sprinkle a tea cup of fine powdered coriander seed, rub in one pound of butter, and one and a half pound sugar, dissolve one tea spoonful of pearlash [a rising agent] in a tea cup of milk, kneed all together well, roll three quarters of an inch thick, and cut or stamp into shape and slice you please, bake slowly fifteen or twenty minutes; tho’ hard and dry at first, if put in an earthen pot, and dry cellar, or damp room, they will be finer, softer and better when six months old.”

xmas treeThere is probably no better known holiday cookie tradition than that described in the poem The Night Before Christmas, written by an Episcopal minister named Clement Clarke Moore. Until it’s publication in 1822, leaving a Christmas Eve treat for the “Jolly Old Elf” was unheard of. During the Depression of the1930s, naughty children began leaving cookies and milk out for Santa in hopes that in exchange for the “bribe” he would leave a gift. Children who were good left the snack out as a token of their thanks.

Americans consume over two billion cookies a year, or about 300 for each person. How many of these are eaten during the Christmas holidays is not know. What is known is that Americans have enjoyed these delightful confections for over four-thousand years. This year, why not celebrate the wonders of the season by starting your own cookie tradition. With that thought in mind, may we present GrubAmericana’s classic Twelve Days of Christmas Cookies.

sugar cookieSugar Cookies, are also called Amish sugar cookies or Nazareth sugar cookies. This classic cookie was created by the Germans who settled near Nazareth, Pennsylvania in the mid-eighteenth century. In 2001, it was adapted as that state’s cookie.

spritzSpritz Cookies, also known as Swedish Butter cookies, originated in Germany and Scandinavia. The delicious vanilla flavor and rich buttery texture of this pressed cookie makes it one of the world’s most popular.

Christmas Citrus Squares. This modern take on the clasic seasonal bar consists of layers of delicate crust, red current jam, and a wonderful Clementine flavored custard.

Gaiety_Pastel_CookiesJello Pastels are a colorful, quick, and easy-to-make cookie that’s sure to be a big hit as a holiday gift, party treat, or just a family snack. So popular that you might think about making a double batch.

Chocolate Covered Snow Peaks. These easy-to-make chocolate dipped meringues are a favorite of Food Network’s Tyler Florence and will be one of yours, too. Why not let the children help with these?

cancy caneCandy Cane Cookies. The whole family will have fun making these fun decorative cookies to hang on the tree, or just to enjoy them with a warm cup of cocoa while relaxing next by the fireplace.

Big Batch Kris Kringle Cookies. This luscious blend of pecans, white chocolate, and dried cranberries is sure to turn even the loudest “bah-humbug!” into “ho-ho-ho!”

Chocolate Bliss Macadamia Cookies. If your family and friends enjoy the heavenly flavor of chocolate and nuts, this is the cookie for them.

glass starStained Glass Stars. As beautiful as they are good to eat, these cut-out cookies are sure to astound both family and friends alike.

Swedish Christmas Cookies. This buttery ice-box cookie has the lemon-cardamom flavors also enjoyed by the Norwegians. A true European classic.

Paradise Macaroons. These cookies are gluten free, yet unbelievably scrumptious—so sweet and moist. A double batch of these may be the order of the day.

Cinnamon Stars are a classic German gluten-free cookie that is sort of a cross between a macaroon and a meringue, with a hint of spiciness.

Hanukkah_Sugar_CookiesHanukka Cookie is included in recognition of our friends of the Jewish faith. This rich butter and cream cheese cookie can be rolled out, cut into holiday shapes, and decorated in any number of ways. Hanukkah (or Chanukah), also known as the Festival of Lights, is celebrated this year from December 8 – 16. Hanukkah is observed by the lighting of the Menorah, one candle each night of the holiday.

There you have it–a baker’s dozen of some of our favorite Christmas cookie recipes. So happy baking, and may this season bring you and yours everything on your holiday gift list and much, much more.