My grandmother was a good country cook. She was the one who taught me to fry chicken and make biscuits, but she had another specialty I never learned—fried pies. She made them peach in the summer and apple the rest of the year.
Between making the pie dough and filling and then the pan-frying step, they were pretty time-consuming, so I never saw her make them start to finish. Plus, my mother adored them, so Mama Skipper—that’s what I called her—would usually have them ready to enjoy when we arrived.
Fast-forward forty-something years, and I’ve been thinking about my grandmother’s fried pies. Life’s a lot easier for me. I can pick up pretty decent pie dough from the grocery store’s refrigerated section. She made hers from scratch—with lard from the pigs she raised. I’ve got cutters in every size for the dough; her instrument of choice was a well-worn paring knife. I drain my pies on wire racks; she used brown paper bags. I’ve got state-of-the-art thermometers for testing oil temperature; she had her ways. I’ve got access to spices she’d never heard. If I’m not mistaken, her filling was straight-ahead apple.
Would Mama Skipper approve of all my shortcuts, gadgets and exotic spices? Who knows. She lived on the farm until Grandaddy died, at which point she high-tailed it to a high-rise apartment building overlooking Panama City bay. Not quite exotic, but a long way from Lapine, Alabama. For the country woman who never looked back (and openly dipped snuff and took a nip now and again), I think I’ve got her blessing.
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 teaspoons brandy (optional)
- ¾ cup granulated sugar, divided
- Pinch salt
- 1¼ pounds crisp apples, such as Granny Smith, peeled, cored, and cut into small diced
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 3 cups vegetable or canola oil
- One of the following: 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon, 8 teaspoons curry powder, 4 teaspoons ground cardamom, 2 tablespoon Chinese five-spice powder
- Unroll pie dough on a lightly floured surface and roll to 14-inches in diameter. Using a round 4¼-inch cookie cutter cut dough into 8 circles. Refrigerate until ready to use. (Can be double-wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for a couple of days.)
- Whisk cornstarch, vanilla, and optional brandy in ⅓ cup of water; set aside. Mix ¼ cup of sugar and the salt; toss with apples. Heat butter in a medium (10-inch) skillet over medium-high heat until pale nutty brown. Add apple mixture; cover and cook until soft and juices release, about 7 minutes. Uncover and continue to cook until juices thicken to light syrup consistency, 1 to 2 minutes longer. Stir in cornstarch mixture; continue to cook until it thickens, less than a minute. Transfer apples to a rimmed baking sheet; refrigerate or set aside until room temperature. (Can be refrigerated in an enclosed container up for a couple of days.)
- When ready to serve, Mix remaining ½ cup of sugar with one of the spice options of your choice. working eight at a time, spoon a heaping tablespoon of the filling onto the lower center of each dough circle. Then, working on at time, brush around the edge of the lower half with water. Fold upper half of dough over filling to make a turnover, and pressing on edges to seal. Repeat with remaining, to make 16 turnovers.
- Heat oil to 375 degrees in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Working in 3 batches, drop 5 or 6 pies into the hot oil. Fry until crisp and golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes turning as needed. Transfer to a wire rack, sprinkling each turnover with spiced sugar. For a more aromatic pie, lightly sprinkle each with additional spice.