December 2017 RECIPE OF THE MONTH
We highlight a recipe that's near and dear to our editor's heart. It is the time of year when his wife's family makes hot, savory, June apple hand pies. The June apple, an heirloom, boasts a hot pink flesh with a naturallly sweet and tangy flavor. Follow GraciousRoots on our foodways journey with this first entry, YUM!
This month's highlighted recipe from Ronnie Lundy's book:
"Say it the way my people have for centrueis: vidls.
Maybe you've seen it spelled "vittles" in a cartoon balloon coming from the mouth of Mammy Yokum. Or heard it as the punch line delivered before Granny Clampett clogs off to "roast up a mess of possum." Maybe you thought saying it that way was wrong. But look that word up in your dictionary. It turns out my people, the people of the southern Appalachian Mountains, have been right about victuals all along. About the way you say them, the way you raise them, the way you cook them, keep them, and share them. About saving seeds, and working the land, and simmering pole beans, and making real cornbread. About the connections between earth and table, and between the table and the people seated around it. " - Ronni Lundy, author of Victuals
Fried Pies MAKES 1 DOZEN HAND PIES
I once shared my great-aunt Minnie's recipe for fried apple pies with a very wonderful food magazine whose editorial department fretted that they were just too plain. Could we add spices? they asked. Or glaze them? I maintained those were things no mountain cook would do. How about confectioners' sugar, then? Nope. Raisins? I said I'd never known anyone to put raisins in a fried pie, and bless their hearts, they asked me if I knew for certain that no one ever had. To which I answered honestly, no, and they sighed with relief and made raisins "optional." But people, they're not.
It occurred to me as I wrote about mountain apples that the problem may have been with the apples the magazine folks were using. Commercially dried apples from commercially grown fruit would have a lot less zip than those tart but sweet small green apples my great-aunt Johnnie dried each year and will tell you not to bother with drying apples from the grocery store, which are still bred more for cosmetics and staying power than flavor. Short of drying my own, I have good luck with unsulfured orgainic apples from the health food store. I look for apples that are rosy brown and still have some flex in them. Brittle dehydrated apples don't cook up as nicely. The same is true for dried peaches. But with the right fruit, sweetened with sorghum and fried in lard, well, you just don't need anything more.
In a medium bowl, mix the flour with the salt and baking powder. In a large bowl, combine the milk with the lard and stir until most of the lard is melted, but there are a few pea-sized pieces left. Add the flour mixture and use a fork to blend until a dough forms. Gather the dough and knead it on a lightly floured surface until smooth. Roll the dough into a 6-inch-long log, wrap it in plastic wrap, and refrigerate until chilled at least 2 hours.
Meanwhile, combine the dried fruit with 2 cups of water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Cover, and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally and adding water as needed, until the fruit is very soft and liquid has been absorbed, about 45 minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat. Mash the fruit a bit with a potato masher, and then add 1/3 cup of sorghum and mash together until fully blended. Taste, and add more sorghum if desired, stirring to incorporate it fully. Allow the filling to cool to room temperature. (This can be refrigerated until you are ready to fry the pies, but bring it back to room temperature before you do.)
Remove the dough from the refrigerator. Remove the plastic wrap, cut the log into 12 equal pieces, and roll each piece into a ball. Working with half of the balls at a time (store the others in the fridge), roll out each ball on a very lightly floured surface to form a 6-inch round. Brush the edges with water. Mound 2 tablespoons of the apple filling on the lower half of each round. Fold the dough over the filling to make a half-moon, leaving a 1/2-inch border, and press the edges together to seal. Using a lightly floured fork, crimp the edges. Transfer the pies to a large, lightly floured baking sheet and repeat with the remaining balls of dough and filling. Note that you want to be sure to seal the pies well so no filling slips into the hot grease, which would cause it to pop and splatter. I use a bit of cold water on my fingers to secure the seas, making sure it dries before frying.
In a wide, heavy skillet over medium-high heat enough lard to make a pool about 1/2 inch deep. When it's hot enough that a tiny pinch of dough dropped in dances and turns golden, about 375 degrees Fahrenheit, very carefully lay a few pies in the skillet (I use a metal spatula), making sure not to crowd the skillet. Fry the pies until the bottom turns golden, about 1 to 1.5 minutes, and then turn them over and fry the other side. Remove, and drain on a wire rack set on top of some paper towels. Repeat until all the pies are fried.
Allow the pies to cool a bit before biting into one. These are so delicious as soon as they are cool enough to eat, but they are also good the next day. If you plan to keep some, allow them to cool completely and then store them in a tightly lidded container at room temperature.