Southern Fried Hand Pies

Perhaps you have to grow up in the South (or at least have a very “Su’thun” grandmother from Georgia like I did) to understand the special relationship Southerners have with fried food. Although it’s considered sick and wrong (or at the very least very un-PC!) to fry food in California – I do remember how delectable those little pies tasted!

Granny “fried up” batches of hand pies in her big cast iron skillet and then transferred the crispy golden half moons to a plate covered with a brown-paper bag next to the stove. Sometimes she’d sprinkle cinnamon sugar on top – other times, a dusting of confectioners sugar if she was expecting “company.” But, mostly I remember eating them plain while they were still warm.

Southern fried hand pies are traditionally made with dried fruit and a biscuit-like dough for the crust rather than a pie pastry. Small pieces of dough are rolled into circles, and a small amount of filling is placed on one half of the circle. Then, the other half of dough is folded over the filling to form a half circle shape. The edges are crimped with a fork to seal in the filling. The pies and then fried in hot oil until golden brown and crispy on the outside.

Today, cooks can use refrigerated flaky biscuit dough as a shortcut to replace the handmade dough, however the flavor and texture are not the same. Try making your own dough at least a few times before resorting to store-bought dough.

On the other hand, feel free to experiment with fresh fruit fillings! Be sure to cool the filling before using, and don’t overfill the pastry. A thicker filling is best for hand pies, since you don’t want the filling dripping out of the pastry, so adjust your pie filling accordingly, if you decide to experiment.

Southern Fried Hand Pies

INGREDIENTS:

Filling

6-7 ounces dried peaches or apricots*
1 cup sugar
2 cups water
1/4 cup butter
1 tablespoon lemon juice (optional)
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Dough

2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup shortening (such as Crisco)
1/2 cup whole milk (plus additional few teaspoons, if needed)
Vegetable oil for frying

* Dried apples or pears may also be used. Adjust spices to suit your personal preferences.

METHOD:

Place dried peaches or apricots in a large saucepan and add water. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to simmer. Cook until fruit is tender and most of the liquid has evaporated. Add butter, lemon juice and nutmeg. Cool slightly, then mash the fruit with a potato masher. Set aside to cool completely.

In medium bowl, whisk together flour and salt. Cut in shortening with pastry blender until fat is the size of small peas. Add milk and stir until dough sticks together and you can form a ball.

Divide into ten portions. Roll each portion out on a lightly floured surface into a five or six inch circle. Place about 2 tablespoons of filling on one half of the circle, near the center.  Do not overfill! Using your finger, moisten edges of dough with water.  Fold dough in half over filling, forming a half circle. Press edges to seal and crimp edges with fork tines.

In a large cast iron skillet, heat ½ inch of oil and heat over medium heat until shimmering and hot. Gently place a few of the pies into the hot oil and fry until golden on both sides, turning as needed, about two to three minutes per side. Transfer to plate lined with several layers of paper toweling.

While warm, dust with sugar, cinnamon sugar, or powdered sugar, if desired.  Serve warm or room temperature.

SOURCE: Recipe adapted from Southern Plate: Recipes From Below The Mason Dixon Line by Christy Jordan