By Tom Yates
My grandmother and Miss Lottie were best friends. Their homesteads in Western Kentucky, separated by a winding narrow country road lined with patches of woods, were perched on two rolling hills adjacent to each other.
During the winter, when the trees were bare, their houses were visible through the twisted branches. Country neighbors. They might not have spent a lot of social time together outside of church, community functions, or shared telephone party-lines, but it was quite evident they were close. Bonded by parallel life experiences, they were similar in many ways. They raised families through the Depression while tirelessly tending to their gardens, pastures, and barnyard animals. Farm life.
Beneath her rigid exterior appearance, Miss Lottie had a heart of gold. During those hot summer months, when we weren’t fishing, swimming, mowing fields, rewiring fences, or opening/closing cattle gates, we could count on Miss Lottie for two things: her small black pony she kept loosely tied to a tree in her front yard with a long grass rope for neighboring farm kids to ride and her flaky deep fried apple pies. She was the patron saint of summer. While the pony was a given, we never knew when or where her fried apple pies might appear. They simply happened. Without notice, she’d pull up the hill leading to my grandmother’s house and deliver a platter of fist sized half-moon shaped deep fried apple pies carefully tucked under meticulously pressed dish towels. Sweet, without being overly sweet, the cooked apples dripped from the fried crusts faster than we could lick our fingers and arms to prevent the precious goo from spilling onto the ground. I can still smell and taste those summer gifts.
Back in the day, fried fruit pies were made from sun dried harvested fruit. Apples. Peaches. Apricots. Preservation. Waste not want not. Right now, it’s all about the abundance of ridiculously ripe fresh summer fruit hitting the farm stands and markets. In the fall, when apples flood the markets, I’ll give Miss Lottie’s fried apple pies a go. During the peak summer season, I’ll stick with peaches, plums, blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries. The sky’s the limit. I might not be a baker, but I believe I can fry.
Fried Blueberry Hand Pies
Tricky business. I suppose just about any good pie pastry would have fried up into fantastic fried fruit pies.
I went very basic. After sifting together 3 cups Weisenberger Mill all purpose flour with 2 tablespoon sugar, 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, and a pinch of salt, I dumped the mix into a food processor and added 6 tablespoons of chilled unsalted butter. I pulsed the butter/flour mixture until it resembled coarse crumbs before adding 1 beaten egg and 1 cup milk.
I blitzed the dough until it formed a loose ball, rolled it onto a floured cutting board, gathered it into a disc, wrapped it in plastic wrap, and slid the dough into the refrigerator to chill for an hour or so.
Although blueberries might be hitting their final stretch for the season, they’re still plentiful. In fact, they’re everywhere. Score. I didn’t want to kill the pies with overly sweet filling, so I tip-toed between a pie filling and a compote. I tumbled 3 1/2 cups of beautifully plump Silas Farm blueberries into a sauce pan, added 3 tablespoons sugar, 2 tablespoons cornstarch, lemon zest, and 2 tablespoons water. After bringing the berries to a boil, I reduced the heat to a simmer and let the filling rip. When the berries collapsed and the mixture thickened, I pulled it from the heat to cool before folding in a handful of julienned ‘mini purple’ basil leaves and 1/2 cup whole uncooked blueberries.
Chill. Chill. Chill.
I knew it was important to keep the pastry chilled during every step of the process. I failed that test once in a classroom. Once.
I pulled the dough from the refrigerator and plopped it onto a floured cutting board. Starting from the inside out while turning the dough in quarter turns, I rolled the dough into a large 1/4 inch thick circle and used a 6 inch pastry ring to cut the dough into several discs. After covering them with plastic wrap, I slid the discs back into the refrigerator to chill for 30 minutes.
Trial and error. Too little or too much? Like crepe making, the first few sucked. After brushing the edges of the dough with an egg wash, I spooned about 1 1/2 tablespoons of filling onto each piece of dough, folded them over, and sealed the edges before crimping them with a fork to really seal the deal. Back into the refrigerator they went to chill for an additional 30 minutes.
Although I have an awesome deep fryer, I used a heavy cast iron skillet as an homage to Miss Lottie. After adding enough canola oil to measure about 2 inches in the skillet, I cranked the heat to medium high. Using a thermometer to gauge the heat, I let the oil reach 325 before turning the heat down to medium. When the oil reached 350 degrees, I carefully fried the pies until they were golden brown, turning them occasionally to prevent them from sticking to the bottom of the hot skillet. After 2-3 minutes on each side, I scooped the fried blueberry pies from the oil and placed them onto paper towels to drain. While they were still hot, I sprinkled them with superfine sugar and Cerulean sea salt.