In a society where broken homes are as common as the common cold, I realize how truly fortunate I am to be able to say that not only have my parents been married to each other for 37 years, but I have had the pleasure of knowing all four of my grandparents as well as three of my great-grandparents. There aren't too many people who can match even one of those statements. Family means different things to different people and the word means far too many things for me to delve into here, so I'll just stick with what the word means to me in relation to food.
It means remembering how good my Granny's homemade potato salad tasted and how mile-high the meringue was on her coconut pies. It means slathering butter onto one my grandmother's homemade yeast rolls and closing my eyes while the flaky, warm goodness takes me away. It means trying to replicate Maw's fried pies that everyone was so fond of. Emma was lovingly referred to as "Maw" and was my grandfather's mother. She was the epitome of great-grandmothers and even though she left us when I was about 8 or 9 years old, I still have vivid memories of seeing her dressed in her "duster" and puttering around in her farmhouse kitchen.
My grandmother recently compiled a story book of our family history and in the back of the book she included a number of our secret family recipes. I ran across the book not long ago and while flipping through the recipe pages, I began to wax nostalgia about past family dinners. One of the recipes included was Maw's Fried Pies. I don't remember ever eating one of her pies, but as the story goes she made and sold these pies for 10 cents each as a fund-raiser for church projects. Her family bought and ate most of them just as they came off the stove.
Maw's fried pies became my conquest for a rainy Monday afternoon. Here is the recipe as handed down by my grandmother....
1 quart all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
2/3 cup shortening
8 oz. can of cream (evaporated milk)
1 quart fruit
Mix dough, refrigerate overnight. Roll small amount out at a time. Cut in rounds (about the size of a saucer). Add about 2 tbsp. fruit, fold over, press edges together. Fry in deep fat until brown, turning once. Dried apples, peaches, apricots etc. may be used. Fruit should be warmed slightly before using. Makes about 25 pies.
I used fresh peaches in my pies and a few other modern conveniences that surely weren't available to Maw. I mixed the dough with my Kitchenaid and I used a dough press to cut and seal my pies. The recipe didn't quite yield 25 pies for me - more like only 12 - which indicates that I probably didn't roll the dough thin enough. I also used canola oil for frying and while that food staple wasn't even available in her day, I'm absolutely certain it would not have been her preferred way of frying anyway. My pies lacked in taste what I'm sure could only be imparted by good old fashioned lard. Finding commercially available real lard is extremely rare, maybe even nonexistant, these days. I'm sure if it were to be found, it would be locked behind the grocers counter and available for purchase much like our nasal decongestants are these days. Show a photo ID, purchase the minimum quantity, sign on the dotted line and hope they don't report you to the American Heart Association for artery abuse.
As I bit into the warm peach-oozing pie, I could just imagine Maw standing in her kitchen, finding it hard to fry enough pies to keep up with the demand of greedy little kids and grandkids hovering around her stove. And while my fried pie technique needs a little fine tuning, I can imagine the answer to my question of would she be proud of my attempt? would be a resounding Yes! Yes, she certainly would.....