By Tom Poland
She dried sliced apple, peaches, and pears on a slanted wooden table facing the sun. Nails prevented the fruit from sliding to the ground. Once it dried to her taste, Grandmom Walker waited for a cold day. Then she mixed up some dough, prepped the fruit, and placed it into a circle of dough, which she folded into a pocket. Into a kettle of boiling oil it went. Oil bubbled and gurgled as wood coals spat and hissed and the fragrance of fresh-made fruit pies filled the air.
Fried pies, a scene straight out of Americana.
Some of us silver-haired nostalgic types recall fried pies with fond memories. Seems to me it was during the colder months that we enjoyed such treats. The sun had taken a while to dry the fruit and working over a black kettle sitting over a bed of red coals was hot work. And besides, cooler air better carried the fragrance of cinnamon, sugar, and frying peaches and apples.
Fried pies. They were far superior to the boxed, cellophane-wrapped pies you buy in convenience stores. Who knows how old those too-sugary pies are? For sure they are mass-produced. Here’s the clincher. There was nothing mass-produced or convenient about Grandmom’s pies. Her pies were the clichéd labor of love except it was no cliché. Folks in my grandparents’ day grew fruit trees. They spent years working those trees. They harvested apples, peaches, and pears and dried them out. Freezing had not made the scene, not yet. Then one magical cold day the making of the pies commenced to the delight of a lot of kids who recall those wonderful times.
The wonderful times live on here and there, the ambrosial remainders of yesteryear I’ll call them. One Thanksgiving, my sister, Deb, made some old-fashioned fried pies and they were fabulous. And then last Sunday driving a back road up near the drowned town of Petersburg, Georgia, it was my good luck to discover a woman who still makes fried pies the old-fashioned way.
Teresa Crane Smallwood, a fast-moving auburn-haired woman who drinks four pots of coffee a day, stood over a 200-year-old table. A wooden rolling pin dusted with flour did its thing, and she worked with precision and beauty readying pies for the kettle, rolling dough, sealing fruit in with a swath of water, crimping pies edges with a fork, and dropping them into gurgling boiling oil in a black kettle. At 325 degrees Fahrenheit, it didn’t take long for the pies to turn into golden, juicy delicacies. Rolled into a sugar-cinnamon mix (a favorite additive of old-timey snuff dippers), the pies sweetened a tad more and then a snow-like dusting from an old hand-cranked flour sifter prettied them up nicely.
Teresa hails from Commerce, Georgia, but she was born in the North Georgia mountains of Rabun County, Georgia. She operates Mountain Heritage Canning. She makes award-winning jellies, pork skins, and candied pecans. She “cans the old-timey way, one small batch at a time.” I came back with fried pies, some pork skins, and a jar of pear jelly, which is almost gone already, but her pies are the stars of her artistry.
Yet again, the back roads of the South pleased me to no end. I’ll find Teresa again I’m certain because what she sells is not just good food. She sells something rare—tangible evidence of my fond memories of Grandmom’s fabulous pies, and I suspect you wouldn’t mind purchasing a slice of the past yourself. Why not? Bring your memories alive one more time. And another and another.
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