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The most common dessert on the range was dried fruit, usually peaches, apples, or apricots, often stewed up with plenty of sugar. “Cookie” might also add sugar to biscuit dough and fry it, as a rudimentary but tolerable doughnut. Enterprising cooks, who were paid more than even the top riders and cowhands, created fried fruit pies as a combination of the two desserts. This recipe takes a few liberties with the original dish, adding jam for extra fruit taste and sweetness, and lightening up the lard pastry. For the pastry, butter tasted the best, and lard makes it flake. You can substitute vegetable shortening for some of the lard, as done here, without losing the lightness. If you want the ultimate in flakiness, use a soft wheat flour. The lower gluten content does the trick.
- 1 1⁄2 cups dried apricots
- 1 1⁄2 cups water
- 1⁄2 cup apricot jam or 1⁄2 cup preserves
- 1⁄4 cup finely minced pecans or 1⁄4 cup dry breadcrumbs
FLAKY PIE CRUST
- 1⁄4 cup lard, chilled
- 1⁄4 cup unsalted butter, chilled
- 1⁄4 cup vegetable shortening, preferably Crisco, chilled
- 2 cups soft wheat flour, such as white lily flour or 2 cups pastry flour or 2 cups cake flour, preferably or 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 5 -7 tablespoons ice water
- vegetable shortening, preferably Crisco, for deep frying
- In a small, heavy saucepan, combine the apricots with the water. Simmer over low heat until the fruit is plump and soft and most of the water has been absorbed, about 25 minutes. Add more water if needed.
- Drain the apricots and chop them. Mix the apricots in a small bowl with the jam or preserves, and the nuts or bread crumbs. Refrigerate the filling, if you wish, for as long as 24 hours.
- Roll the pie dough out 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick. Cut it into rounds with the top of a coffee can or with a large round biscuit or cookie cutter. Spread equal portions of filling on each round, moisten the dough edges lightly, and fold the rounds over into half moon shapes. Crimp the edges with a fork.
- In a heavy saucepan or Dutch oven, heat at least 4 inches of shortening to 350°F Fry the pies in batches, turning them over midway through the cooking, after they rise to the surface. Remove them when they are golden brown and crispy, about 3 minutes. Drain them, and sprinkle them with sugar. Let them cool for at least 5 minutes before eating. Makes 8 pies.
- Variations: The pies can be baked rather than fried. Place them on a greased baking sheet, brush them with a little beaten egg (1 egg is enough for this batch of pies), sprinkle them with sugar, and bake them at 375°F for about 20 minutes, or until they are lightly browned.
- Experiment with other dried fruit or jam fillings. Try dried peaches simmered in peach nectar with a touch of jalapeno jam, or dried apples with cider, a splash of applejack, and cinnamon.
- FOR THE PIE CRUST: Using a food processor, a bowl with a pastry blender, or your fingers, cut the lard, butter and vegetable shortening into the flour and salt. Whatever method you choose, be careful not to overwork the dough, which would reduce flakiness. Add the water a few tablespoons at a time, until the dough just holds together. Divide the dough into two mounds, wrap them in plastic, and refrigerate them at least 30 minutes (or wrap one mound for the freezer, if you don’t plan to use it in the next couple of days).
- If the pie crust is to be baked, preheat the oven to 400°F
- On a floured board or pastry cloth, roll out the dough in a circle a couple of inches larger than the pie pan. To avoid stretching the dough excessively, roll it from the center outwards, lifting the rolling pin after each stroke rather than rolling back over the dough in the opposite direction. Loosen the dough, drape it around the rolling pin, and center the crust over the pan, dropping it gently into place.
- If you’re making a one crust pie, crimp the edges decoratively. If your pie is to have two crusts, roll out the second mound of dough, too.
- For a single pre-baked crust, prick the dough in several spots. Cover the pie shell with foil, and weight the foil with dried beans or pie weights. Bake the crust for 10 minutes, and then lower the temperature to 350°F and bake for an additional 15 minutes, or follow the directions in your pie recipe.
- One cowboy commented that a chuck wagon cook “is a sort of human that was kicked in the head by a brindle cow or a cross-grained mule when very young…They’re temperamental as wimmin too; an’ like the bosses, don’t need no sleep neither.” –Quoted in Ramon Adams, Come and Get It.
- Texas Home Cooking.