Saturday, December 26, 2009

Fried Apricot Pie, or My Favorite Things.

So, after an amazing fish fry, eating bass and drum my dad and his friends caught, we finished packing up gear to leave for Big Bend National Park.

Four am we drove away from Sunrise Beach and at five am we passed through London, Texas. I always wanted to stop in London. There was a teeny little cafe-fish bait shop with the lights on so I stopped to replenish the caffeine supply. Clean, utilitarian, the coffee was cheap and definitely fresh at that hour.

The rest of the drive we ate oranges, homemade candy, cookies and boiled eggs.

I love the drive from central Texas to the Big Bend. Hill country spotted here and there with wooden windmills, stock tanks and rolling countryside gives way to flat open plains, plateaus and lines of white soldiers, the high tech windmills supplying a significant amount of energy to the state. Limestone and caliche color everything white. Acrid smell of what used to be known as black gold assaults the nose. Oil wells dot the landscape.

Before you know it, the live oaks are gone, replaced by creosote, a scrubby little brushy bush that in springtime is covered in tiny delicate yellow flowers. I think it is one of my favorite plants. Seems to be able to survive anywhere. I read once that a creosote bush can live thousands of years! It provides shade for desert-living animals. Must not be very palatable or it would not be so prolific in the desert. What I find most attractive about creosote (larrea tridentata) is the smell. After a rain, the smell of the creosote permeates the air. In fact, whenever I make a trip to Big Bend, about the time we hit Marathon I open up all the windows and breathe in deeply. Ahhh. Dry air perfumed with my favorite smell of all time.

So we pulled into Marathon around 11 am and again I reckon I better get myself a cup of coffee since we left the ground coffee with mom and dad and wouldn't have any for some time. Shirley's Burnt Biscuit was right on the main drag. Well, there really is only one street in the town, a few dirt roads. I was going to run in, grab a cup of coffee and drive on, but it seemed wrong to be so fast in such a slow little town. We piled out of the van, made our way into the shop where a nice cowboy. tall and lanky, stood behind the counter.

After seeing the homemade fried apricot and cherry pies, the food budget went out the window. You have to understand. Fried pies are one of those things that I always enjoyed every Sunday dinner on the grounds, when Aunt Ruth Vann (no, not our aunt, but yes, everyone's aunt at our little church out in the country)brought a big platter of apple ones. When we lived on the farm we had an apricot tree and mom would make us fried pies too. Crispy little packets, crusty crust, sprinkled with just a bit of white cane sugar. Hot, steaming packets of pure love. Making fried pies is a lot of work. Those pies you see wrapped in plastic at country stores are not even a shadow of a true fried pie.

So we bought fried pies and coffee. A couple of scrambled egg burritos. We sat down at the tables and enjoyed every morsel. We walked through the antique store attached and enjoyed seeing so many prettys for tea parties. We remembered to hold our hands behind our backs to make sure we didn't break anything. We chatted with the nice cowboy ( yes, that is the part of the state where REAL cowboys live, he just happened to be helping out his sister and brother-in-law who own the place). The nice fellow gave us a bag of homemade cookies to eat on the drive.

That was a great fried apricot pie!

Very satisfied we journeyed south to the park, set up camp at our absolutely favorite campsite in the Basin, number 60. The kids explored, finding mountain lion tracks while I napped. We then made venison guisado, a Mexican stew. I chopped up garlic and onion, seared the venison(which we brought frozen from the farm) in the pot with oil, then cooked up the onion and garlic with cumin, threw in a can of chopped tomatoes, some chile pepper and water then let it cook down on the propane camp stove for 45 minutes. While it simmered I made up some homemade tortillas(from whole wheat flour we milled at Mom's. The wind picked up, it got very chilly and we got very tired. After gobbling down our stew we readied for bed. At 7pm.

The stars at night are truly big and bright deep in the heart of Texas. Big Bend is known for excellent stargazing. Fort Davis, north of the park, is the home of the McDonald Observatory. Clear desert skies, little to no light pollution all contribute to a wonderful sight. I had forgotten. I was stunned with the beauty. But too tired and cold to observe for very long. Tucked into the tent, Crime and Punishment intrigued me for no more than 5 minutes. Sleep came quickly!


Jeff said...

Would you care to elaborate on how you make fried pies? My father's favorite pie was apricot pie, but I don't believe I've ever made one - rather expensive, if made from dried apricots. I posted my recipe for apple pie, if you care to take a look. said...

I will have to get my mom's recipe, but the basic idea is to cook down fresh fruit with sugar and a squeeze of lemon and a little butter, or use apricot jam(homemade or the kind without so much sugar and cornsyrup), make a nice tender pie crust, the kind with lard, cut out big circles or little circles out of the crust, and place a spoonful of the apricots in the middle. Fold the crust in half to make a half moon packet. Use fork tines to seal the edge. Deep fry in hot fat til golden brown, set on paper towels to drain and sprinkle with sugar.

You can do that with any fruit, but the fruit has to be cooked down so that it is not too runny. Some people use cornstarch to do that, but I prefer the nice slow method. Some people oven bake their fried pies and that is good, too, but not nearly as good as fried pie!

I will go over and check out your recipe!