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Culinary Class: Apple Jacks

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Nostalgia Pie

An autumn apple treat

Written by Lia Grabowski | Photos by Jonathan Boncek

Fried pies are a tradition passed down through generations in the South, born out of modest means and the necessity for thrift in home kitchens. Resourceful cooks used ingredients they had on hand—lard, flour, and dried apples—to create hand pies known as apple jacks. Their portability made them easy to tuck into lunchboxes of schoolchildren or factory workers for a sweet midday treat. Rehydrating the dried apples in apple cider and cider vinegar concentrates their flavor, making the pastries less sweet and more intense than your standard apple pie. While modern interpretations of the filling may be spiced with sage or cardamom, the original called for no embellishments, letting the apples take center stage.

Make the filling ahead of time so it has a chance to cool—any residual heat from the apples will cause the dough to stretch and possibly tear when folding and sealing the pies. If the butter becomes too soft while incorporating it into the crust, pop the bowl into the refrigerator or freezer for a few minutes until it firms back up. Traditionally, the dough is pulled apart into small balls and rolled out into rounds, rather than rolled out and cut. This waste-free method harkens back to the pies’ origins and creates a more rustic appearance. If you can, choose leaf lard—the highest grade in quality—for its high smoke point and especially neutral flavor. Use a cast-iron skillet to fry the pies and don’t overcrowd it. This will help the lard stay at a consistent temperature, key for attaining that crackly golden crust.