(Originally the first half of the complete "Snacking State-by-State: Alabama" post)
For the first installment in this armchair tour of the 50 states, I start in the heart of Dixie itself. And if the Alabama Tourism Department can be believed, this has to be the perfect place to start, as they say right up front on their "Year of Alabama Food" website:
Eat. It's something we've all got to do. But in the South — and particularly in Alabama — it's something we love to do. (Alabama Tourism Department)Snacking State-by-State: Alabama
Official Name: State of Alabama
State Nickname: Heart of Dixie
Admission to the US: December 14, 1819 (#22)
Capital: Montgomery (4th largest city)
Other Important Cities: Birmingham (largest), Mobile (2nd), Huntsville (3rd)
Region: South (Deep South, Gulf Coast); East South Central (US Census)
RAFT Nations: Gumbo; Corn Bread & BBQ
Bordered by: Florida & the Gulf of Mexico (south), Georgia (east), Tennessee (north), Mississippi (west)
Official State Foods: pecan (State Nut), blackberry (State Fruit), peach (State Tree Fruit)
Some Famous & Typical Foods: cornbread, gumbo, large mouth bass, catfish, pie (especially pecan and sweet potato), fried pies, mayonnaise-based BBQ sauce, fried green tomatoes
If you want a primer on Southern food, Alabama is the perfect place to get it. It's not easy to find a recipe that is specific to just Alabama (at least I haven't found one). Perhaps Fannie Flagg, Birmingham-born author of the ever-famous Fried Green Tomatoes, can give us some insight into at least that one famous and titular dish of her novel of the same name. Although John Shields promises that we in the Chesapeake fry up those green tomatoes too, I've never been able to do it quite well. I shouldn't feel so bad: Ms. Flagg also swears that she is not the best cook, always preferring to eat out when she was younger. She fesses up that she is no cookbook author:
My cooking skills are somewhat limited. To tell you the truth, I was surprised myself when my publisher called. (Flagg, p. 2)And yet, she manages to produce a primer on the fabulous dishes of the South, as seen from the Irondale Cafe (there is no actual Whistle Stop Cafe) founded by her Aunt Bess many years ago. Again, it's difficult to choose one specific recipe. There is, literally, a dizzying array of recipes that come from Alabama, from pan-Southern classics such as pecan pie, fried chicken and sweet potato rolls to more specifically-Alabamian sweets such as the fried pie, which (in its American form) is said to have originated in Alabama. As such, I felt very much compelled to make some fried pies. I wanted to follow Fannie Flagg's recipe, but it called for a good amount of dried fruit. I opted out, half because I didn't feel like rehydrating fruit, half because I didn't have any lying around in the first place. But a quick internet search later and I found a delicious looking blueberry fried pie from the award-winning Homesick Texan blog (NB: fried pies are not just from Alabama), and the blueberries weren't dried at all. Since I have some blueberries and strawberries freezing a hole in my freezer, this seemed like the recipe to bust them out for.
The recipe: Fried Fruit Pies
For the pie crust, I put my nice new bag of White Lily Flour (about $3.99). I admit that I've never known if we have soft or hard flour in Maryland, but I've seen pastry flour and cake flour (including the ubiquitous Softasilk) in Baltimore stores many times. If these aren't "soft flour" then they are as soft as we get here. The White Lily came from Harris Teeter.
The wonderfully simple recipe I used from Lisa (aka, the Homesick Texan) - of lard (no lard here, so I used palm oil shortening), flour, salt and water - was bigger than I needed it to be, so I halved it. By the way, you really should roll out your own pastry crust - and the Amateur Gourmet's (friend's) recommendation for rolling it between sheets of wax paper makes it pain free and hardly messy at all.
The pie filling was slightly more complicated, if you consider grating lemon rind complicated: blueberries & strawberries (both from the freezer), cinnamon, lemon rind and juice, sugar, a little flour and water were all I needed to boil together before spooning it into 5" discs of pie crust.
Seal it up and fry each pie up in a cast iron skillet with at least an inch of hot oil at 350°F for about a minute on each side. It's quick, it's easy - it's gorgeous.
And you should've heard the sounds coming out of my mouth as I was eating the leftover fruit filling that had gooped up on the side of the pot.
Flagg, Fannie. Fannie Flagg's Original Whistle Stop Cafe Cookbook. 1993: Ballantine Books, New York.
Homesick Texan, The (Lisa, aka Homesick Texan). Easy as fried pie. Posted July 1, 2008.
Alabama Tourism Department. The Year of Alabama Food. 2005.
Some information also obtained from Wikipedia's "Alabama" page, the "Food" page of the "Alabama Guide.info" website, and the Food Timeline State Foods webpage link to "Alabama", which (surprisingly) says nothing about catfish. Damn Yankees.