Discovering The Delicious Roots of Fried Pies in Appalachia

Discovering The Delicious Roots of Fried Pies in Appalachia

by Sophie Lynnfield

The tradition of fried pies has its roots in the American South, where it has become a beloved staple of Southern cuisine. Although fried pies, as we know them today, did not exist during the Early Modern period, the 16th-18th centuries, the tradition of meat pies and savory pastries served as a foundation for the development of fried pies in the United States

In particular, the influence of western European immigrants on Southern cuisine cannot be overstated, as their love of hearty and portable meat pies likely inspired the development of the fried pie in the Southern United States.

The immigration of English, Scottish, and Irish settlers to the southern United States, especially the Appalachian region, played a significant role in shaping the area’s culture and cuisine. The timeline of this immigration dates back to the 17th century, when English colonizers established Virginia as the first permanent English settlement in North America. Scottish and Irish immigrants followed in the 18th century, drawn to the region’s fertile land, abundant natural resources, and promise of economic opportunity.

As the 18th century progressed, English, Scottish, and Irish immigrants continued to settle in the southern colonies and later states, spreading throughout the Appalachian Mountains. In North Carolina, many Scottish and Irish immigrants settled in the western part of the state, including areas such as Buncombe, Henderson, and Rutherford counties.

In South Carolina, Scottish and Irish immigrants settled along the Savannah River and in the upstate region. In Georgia, they settled in areas such as Augusta and Savannah. In Tennessee, they established settlements in Nashville, Knoxville, and other towns throughout the state. Virginia also saw significant immigration from these groups, with many settling in the western part of the state, including areas such as Roanoke, Lynchburg, and Charlottesville.

European Origins and Influences

Meat pies and savory pastries have been a staple of British and Irish cuisine for centuries. These hearty dishes were a favorite of the working class, providing a portable and filling meal that could be eaten on the go.

During the Early Modern period, meat pies were typically made using ingredients such as beef, pork, lamb, or game, and were often flavored with onions, herbs, and spices. The pastry crust was usually made using flour, butter, and water, and could be either baked or fried.


In Scotland, the traditional meat pie is known as a bridie, and is typically filled with minced beef, onions, and seasonings. The pastry is made with flour, suet, and water, and the pies are baked until golden brown. Scottish meat pies were also popular in England, where they were often served at sporting events and fairs.

The most famous Scottish meat pie is the haggis, made with sheep’s heart, liver, and lungs, mixed with oatmeal and spices, and traditionally cooked in a sheep’s stomach. Another common pastry was the Scotch pie, made with ground beef and pork and topped with a pastry lid. Scottish meat pies were often portable and were designed to be eaten on the go, making them a popular food among laborers and farmers.


In Ireland, the traditional meat pie is known as a pasty, and is typically filled with beef, potatoes, and onions. The pastry is made with flour, butter, and water, and the pies are baked until golden brown. Irish meat pies were often eaten by farmers and laborers as a portable meal while working in the fields. Irish meat pies were also a common food, although they tended to be more modest than their Scottish counterparts.


In England, meat pies were a popular dish during the Middle Ages, and were often filled with exotic ingredients such as swan, peacock, or lamprey eels. As meat became more widely available, pies were filled with more common ingredients such as beef, pork, or mutton.

The most famous English meat pie is the Christmas pie, made with a mixture of beef, veal, and pork, flavored with spices and currants. Other English meat pies include the pork pie, filled with ground pork and seasoned with herbs and spices, and the steak and kidney pie, made with tender beef steak and kidney in a rich gravy. English meat pies were often served with gravy or a side of mashed potatoes and vegetables.

Meat pies and savory pastries remained popular in British and Irish cuisine throughout the centuries, and continue to be enjoyed to this day. In modern times, new variations of meat pies and savory pastries have emerged, incorporating ingredients such as chicken, fish, or vegetables.

Fried Pies Down South

Scots, Irish, and English immigrants brought their culinary traditions to the southern colonies, including their love for pies. As these pies became more popular, cooks began experimenting with new variations and fillings. Sweet pies, which had been popular in England since medieval times, were also introduced to the southern colonies. These sweet pies, filled with fruits such as apples and peaches, became particularly popular in the southern states, where fruit was abundant.

Hand pies, also known as turnover pies, were another variation that became popular in the south. These small, portable pies were often filled with savory fillings such as meat or cheese, and were easy to eat on-the-go. They were also popular as a snack or dessert.

An Appalachian Delicacy

Fried pies have a long and storied history in the Southern United States, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the Appalachian areas of the South. These areas have long been known for their rich culinary traditions, and fried pies are no exception. From the hills of Tennessee to the mountains of North Carolina, fried pies are a beloved treat that has been enjoyed by generations of Appalachians.

The Appalachian Mountains have a rich history of European immigration, with many settlers coming from Scotland, Ireland, and Germany. These immigrants brought with them their own culinary traditions, and fried pies were a natural fit in the region. The pies are similar to the pastries that are popular in many European countries, and they quickly became a beloved treat among Appalachian families.

One reason for the prevalence of fried pies in Appalachia is the region’s agricultural heritage. The Appalachian Mountains have long been known for their fertile soil, and this has led to a rich tradition of farming in the area.

Apples, peaches, and other fruits have been grown in the region for centuries, and fried pies are a delicious way to use these fruits. The pies are typically made with a simple crust and filled with fruit, and then fried until crispy and golden brown. This simple yet delicious treat has been a staple in the region for generations.

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One of the most unique aspects of fried pies in Appalachia is the sense of community that surrounds them. Many families in the region have their own recipes for fried pies, and these recipes are often passed down from generation to generation. This has led to a strong sense of culinary tradition in the region.

Soul Food Dessert

Over time, the African-American community also contributed significantly to the evolution of this dessert, adding their own techniques and ingredients to create a diverse range of soul food fried pies that have become an integral part of Southern food culture.

Fried pies have a long-standing connection with the African-American community, particularly in the realm of soul food cuisine. These portable and convenient snacks or desserts were often made by African-American cooks for working-class individuals who needed to bring food with them on the go. They were also popular at social gatherings and church events, where they could be easily shared and enjoyed.

Sweet potato fried pies are a classic variety of fried pie that is particularly associated with soul food. These pies feature a spiced sweet potato filling and a flaky crust that is crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Other popular fruit varieties include peach and apple, which are often mixed with cinnamon and sugar for added sweetness.

When it comes to making fried pies, African-American cooks have their own unique techniques and ingredients that add to the diversity and richness of this beloved dessert. For example, some use buttermilk in their crusts, which adds a tangy flavor and extra richness. Others utilize a technique called “double frying” to make their pies extra crispy. This method involves frying the pie dough once to cook it and then frying it again for added crispiness.

Overall, the African-American community has contributed greatly to the popularity and evolution of fried pies in the American South. Their use of unique techniques and ingredients has added to the diversity and richness of this beloved dessert, making it a staple in soul food cuisine and a treasured part of Southern food culture.

Regional Varieties Of Fried Pies

  1. Apple fried pies in the Appalachian region (as previously mentioned): The Appalachian region is known for its apple fried pies, which are made with fresh apples, cinnamon, and sugar. These pies are often served as a dessert or snack and are a staple at local fairs and festivals.
  2. Peach fried pies in Georgia: Georgia is famous for its peach fried pies, which are made with sweet Georgia peaches, sugar, and cinnamon. These pies are often served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.
  3. Blackberry fried pies in Tennessee: Blackberry fried pies are a staple in Tennessee, where the fruit is abundant. These pies are made with fresh blackberries and a touch of lemon juice, and are often served with a dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
  4. Sweet potato fried pies in North Carolina: In North Carolina, sweet potato fried pies are a popular dessert. These pies are made with sweet potatoes, cinnamon, and nutmeg, and are often served with a drizzle of maple syrup or honey.
  5. Pecan fried pies in Texas: Pecan fried pies are a favorite in Texas, where the pecan is the state nut. These pies are made with a mixture of chopped pecans, sugar, and butter, and are often served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

These regional variations of fried pies are a testament to the diversity of Southern cuisine, as well as the abundance of fresh fruits and ingredients available in each region.

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fried pie

Fried Apple Pies: A Fast Food Classic

In 1968, McDonald’s introduced the fried apple pie to their menu, using a recipe developed by a Knoxville, Tennessee franchisee named Litton Cochran. The pies were made with a flaky pastry crust and filled with hot, sweet apple filling. The popularity of the fried apple pie quickly grew, and McDonald’s started offering a range of other flavors, including cherry and blueberry.

At its peak in the 1980s, McDonald’s was selling more than 2 million fried apple pies a day across the United States. However, in the 1990s, the chain came under fire from health advocates and consumers concerned about the high fat and calorie content of the pies. In 1992, McDonald’s began using a baked pie crust instead of a fried crust in an attempt to make the pies healthier, but the move was met with a lukewarm reception from customers who missed the taste and texture of the original fried pies.

In 2018, McDonald’s brought back a limited-time version of the fried apple pie in honor of its 50th anniversary, using a slightly modified recipe that reduced the sugar content and switched to a lattice crust. The move was met with enthusiasm from fans of the classic treat, although some criticized the changes as straying too far from the original recipe.

Despite the controversy, the fried apple pie remains a beloved part of American fast food culture, and has even inspired copycat recipes and DIY versions among home cooks

Our country truly is a melting pot. So many cultures have influenced Southern cuisine to make it what it is today. The fried pie is just one example of how these food traditions have merged to create a unique and delicious culinary legacy. So the next time you enjoy a hot, crispy fried pie, remember that you’re also enjoying a taste of Southern history and the diverse cultures that contributed to it.

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