Apples, doughnuts, strudels and mountains are on my mind
Published 10:00 am Friday, October 20, 2023
By Kara Kimbrough
Surveys listing each state’s “most searched” recipe or food are often way off base when it comes to listing Mississippians’ picks. Case in point: listing “turnips” as the most popular Thanksgiving dish in the Magnolia State was just wrong on many levels. But reading last week that the Smoky Mountains was Mississippians’ “most googled” vacation spot made perfect sense. After reading the survey, I reminisced a bit about past trips to the Smokies, highlighted by the fried apple pies at Pigeon Forge’s Apple Barn. As a result, I made a batch of apple cider doughnuts…but that’s another story.
A little-known fact about the Great Smoky Mountains National Park: it’s the nation’s most visited national park. Established in 1934, the park is comprised of over half a million acres of breathtaking mountain vistas topped with wispy clouds that resemble smoke (hence the name), hundreds of scenic streams and waterfalls, some of the nation’s best hiking trails, modern campgrounds, picnic areas and much more.
There are actually too many natural wonders to name and I’m missing some good ones…but I’ll go out on a limb and say a can’t-miss site is Cade’s Cove. This peaceful 6,800-acre valley is surrounded by mountains and filled with wildlife (expect to see wild turkeys, deer and, on occasion, a black bear or two) and well-preserved 18th and 19th-century structures in the form of log cabins, churches and a working gristmill.
Another awe-inspiring feature that should be on the itinerary of any trip to the Smokies is Clingman’s Dome. At 6,643 feet, it’s the highest point in the park and in Tennessee, as well as the third-highest mountain east of the Mississippi. As a teenager on a church trip, I accepted the challenge to climb the very steep path that led straight up to the observation deck. At the time, it seemed like a 10-mile hike, but now I find out it was actually only half a mile. Once there, the trek is worth it; on a clear day, the deck offers views of up to 100 miles away, including of seven adjacent states.
Another favorite activity is strolling at night along the quaint yet modern downtown Gatlinburg streets lined with unique shops, attractions and restaurants. Adjacent cities of Pigeon Forge and Sevierville are also filled with plenty of things to see and do, all while taking in the unbelievable Smoky Mountains surrounding the area.
I’d be remiss if I omitted the Apple Barn and Cider Mill in Pigeon Forge from the “must do” list of a Smokies vacation. Visiting the property containing an apple orchard, Applewood Farmhouse Restaurant, cider bar, and, best of all, a unique general store offering homemade pies and numerous apple treats in a 1910 barn is one of my favorite memories of a trip to the Smokies.
There’s no shortage of apple treats to be enjoyed at the restaurant or general store, but my perennial favorite was – and remains – fried apple pies. With a side of fresh cider, there’s really no better sweet treat. Bringing home a full-size homemade apple pie and a box of smaller fried pies was a requirement of any trip to the Smokies.
I’m guessing the Apple Barn’s fried pies fueled my obsession with apple strudel. A few years ago, I began making strudels every fall. A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to watch the ladies at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Gluckstadt prepare stacks of them in preparation for the church’s annual Germanfest. As a result, I perfected my rolling technique. I also added apple cider doughnuts to my fall baking lineup, but strudel will always be my favorite fall treat.
If a trip to the Smokies is on your bucket list and you need more information about where to stay and what to do, drop me an email and I’ll share my travel tips with you. In the meantime, I’m passing on my favorite strudel, doughnuts and fried pie recipes. Besides cooler weather, what more could you ask for as we celebrate the fact that, “It’s finally fall, y’all!:
Germanfest Apple Strudel
1/4 pound margarine, softened
1/4 pound butter, softened
8 ounces sour cream
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Dash of salt
1 cup applesauce
3 apples, peeled, cored and sliced
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon apple pie spice
4 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped pecans
Mix together the filling ingredients in a saucepan, stirring constantly. Cook until thick, about five minutes. Let cool.
For crust, mix the margarine and butter in a bowl and add sour cream. Mix the flour and salt. Add to sour cream mixture and mix well. Refrigerate overnight. Divide into four parts and roll each part out on a floured pastry cloth to 12×15 inch rectangle.
Spread each rectangle with 1/4 of the filling. Roll as for jelly rolls and place on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes or until golden brown. Slice diagonally while warm.
From Recipes & Remembrances II, St. Joseph Catholic Church
Baked Apple Cider Doughnuts
1-1/2 cups apple cider
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon apple pie spice
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 large egg, at room temperature
1/2 cup packed light or dark brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup milk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 cup white sugar
- 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 3/4 teaspoon apple pie spice
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- Reduce the apple cider: Stirring occasionally, simmer the apple cider in a small saucepan over low heat until you’re left with about 1/2 cup. Start checking at 10 minutes, 15 minutes, 20 minutes, etc until you have 1/2 cup (120ml). Mine takes about 20 minutes. If there are any spices or solids on top of your reduced apple cider, leave them. Set aside to cool for 10 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray two doughnut pans with non-stick spray. Set aside.
- Make the donuts: Whisk the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, apple pie spice and salt together in a large bowl. Set aside. Whisk the melted butter, egg, brown sugar, white sugar, milk and vanilla extract together. Pour into the dry ingredients, add the reduced apple cider and whisk everything together until smooth and combined. Batter will be slightly thick.
- Spoon the batter into the doughnut pans, filling about 3/4 of the way up. Bake for 10-11 minutes or until the edges and tops are lightly browned. If doughnuts bounce back when touched lightly, they’re done. Cool for 2 minutes then transfer to a wire rack. Re-grease the pan and bake the remaining batter.
- Coat the donuts: Combine the granulated sugar, cinnamon, and apple pie spice together in a medium bowl. Once cool enough to handle, dunk both sides of each donut in the melted butter, then generously in the apple spice topping. Leftovers keep well covered tightly at room temperature for up to 2 days or in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Fried Apple Tarts
4 large tart apples, peeled, cored and sliced
3 tablespoons water
¾ cup sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
3 cups flour
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1 cup shortening
6-8 tablespoons ice water
In a 2-quart pan, cook apples with water over medium heat until apples reach consistency of applesauce. Add sugar and cinnamon and continue cooking 5 minutes longer, stirring often. Remove from heat and cool. While apples are cooking, prepare pastry. Sift together flour and salt. With knives or pastry blender, cut ½ cup shortening into flour until shortening is pea-sized. Cut in remaining ½ cup shortening until about the size of navy beans. Gradually add ice water until mixture forms a ball. Wrap in waxed paper and refrigerate 20 minutes.
On lightly floured board, roll out thin layer of pastry. Cut 6-inch circles, brush edges with ice water and place 2 tablespoons cooled apple filling on ½ of each pastry. Fold pastry in half and crimp edges with fork. Prick fork tines into top sides of pie. Cover bottom of frying pan with ¼-inch of oil and heat oil. Carefully place pies in frying pan, two at a time, and brown evenly on one side before turning to brown. Remove from pan and dust with powdered sugar. Yield: 1 dozen.
Adapted from The Apple Barn Cookbook, Wimmer Brothers, 1983.
Kara Kimbrough is a food and travel writer and travel agent from Mississippi. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.