By Lisa Shrewsberry
Hulda Vest is a comforter by nature, a retired nurse and perfector of the ultimate country comfort food — fried pies.
The spry 81-year-old has accumulated quite a following for her crescent-shaped confections from her many appearances at festivals and fairs. Adept at the usual flavors — cherry, apple, peach — Vest invented her own fried raisin pie variety, which fast became a local favorite. She admits to having made in the past as many as 300 pies at a time for special orders, but these days she does it to raise money for her church, Perry Memorial United Methodist in Shady Spring.
Hers will be among the featured fare at the annual Fall Festival, Oct. 5, a way the congregation gathers with community to provide a storehouse for the year’s outreach activities. This is also the time when the serious apple butter makers at Perry crack open their cinnamon-y best for selling at $6 per pint, keeping their trade secrets, like their jars, airtight.
“Last year, we were sold out of apple butter by 9 in the morning,” Hulda says, believing the 220 jars this year will also go quickly.
You won’t find calorie contents on the side of the serving bag holding Hulda’s pies; for those who’ve gone far enough to take with glistening fingertips, there’s no turning back. The secret, Hulda explains, graciously sharing her filling and dough recipes, is in the elbow grease.
“My mother used to make them out of plain biscuit dough. I saw a recipe in a book, oh, I can’t remember where or when. You have to roll out the dough really thin. If you make it thick, it’s just not as good,” she confesses, demonstrating the techniques of a seasoned pro.
Hulda enjoys baking for her neighbors and friends in particular, but the church’s annual festival gives her an especially warm feeling.
“This helps with several things. We deliver backpacks to schools for kids to take home on the weekends to have three meals a day.”
Perry Memorial’s monthly lunch program, Shepherd’s Table, also helps feed the hungry, body and soul, with a hearty meal and a chance to fellowship.
Perry Memorial’s Fall Festival is one of several events converging in Raleigh County on Oct. 5.
The October Sky Rocket Boys Festival will be in full swing with special guests Homer and Linda Hickam, fellow Rocket Boys Roy Lee Cooke, O’Dell Carroll and Billy Rose and a host of other West Virginia sons and daughters for the homecoming of the year.
The festival is also the culmination of a number of associated contests, so designed, says Festival Director Scott Hill, because that’s how it all began.
“This whole thing started with the 1960 National Science Fair.”
Then, the Big Creek Missile Agency, as they had come to be known, walked away with gold and silver medals for their rocket designs. Hill says he wanted the tradition of success to snowball inside the festival.
Contests include ones already finished, like the Tattoo Designing contest, and yet-to-be announced winners of the essay, songwriting and fire hydrant painting contests. Those to be held at the festival include the build-and-fly rocket launch, West Virginia State Championship Paper Airplane Flying contest and one for fun — the hot dog eating contest.
Hosting various competitions, especially those linked to scholarly pursuits Hill explains, embodies the true Rocket Boys spirit through a determination to continue aiming high.
Saturday evening, the October Sky activities will join in with Chili Night in Uptown Beckley, yet another strong and growing event, now in its 22nd year, where Hickam and the Rocket Boys are scheduled to be guest chili judges.
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Raisin Pie Filling
11/2 cups sugar
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 egg, beaten
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 cups raisins
2 cups water
Combine raisins and water together and bring to boil. Turn down heat and simmer 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Combine remaining ingredients and slowly add to raisin mixture. Cook and stir until thick.
Fried Pie Dough
5 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup solid shortening
1 can evaporated milk
Combine ingredients until well blended. Chill overnight.
Assemble pies using Hulda’s tip to roll the dough out thinly. Submerge in heated oil, in a deep fryer or deep pan, and fry until rich golden brown. Allow to drain on paper towels.
Early October to-dos
October Sky Rocket
Oct. 4, 5, 6
Events scheduled at Tamarack, Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine campus, Uptown Beckley and including bus ride tours to Coalwood.
Chili Night in Uptown Beckley
Oct. 5, 5 p.m.
Things heat up with more than 40 chili cook-off participants, three stages of entertainment, vendors, ride and slide activities for kids and more family fun. $5 buys five chili sample tickets and a “People’s Choice” voting coin. www.beckley.org
Perry Memorial United Methodist Church
Oct. 5, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Famously delicious apple butter and fried pies provide the energy and aromas of a fall get-together for the whole family. Music, kids’ activities and inflatables. Proceeds benefit Perry Memorial’s community outreach programs. Call 304-763-2599 for more information.