Raise your hand if you’ve ever passed the I-35 exit with the fried pie sign without stopping. I’ve done it many times. Today I stopped. I can’t say it was life-changing but it certainly changed my plans for the day.
It was supposed to be just a quick stop for breakfast. I wasn’t the only one there. As I waited in line, I looked over the many choices — from breakfast items, meat pies, fruit pies and cream pies.
The line built up behind me. This was obviously a popular stop. After I chose a cheese, sausage and egg pie, I asked if the owner was around. This was looking more and more like a possible story.
Nancy Fulton, also known as “the fried pie lady,” came over to the table to chat. Although she’s only been making fried pies to sell for 18 years — 13 in this location — the pies have a family history.
“My grandma worked on a ranch in the Arbuckles in the late 1890s. She made fried pies for the cowboys who would carry them out onto the range in emptied syrup pails,” Nancy told me. And that’s where she learned how to make the tasty pastries.
“My husband and I had been in the restaurant business but the restaurant burned down and my husband had some health issues,” she said. Nancy knew she didn’t want to go back into that industry but she had to do something. “My son had told me all his life that I should do something with my pies.”
Self-effacing, she says, “I was over-age and overweight. Who was going to hire me?” She started small — selling out of her car. “I took the pies and made myself a job!”
Business grew and she moved to her present location 13 years ago. Over the years, she’s added on to the building. She needed the space because not only does she sell pies off Exit 51, she ships ingredients to two dozen locations in Oklahoma and Texas all the way to Spearfish, S.D.
The pies begin with a round of dough and a generous scoop of filling. Half the dough is flipped over the filling and the edges crimped to keep the filling inside. Nancy wanted a pretty edge but didn’t like the usual techniques. She put her own spin on the process by turning the top edge over the bottom before crimping. To make the work easier, her brother-in-law, Earl Hughes, carved her a pie crimper. It worked so well for so many years, she wound up having a mold made of the original and having it replicated. That edge is one of her signatures and it’s beautiful — it doesn’t leak and it doesn’t crumble.
Nancy experimented and created all the recipes used for the pastry and the fillings. They’re all made here with the best ingredients. The No. 1 seller is apricot. Among the offerings are sugar-free options for the fruit pies. In addition to coconut cream, vanilla cream, chocolate, lemon and pecan, she makes seasonal favorites like pumpkin and sweet potato.
Her newest creation is a cheeseburger pie — all the tastes are there — good ground beef, cheese, pickle, onion, mustard and mayo. And it tastes just like a flat-grilled burger. The Tex-Mex mixes refried beans and beef with jalapeño and cheddar for those who like a bit of a kick in their pie.
I sampled five pies during my visit — enough that I skipped lunch. And I bought four more to take home. The pies are absolutely best piping hot at the pie shop but they heat up nicely, too.
Talking to Nancy is a short course in entrepreneurship, business management and ethics. She makes the business sound simple but touring the factory behind the shop, I knew it was a lot like water ballet — smooth on the surface but with a whole lot of work going on out of sight. Of mixing, cooking, packaging, shipping ingredients, keeping track of inventory and running the retail store, which to me looked like multi-tasking to the max, she says, “All it is is organization.” And a great team of workers helps. She says, “You don’t hire good employees; you make them.”
Nancy is also committed to supporting other Oklahoma businesses. Although she’s been approached by other vendors offering cheaper prices, she values Hiland Dairy’s great products and their years of superior service. Even the boxes she ships her ingredients in are made in Oklahoma.
Her mission statement: “I’m going to work hard, make the best stuff and treat people so good they’ll come back.” And they do.
The original Arbuckle Mountain Fried Pies store is south of Davis, just west of I-35 (at Exit 51) on Highway 77. The business is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., seven days a week. The Oklahoma City area outlet is at 50th and Portland.
ELAINE WARNER is an Edmond-based travel writer.