October
24th 2008
Friday fun foodfest: Mock Apple Pie!

Posted under: American history, women's history

Erica at Mental Hygiene has made that classic of twentieth-century commercial food pies, the Ritz Mock Apple Pie!  Short review:  it’s good, and actually tastes like an apple pie made with very small bits of apples rather than discernible apple slices.  (But watch out for sugar-syrup spillovers and burns on your stove and inside your oven.  Click the link above for more photos and the recipe.)

She also reports, via a crackerjack research discovery by the Crazy Pie Lady, that the pie has roots that long precede the Great Depression.  While not made with Ritz crackers, there were other versions of this pie made in the nineteenth century out of crumbs and scraps.  Here’s an 1858 letter from Sue Smith of Henderson, Texas that explains how to make an “apple” pie out of stale carbs:

I have learned to make a new kind of Pie I think you all would like them they taste just like an apple pie make some and try them see if you dont love them.  Take a teaspoon heaping full of tartarlic (sic) acid and dissolve it in water a teasp (sic) full of sugar and stir it in the acid then take cold biscuit or light bread and crumble in it. have enough to make to (sic) pies put it in a crust and one over it and bake it they are fully as good as Apple pies the spoonful of acid and cup of sugar is enough to make two pies.
 
Erica is right when she says that “[i]t must have taken quite a creative cook to figure out the right balance of carbs, acid, sugar, and stuff, but they managed to work out a convincing imitation.”  I checked in Susannah Carter’s The Frugal Housewife, or Complete Woman Cook (1772), and her apple pie also calls for the juice and zest of a lemon, so there was attention to the balance of flavors even in early American real apple pie recipes.  (She says “[y]ou must sweeten to your palate and squeeze a little more lemon,” p. 119.)  I looked but found nothing like the mock apple pie recipe above, so perhaps it is a nineteenth-century innovation borne of desperation on the prairie, while waiting for one’s apple trees to mature and produce sufficient fruit for pies.
 
It’s also possible that Mrs. Carter didn’t record recipes of such humble origins or common fame as the mock-apple pie made out of old biscuits or bread.  Her book documents some pretty high-style cooking, especially when it comes to sweet things and pastries.  For example, her cake recipies regularly begin with the words, “take six pounds of the best fresh butter, work it to a cream with your hands; then throw in by degrees three pounds of double refined sugar well beat and sifted” or “take twelve fresh eggs,” and regularly feature several pounds of almonds, dried fruit, and pints of french brandy and sack (ch. 12.)  While Mrs. Carter’s cooking was “frugal” in that it was dedicated not to waste food, the unwasted food wasn’t necessarily cheap or easy to come by in such prodigious amounts.  (Six pounds of butter in the eighteenth century?  Your hands and arms, and your cows’ udders, would fall off from all of that milking and churning on a family farm!  Leaving aside the question of expense, where but on a large plantation or at a substantial dairy farm, and with plenty of servant and slave labor, could one find that quantity of butter just waiting to be made into cake?)

 

Enough for today about food.  This blog is getting quite a reputation, with all of my recent links to Cakewrecks and pie-blogging here and here.  Historiann.com was the ultimate destination for two people googling “how did they bake cookies in the old days?”  Short answer:  they didn’t, at least not in Anglo-American kitchens before the nineteenth century.  Mrs. Carter has all manner of recipies for pies, cakes, puddings, and custards, but there are no cookies in Mrs. Carter’s cookbook.  (Maybe a search for them in a Dutch-language cookbook will yield success, but my guess is that cookies are a nineteenth century confection.)

11 Comments »

11 Responses to “Friday fun foodfest: Mock Apple Pie!”

  1. Erica on 24 Oct 2008 at 9:23 am #

    Did people in “the old days” bake biscuits instead of cookies? I base this on my knowledge (from my British TV show addiction) that cookies are called that in the UK, so maybe “cookies” is an American term invented far more recently. Or maybe they just called it all “shortbread”.

    It’s such a delicious sort of historical research. I’ll have to bake lots of old-style cookie things to learn more about it. 8)

  2. Historiann on 24 Oct 2008 at 9:54 am #

    Good question–I think that both “biscuits” in the British style and cookies, whatever you call them, are a modern thing. (That is, a 19th century invention.) I went to Mrs. Carter’s cookbook to see what her “biscuits” look like, and she offers zero recipes in her cookbook for either quick breads or yeast breads of any kind, and of course nothing that looks like a cookie today. I wonder if the absence of bread recipes is because she (rightly) assumed that everybody had their own preferred kinds of bread, so recording different recipes was pointless.

    As for American biscuits, as in hot quick breads leavened with baking power or baking soda, I think they’ve been around since the 18th C. But, I don’t know for sure. I think they were and have remained mostly a Southern thing, too.

  3. Sisyphus on 24 Oct 2008 at 12:17 pm #

    Hells yeah 6 pounds of butter! You tell Erica to get on that recipe and post some pictures of the results.

    And she can mail me a slice of the cake, too. Mmm.

  4. Historiann on 24 Oct 2008 at 12:30 pm #

    I’m trying to imagine how many cakepans that 6 pounds of butter recipe would fill. I wonder if you could fit them all in a standard-size kitchen range. That’s an awesome amount of cake, Sis–be careful what you wish for!

  5. Erica on 24 Oct 2008 at 1:01 pm #

    Good lord, that would be my butter budget for two months! WWII rationing housewives are screaming in horror.

  6. The Other Sarah on 24 Oct 2008 at 3:05 pm #

    Six pounds of butter?
    As a child in the 1960s in the Ozarks, I lived on a farm with 2 dairy cows.
    We regularly churned every third day, and one churning regularly provided us with 3 pounds of butter.
    The cows were Jerseys.
    Milking was done by hand. Twice a day, even while feeding their calves too, the cows regularly produced a little more than a gallon and a half of milk.
    From a day’s milking we regularly skimmed a pint of cream. Most of the time this went into the churn.
    The churn was a Dazey gallon-size glass churn with a crank and a paddle.
    Churning in warm weather occurred more often, sometimes daily.
    Spring and summer butter was yellower than winter butter.

    The cost of the butter on a farm is, essentially, the labor to, and knowledge of, completing the process.

    Note: ultra-pasteurized dairy products such as are commercially available in most grocery stores are VERY difficult to make butter from.

  7. Historiann on 24 Oct 2008 at 3:29 pm #

    Wow, thanks Other Sarah for the insider info on milk and butter! I don’t know if colonial cows would have been as prolific producers of milk–you probably had your cows on a regular feed as well as pasture grazing, whereas I think early American milk production was more unpredictable. Nevertheless, your comment helps me conceptualize the amount of milk, cream, and time butter production took.

    I wonder if colonial women (especially in the South) would have had the option of churning only once every 3 days–they had butteries and cellars, but nothing like a refrigerator for storing up their cream. That might also have worked to make for smaller but more frequent batches of butter, at least in the warm months.

  8. Indyanna on 24 Oct 2008 at 7:50 pm #

    One good account of early American butter-making (for commercial as well as domestic purposes) is Joan M. Jensen, _Loosening the Bonds: Mid-Atlantic Farm Women, 1750-1850_, a study set in the Philadelphia near-hinterland. This post led me to scratch an old itch and look up to find out how much a “firkin” of butter was.
    It was a large, quarter-barrel type of a coopered tub holding 112 English pounds!

    I wonder if the origins of the various “mock” apple pies maps places where Johnny Appleseed didn’t get to, but where grindable grains would have been plentiful–which pretty much points to the great American prairie?

  9. Little Midwestern College on 29 Oct 2008 at 11:33 am #

    What a delightful diversion from my giant pile of midterms! I’ll add this to the discussion, a snarky aside in a longer work by Mrs. Isaac Atwater about 1850s Minneapolis: “It is amusing now to think of the various devices resorted to in the struggle to supply the deficiencies of the market. Preserves were made of almost everything. . . and equal ingenuity went into the manufacture of pies, even to the substitution of cracker moistened with tartaric acid for apple, which, made into a pie, ‘could hardly be told from real apple.’ I am happy to say that this invention was not extensively adopted, and that such pies did not find their way into ‘the best society.’”

  10. Historiann on 29 Oct 2008 at 12:07 pm #

    Ha! I love it. But I wonder if the Ritz Mock Apple Pie has an indescribeable richness that stale biscuits just couldn’t impart to its 19th C ancestor…

    Thanks for stopping by to comment, LMC–I hope you’ll be back again.

  11. What I Saw and How I Lied « YABG on 17 Jan 2009 at 2:31 pm #

    [...] 97 [Mock apple pie] “you could make apple pie from Ritz crackers” – (The Worldly, Historian Blog)249 Sno-Caps – 90 Yankee Bean Soup72 “dollop of potato”23 – “mashed [...]

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply