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.)