April Fools recipe: Mock apple pie

April Fool your friends and family with an 'apple' pie made with Ritz crackers.

Bill Hogan/Newscom
A mock apple pie made with Ritz crackers tastes as good as the real thing.

Michael Pollan, the foodie journalist and author of “In Defense of Food,” coined a new anthem for locavores with his pithy phrase “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Michael, forgive my foolish ways. I could not resist the temptation to make this recipe that includes no plant fiber and try it out on unsuspecting friends.

Mock Apple Pie first appeared in 1934 on the cracker’s package. It’s hard to imagine why anyone would want to substitute crisp apples for buttery crackers. Were they a stand-in for hard-to-come by apples during the Great Depression? Some references suggest that Mock Apple Pie was invented by pioneers on the move who didn’t have space or access to fresh apples out on the trail.

This brings to mind a scene from "The Long Winter" by Laura Ingalls Wilder where Ma presents the family with a pie when an early frost forces a harvest before all the produce is ripe. "Apples!" Pa exclaims after he digs in. "Caroline, where did you get apples!" There were no apples in that apple pie, either. Ma had used green pumpkins. Fooled ya!

In any case, I decided to test the recipe. This was a last minute decision. It was 4:00 p.m. and I was heading to a potluck that began at 6:30 p.m.

I made good time on my trip home from work in order to make a quick stop at the neighborhood grocery store to get the essentials (read: Ritz Crackers).

By 5:30 p.m. I am "assembling" the pie, which includes simmering a ghastly amount of sugar (2 cups), and shaving a lemon. The sugar mixture has to cool before you pour it over the crackers and running short on time I stuck it in the freezer with a large metal spoon in it to help draw out the heat.

At 6:15 p.m. in a bit of a hurry and muddled by disbelief, I crumble a tube of Ritz Crackers into a premade pastry shell and pour the 2 cups of somewhat-cool liquid over it. It is incredibly soupy. Undeterred I roll out the second pie shell and haphazardly cover the “pie.” Liquid oozes out. Hm. Can this be right??

I pull out a large roasting pan to port my uncooked pie and amble down to the street, now late. Even though I’ve covered the pie in tinfoil, sugar-water is escaping and sloshing all over the sides of the pan. As I make the four-block trek I politely steer my curious burden around groups of neighbors along the sidewalk.

Now, this potluck has a very high purpose. I regularly break bread with this group of women who have committed to making a monthly donation to four nonprofits working to alleviate global poverty. We do this despite the fact that none of us are wealthy and several are in job transitions. (Want to know more? Read about us in this Monitor article "A spiritual approach to money", Feb. 1, 2009.) Guilt settled in as I sloshed my way up the steps to the dinner. After all, this group believes in fair trade, buying produce in season, and shopping locally. One friend is actually a farmer, another grows food for inner city school kids.

And here I come with fake pie.

As the hostess settles the pie into the preheated oven, I grin sheepishly and shrug. “It’s surprise pie!,” I say, and offer no more information. Soon a delicious cinnamon aroma drifts from the kitchen and I’m already getting appreciative remarks from my friends who are anticipating dessert. Ahem. (Did I mention feeling guilty?)

As we assemble around the coffee table, two pies are set out. Mine, and a homemade strawberry rhubarb pie. Vanilla ice cream, too, of course.

Kim, the one who works on farm to school projects, took a brave, large piece. I encouraged her to guess the “secret” ingredient.

“I taste lemon!” she declared. Anything else? “Potato?” Nope.

“How much butter is in here?” Neeka asks. Um, depends on how you define that.

Now deeply ashamed, I reveal the secret crackers. There is a pause, mid-chew. But I am quickly reassured that it actually tastes quite good! The lemon sings, the salt tantalizes, the butter soothes, and the cinnamon tricks. All this magic prompts a discussion about how easily we are fooled by food and by the way, did anyone realize that McDonald’s apple pies are made with potato? (Snopes debunks this claim, however.)

In any case, it was a sweet ending to our potluck. And Kim graciously reassured me, “Ritz Crackers are never out of season.”

Touché, Michael Pollan.

Mock Apple Pie

1-3/4 cups water
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Zest from 1 lemon
2 pastry pie shells
1-3/4 cups Ritz Crackers, coarsely broken
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 425 F degrees.

In a saucepan, heat water, sugar, and cream of tartar to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes. Add lemon juice and zest; let cool.

Line pie plate with pastry. Place broken crackers in crust. Pour cooled syrup over crackers. Dot with butter; sprinkle with cinnamon.

Roll out top crust; place over pie, crimp, and make fork holes for steam. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes. Serve with vanilla ice cream.


Kendra Nordin blogs at Kitchen Report.

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