If you know what that title refers to, you are showing your age! It means you, like myself, were a child when America’s snack of choice were Ritz Crackers. Yes, the crackers that were sometimes adorned with Cheez Whiz, that famous cheese-like food product of no known nutritional value. But Cheez Whiz is beside the point for today’s discussion. The current topic: Mock Apple Pie.

Some of you may remember that it featured prominently on the back of the Ritz Cracker box. If you don’t remember that recipe, I’ll tell you, it was exactly what it sounded like: a recipe to recreate apple pie, without apples, by using Ritz Crackers instead. At age 7 or 8, I was hardly a foodie. And I grew up with a mother who was one of America’s most notoriously bad cooks. Her mother, despite being a farm wife with access to homegrown produce, was always more concerned with getting maximum calories on the plate for hungry farmhands than concentrating on taste. But even with that background and at my tender age, I remember staring at that recipe for Mock Apple Pie and wondering: Why?

Mock Apple Pie calls for 36 Ritz Crackers. I don’t even want to eat that many Ritz Crackers when I WANT to eat Ritz Crackers.

It seemed, and still does, patently absurd. Why substitute overly salty, processed crackers for lovely crisp nutritious apples? Wouldn’t the result be soggy and horrible? If this was designed as a pie for people who didn’t like apples, why didn’t they choose cherry pie instead? And why was the result advertised as “just like homemade apple pie”? Why not, if you are going to the trouble of making a pie, just make an apple pie? My questions were never answered. Mainly because I never tasted a Mock Apple Pie or even knew anyone who had made one. In fact, I haven’t thought about Mock Apple Pie for years.

Until today. It was a long and circuitous thought train, but sometimes my mind works that way. I’m not normally a big pie eater, but I am a purist. I have my standards. And one of them is that apple pies should always be made with the apples UNPEELED, so that the filling features that thin strip of red on the edge of every apple slice. (Besides, didn’t your mother tell you that’s where all the vitamins are?)

So I was in Whole Foods and their bakery was giving away small tastes of their apple pie. I took one and examined it critically. Hmmmm. Peeled. Points off. And the filling was oddly colorless and compressed. Suddenly the thought flashed into my mind: “This must be what Mock Apple Pie looks like when you slice it.”

This was my mother’s favorite cookbook. I did not come from a family of gourmands. But even I questioned Mock Apple Pie.

Now I’m obsessed with Mock Apple Pie. Who at Ritz thought this was a good idea for selling more crackers? Turns out it wasn’t a Ritz executive who thought this up. According to several sources such as this one, it was pioneers crossing the prairie who made this simulated taste of home for their homesick kids. Of course, not with Ritz Crackers, but with salt crackers — probably a prairie version of hardtack. Apparently apples were not to be found and, when they were, were very expensive. I guess Washington state, which I always thought was Apple Central, had not yet been planted with its signature crop. I’m still not sure if I’m believing this story. I guess I can buy pioneers out on the prairie pausing between Indian attacks to stodge up some crackers into a fake apple pie. But I’m not believing that once they got to the fertile West Coast — which is filled with fruit trees of all descriptions — that they couldn’t find some actual fruit to put in their pies.

So I’m left mulling the thought of Mock Apple Pie. Have you ever had one? Did it really, as the comments on the Allrecipes site claim, taste “just like apple pie”? Or was it the tasteless, soggy, salty mess even my Captain Crunch eating seven year old self suspected it would be? If you’ve got insight or information, let me know.

Oh, and if you have a hankering to make Mock Apple Pie, here’s the recipe direct from the back of the Ritz package.