It looks like apple pie. It smells like apple pie. It even tastes like apple pie, but the secret to this Great Depression era classic doesn't come from an orchard, it comes from a box of crackers.
If you've bought Ritz crackers in the last seventy-five or so years, you may have noticed their famous "Mock Apple Pie" recipe on the back of the box. Born of the thrifty ingenuity of the 1930s, the pie grew in popularity during World War II when apples were expensive and in short supply. The trick to this pie is all in the flavoring. When you break up buttery Ritz crackers and cover them with lemon and vanilla flavored simple syrup, then sprinkle them with cinnamon, the resulting filling is quite similar in texture to a soft and tender apple pie.
As a kid I remember glancing at the recipe a number of times and thinking a cracker-filled pie sounded pretty strange. Why would I want sugar syrup soaked crackers when I could have a pie made with real apples? Still, I knew there had to be a reason that Ritz's Mock Apple Pie has remained a beloved off-the-box recipe for decades.
My trusted testers reactions ranged from "mmmmm...wow...that's really good" to "wait, there are crackers in this?" One friend likened it more to an Apple Fig Newton than a pie, while another said the filling reminded her of an apple Danish. But the best reaction came from a colleague who is allergic to many fruits and can no longer enjoy the real deal: "it tastes just like apple pie."
Consider this skeptic a convert, while Ritz pie might not take the place of apple at our Thanksgiving table, it's easy to make with the help of wee Serious Eaters and makes for a mighty comforting and fun dessert.
Got a favorite classic American dessert recipe you'd like to see featured here? Email us with the subject: "American Classics."