There are no apples in it but many think the recipe for Ritz Mock Apple Pie tastes like apple pie. Lisa Abraham of the Akron Beacon Journal tests the pie and asked an expert why testers would thing a non apple pie tastes like an apple pie.
It fascinated me when I was a child in the 1960s.
Carefully studying the back of the Ritz Crackers box, I asked my mother, “What are mock apples?”
I honestly can’t recall my mother’s response, but I do recall a lingering feeling of “I don’t get it.”
So when Ritz Crackers notified me that the brand was having its 75th birthday and offered up the recipe for its iconic Mock Apple Pie, I was intrigued anew.
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But my feeling of “I don’t get it,” had given way to “I have finally got to try this for myself.”
I discovered that a lot of my contemporaries had the same curiosity. They had seen it on the cracker box or heard their mothers and grandmothers tell tales of it, but had never attempted to make it.
I even had a discussion with one cohort similar to the one I had with my mother as a child, trying to explain why the word apple was in the name of a pie that contained no apples. He had the same I-don’t-get-it look.
If you’re not familiar with it, the Ritz Mock Apple Pie is a combination of lemon-flavored sugar syrup and crumbled Ritz Crackers, topped with cinnamon and baked into a pastry crust.
What this pie lacks in apples, it makes up for in American history, science and psychology.
Ritz Crackers debuted in 1934, and not long after, the recipe for Ritz Mock Apple Pie began appearing on the box. It was there through much of the 1960s, and last appeared in 1993.
A spokeswoman for Ritz said the pie became popular during the Depression because apples were hard to come by and crackers were used as a substitute.
I wondered how easy it was for those Depression-era cooks to get two cups of sugar and a lemon in the 1930s, but the crackers made sense. Soda crackers and other biscuits had been substituting for apples and other fruit in pie long before the 1930s.
It’s easy to see how the buttery flavor of a Ritz could be marketed for use in Mock Apple Pie over soda crackers or saltines.
So with 150 years of American culinary history behind me, I set out to make a mockery of an apple pie.
It was easy. Boil sugar syrup with cream of tartar. Add lemon zest and juice. Once it cools, pour it over crackers crumbled into a pie crust, top with cinnamon, dot with butter and bake.
I watched this mash of soggy crackers bake into a beautiful, bubbling pie. It sure looked like an apple pie and, thanks to the cinnamon, it smelled like one, too.
When I gathered a group to sample the pie, the reactions were varied. One person spit it out. Two others said it tasted just like apple pie, and two more said it tasted like apple pie without the apples. The texture is something that takes some getting used to. The filling turns gelatinous, sort of like a pecan pie without the pecans.
All I could taste was lemon.
I kept thinking that it tasted like lemon meringue pie without the meringue. Like a Hostess lemon pie surrounded by crust. I was not alone. The previously mentioned cohort who had difficulty coming to terms with an apple pie with no apples later commented that I should have just told him it was lemon pie.
That’s when I sought professional help.
MIND OVER MATTER
Jeannine Delwiche is an adjunct professor at Ohio State University. She’s editor-in-chief of the journal Chemosensory Perception, and a senior scientist specializing in sensory science and psychophysics at Firmenich Inc., a Princeton, N.J., flavor and fragrance company.
For the record, she has never had Ritz Mock Apple Pie.
But she did know a lot about why so many people are fooled by it. It boils down to this: It’s our brain playing tricks on us.
Delwiche explained that because the pie looks like an apple pie — it has a crust, it smells of cinnamon, it has the sweetness — our mind is telling us to expect apple pie, so we perceive apple pie.
“There are all kinds of expectations before you even put it in your mouth,” she said. “Your brain is effectively filling in the missing part, the apple aroma.”
So why did two of us think it tasted like a lemon pie?
Delwiche explained that we may vary in sensitivity to the aroma of lemon, and it dominated over the cinnamon/apple pie aroma when signals went to our brains.
“It actually is a lemon pie of sorts,” she noted. Leave out the cinnamon, and Delwiche said she would expect more people to have the lemon pie reaction.
“If you’ve never had apple pie, it’s not going to have that same effect. … You wouldn’t already have this flavor object to activate.”
Such reactions often are tied to color, she said.
Experiments have shown that tasters will identify a red beverage as cherry or strawberry, purple as grape, and orange as orange, despite how the liquid is actually flavored. She said one food company tried for years to market white chocolate pudding, but no matter how much cocoa went into it, tasters always called it vanilla.
“As soon as they colored it brown, everyone tasted chocolate,” she said.
Flavor objects are powerful mind controllers, Delwiche explained.
It’s not often you come across a food that helps your mind play tricks on you. At least not a legal one.
So here’s the recipe for you to try out for yourself.
RITZ MOCK APPLE PIE
Makes 10 servings
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 3/4 cups water
Pastry for 2-crust 9-inch pie
36 Ritz Crackers, coarsely broken (about 1 3/4 cups)
Zest and 2 tablespoons juice from 1 lemon
2 tablespoons butter or margarine, cut into small pieces
1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1. Mix sugar and cream of tartar in medium saucepan. Gradually stir in water. Bring to boil on high heat; simmer on low 15 minutes. Stir in zest and juice; cool 30 minutes.
2. Heat oven to 425 degrees. Roll out half of pastry on lightly floured surface to 11-inch circle; place in 9-inch pie plate. Place cracker crumbs in crust. Pour sugar syrup over crumbs; top with butter and cinnamon.
3. Roll out remaining pastry to 10-inch circle; place over pie. Seal and flute edge. Cut several slits in top crust to permit steam to escape. Place on parchment-covered baking sheet. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until golden brown. Cool.
Note: To prevent crust from over-browning, cover edge with foil near end of baking time, if necessary.
— Ritz Crackers/Nabisco/Kraft Foods
(c) 2009, Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio).