You are what you eat
Uh oh. If that’s the case, then I am in big trouble. I’ve had food issues my entire life, stemming from the fact that I never really cared. Honestly, if I had my druthers, I’d take a pill three times a day to satisfy my dietary requirements. Since that’s not possible, I eat when I have to, but not necessarily because I want to.
All that changed over 20 years ago, when I was hospitalized for something called diverticulitus, and endured more than one surgery to literally cut the disease out of me. “You are what you eat,” my nutritionist advised, wagging a finger and admonishing me for making poor choices. “No more fast food for you!” In fact, he was quoting nutritionist Victor Lindlahr, who originally wrote those words in a 1923 edition of the Bridgeport telegraph, stating that “ninety percent of the diseases known to man are caused by cheap foodstuffs” (www.phrases.org.uk).
Nowadays, we understand that Lindlahr was right, and although zillions of Americans continue to crave fast food, I am not one of them. That said, I still eat to survive, and as a result, holidays that conjure up warm memories of traditional family recipes tend to leave me cold. My traditions center around the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, followed by the National Dog Show and treats for Dharma, who turned eight this year over the holiday weekend. Still, I was invited to spend the day with friends and loath to show up empty-handed. So I decided to try my hand at making dessert.
Watching the parade always makes me wistful, and when the vintage balloons wend their way into our hearts, I can’t help but recall the old days, this time sparked by a recipe that used to appear on the back of a box of Ritz Crackers®. “Mock Apple Pie!” the vintage image proclaimed. “No Apples Needed!,” which sounded intriguing.
“What makes it taste like apples?” my sister asked, when I informed her of my plan. “No clue,” I responded “but we’re about to find out.” While the recipe no longer appears on the back of the box (hmmm), it was only a few keystrokes away on the Internet, and off I went, to procure sugar, cinnamon, cream of tartar (whatever that is), store-bought pie crust (don’t judge!) and of course, Ritz Crackers®, lots and lots of crackers. In fact, there was more than one recipe for “Mock Apple Pie,” and as a result, variations. But I made the decision to adhere to the original, learning in the process that it sprang up during the Great Depression, when apples were apparently scarce.
“The classic pie,” the Internet said, “featuring Ritz Crackers® baked in a golden crust, is perfect for the holidays” (www.backofthebox.com)—I kid you not. Being a neophyte, I stumbled along the way. I know how to boil water, but when it came to “pat generously with butter” I balked. “What do they mean by ‘generously?’” I asked the dog, who stared at me blankly, concerned that there might be mock turkey on the menu this year. As the kitchen counter became strewn with ingredients, my concerns grew. “What kind of an amount is “sprinkle’?” I wondered aloud. Apparently, I needed to add “the rind of one lemon” to the boiling mixture of water, sugar and the mysterious cream of tartar, but my attempt to do so only resulted in lemon juice (no rind) everywhere. On my arm, in my eye, on the floor, even on the dog, but not in the pot—and in consternation, I threw the lemon (rind still intact) out the kitchen window.
My first-ever attempt at unrolling a pie crust was less than stellar, and I had to stop and make another call. “How cool is cool?” I asked The River Reporter’s Laurie Stuart, who has been known to bake a pie or two. It just says “cool”! I wailed. “Put it on the back porch for a bit,” Laurie advised after a few pertinent questions. “You don’t want the hot liquid tearing up your crust.” It quickly became clear that cream of tartar thickens sugar-water, because I found sticky stuff everywhere. On the stove, on the floor, on the dog—you get the idea. Preheating the oven (yes, it really does require baking), I was apprehensive, but cautiously optimistic, even after realizing that I had forgotten to “sprinkle” the cinnamon over the mixture of soaked crackers prior to topping it with more crackers and another crust.
After a weak attempt to pry the crusts apart, I gave up and just smeared (generously, of course) some cinnamon on top, sighed, and heaved the three-pound pie into the oven.
“You’re a liar,” one of the dinner guests said accusingly the next day. “There’s no way that this isn’t apple pie.” Even before Sarah Huckabee Sanders and “Pie Gate” (Google it), I knew that I’d need proof that I had made it myself and proudly displayed photos of my journey to Mock Apple Pie. “Have you tried “Mock Chopped Liver?” my friend Marla asked after hearing my travails. “It’s made for vegans” she added. “With green beans.” Shaking my head, I sighed. “Let’s not get crazy,” I said. “Some things are sacred.” IMHO.