Mock Apple Pie

Happy Pi Day! At some point, this blog will include a post about the water pie in the title, but first, I’m going to be making some mock apple pie, which doesn’t have any apples in it. Instead, the filling is made with cream of tartar, lemon juice, cinnamon, butter, sugar, water, and butter crackers like Ritz. The recipe started showing up on Ritz Cracker boxes in the mid 1930s (Ritz came out in 1934) with lots of slight variations over the years. Pie was a big deal in America in the 1900s, especially in rural areas. These pies weren’t always sweet (see the cottage pie recipe here for a savory example).

I had extra pie crust dough from another recipe, but the pre-made store bought is fine too. I’m not much of a baker, but I like this crust recipe when I’m feeling ambitious. Once you have the crust ready to go, the next step in making a syrup with sugar, water, lemon juice, and cream of tartar. The cream of tartar keeps the sugar from crystalizing. While your syrup cools, roughly crush about a sleeve of crackers. Some versions of the recipe call for a very specific 36 crackers. Pour the syrup over the crackers, sprinkle the cinnamon on top, dot with butter, and add the top crust. Crimp the edges with a fork and cut some slits to vent steam. The recipe doesn’t call for it, but I would probably blind bake this if I made it again. Blind baking is simpler than it sounds — you just bake the bottom crust briefly before putting in the filling. This keeps the bottom from getting soggy, and according to Mary Berry, “nobody likes a soggy bottom.”

Bake for about half an hour, watching carefully to make sure the crust doesn’t burn. You can cover the pie with tin foil if the crust is getting dark too fast. Another cooking tip: food keeps cooking after your remove it from heat. Pies will darken a little even after you pull it from the oven. To quote James Beard, “Don’t overcook and don’t undercook, but it’s better to undercook than overcook.”

This recipe tasted shockingly like apple pie. It wasn’t much cheaper than making an actual apple pie, but apples weren’t always readily available everywhere in the Depression era U.S. At some points in the Great Depression, there was actually an apple surplus. While it doesn’t square with contemporary ideas about the era, agricultural overproduction was a serious issue after World War I. American farmers had ramped up production to meet wartime demand, but demand slumped after the war, leading to a number of farm crises. President Hoover tried to fix this by buying up excess crops to match supply with demand, but farmers kept overproducing and just sold to the government. This led to an unusual situation in the Great Depression where America was simultaneously producing too much food and unemployed people were going hungry. Where do apples fit here? Joseph Sicker, chairman of the International Apple Shipper’s Association, struck upon the idea for unemployed people to sell cheap surplus apples at the modest markup price of 5 cents (about 75 cents today). In another blog post, I’ll talk about another important fruit during the Great Depression; the humble tomato.


2 pie pastry crusts (9 inch)

36 butter crackers like Ritz

2 cups water

2 cups sugar

2 teaspoons cream of tartar

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Zest from 1 lemon

1 teaspoon cinnamon powder

1/4 cup butter (half a stick) cut into small pieces


  1. Preheat oven to 425 F
  2. Add water, sugar, and cream of tartar to a small pot; bring to boil
  3. Simmer mixture on low heat for 15 minutes
  4. Remove from heat and let cool (about 20 minutes)
  5. Roll out the pastry dough for the bottom crust and place it in a pie dish or tin
  6. Fill the bottom crust with roughly crushed crackers
  7. Pour the sugar/water over the crackers
  8. Evenly space the pieces of butter over the pie filling
  9. Sprinkle cinnamon over filling
  10. Add the top crust, fluting the edges with a fork and cutting slits to let steam out during cooking
  11. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until crust is just starting to turn golden brown

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