Eating History: The Art of Cooking with Saltines

Our friends at the NY-Historical Society dig into the archives to find some inventive uses for crackers.

  • Photo: Jaya Saxena
  • Mary Virginia Stiles, Cookbook, 1884-1886. New-York Historical Society Manuscript Collection
  • Mary Virginia Stiles, Cookbook, 1884-1886. New-York Historical Society Manuscript Collection
  • Photo: Jaya Saxena
  • Photo: Jaya Saxena
  • Photo: Jaya Saxena

I can’t imagine eating soup or having cheese at a party without saltines, but these snacking staples are good for more than just nibbling. There are recipes that take the humble soda cracker to new culinary heights.

F. L. Sommer & Company of St. Joseph, Missouri is credited with inventing the modern saltine in 1876, when it premiered at the Buchanan County Fair. Later, he merged his business with Nabisco, though the blue ribbon-clad “Premium” label hints at the cracker’s fairground origins.

The saltine’s Missouri roots may be one reason why we found so many cracker recipes in the book of Mary Stiles of St. Louis, MO, from the New-York Historical Society’s Library collection. Her book, kept from 1884 to 1886, contains handwritten recipes and clippings of recipes, household hints, poems, home remedies, and more, including recipes for both “Cracker Pudding” and “Apple Pie Without Apples.”

“Apple Pie Without Apples” also goes by other names like “Chemical Apple Pie” and “Mock Apple Pie,” and according to Saveur, the first printed recipe was found on a box of Ritz crackers in 1935. But clearly people had been using crackers soaked in sugar and lemon as a substitute pie filling long before that.

Here’s Stiles’ recipe:

Apple Pie Without Apples
Four soda crackers, two cups of sugar, two of water, the grated rind and juice of two lemons. Break the crackers in small pieces & let them soak in the water until soft, then put in the crust. This quantity will make two pies.

Crackers are also a good thickener in things like custards and puddings, as we discovered by making the recipe for “Cracker Pudding” that Ms. Stiles had clipped out of a newspaper:

Cracker Pudding
Take three soda crackers, roll fine, one pint of milk, the yolks of two eggs, one half cup sugar, and a little salt. Bake half an hour, then beat the whites of two eggs, add sugar, season with lemon, pour over pudding, set in the oven, and brown delicately. It needs no sauce.

The result was a pleasing, if slightly watery, pudding that tasted a bit like sweet scrambled eggs (in a good way). Perhaps these recipes will work well with a bunch of leftover Passover matzoh?

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