Al Sicherman, author of an entertaining little book titled “CARAMEL KNOWLEDGE” published by Harper & Row (1988), queries, “I don’t know why anybody would feel the need to make apple pie with Ritz crackers, since there is seldom a great apple shortage.” He proceeds to devote an entire chapter on mock foods, which includes the recipe for mock apple pie. The recipe, he says, came from a box of Ritz crackers.

Of the Mock Apple Pie, Sicherman says it looks like apple pie, which he considers rather amazing, but he doesn’t think it tastes anything at all like apple pie. If you were blindfolded, says Al, you would say it was lemon pie.

I think Al missed the point with mock apple pie and I wrote about it years ago in the Cookbook Collectors Exchange. Mock apple pie can actually be traced back to the American Civil War and the years of the great western pioneer migration that took place in the 1800s. Apples weren’t always cheap or plentiful way back when. It’s thought that mock apple pie was created during the Civil War by some enterprising chef, when apples and almost everything else imaginable was in short supply. It was made with ordinary crackers (although I think the crackers back then were a lot different from the Saltine crackers we eat today).

As a matter of fact, as I was sitting here asking myself how come I know this and was I sure, I found confirmation is Jeffrey Steingarten’s book titled “THE MAN WHO ATE EVERYTHING”. Steingarten notes, “In her FANNIE FARMER BAKING BOOK, Marion Cunningham includes a version based on soda crackers that, she writes, antedates the Civil War: American pioneers could transport and store sugar and crackers more easily than apples…” My guess is that I read this historical tidbit somewhere while researching the material for “Kitchens West”, published previously in the pages of the Cookbook Collectors Exchange. (I didn’t find mock apple pie in the eleventh edition of the Fannie Farmer Cookbook but what I did find were recipes for mock Foie Gras, mock Hollandaise, and mock Maple Syrup).

The irony, of course, is that apples are cheaper today than a box of Ritz crackers so if you are going to make an apple pie, it might as well be the real thing. (For the record, I checked out the prices of these two items earlier this week at my favorite local supermarket. A couple varieties of apples are on sale several pounds for a dollar, while a box of Ritz crackers is over $2.00. Never mind how inexpensive a frozen apple pie is, or how easy it is to pop one of those into the oven).

Al Sicherman is (or at least was, at the time his book was published in 1988), a columnist for the Minneapolis Star and Tribune and the series of chapters in “CARAMEL KNOWLEDGE” is based on articles about strange foods that appeared in his newspaper column. The first chapter is titled “THE MOCK FOOD MEAL” and appears to have been inspired, in part, by the sheet music to “Mockingbird Hill”.

Mockingbirds, of course, have nothing whatsoever to do with mock foods, but Al Sicherman is my kind of guy; he goes off on tangents and digresses almost as much as I do. His Mock Food Meal includes a recipe for Mockaguole, a mock recipe for guacamole that calls for two sticks of butter. I can feel my arteries hardening just reading the recipe. Al’s logic for the mock guac is that no body buys avocados well enough in advance so they will be ripe when you need them and he felt that buying the frozen kind of guacamole ranks right up there with frozen dinners. Well, I have to disagree—there are several excellent varieties of frozen guacamole available but this was written some years ago, so maybe the good stuff wasn’t in supermarkets back then. And, I have to admit—I live in Southern California where avocados are available almost year-round. I can even buy them in the local thrift bakery. Occasionally, a friend’s father sends me a shopping bag of avocados from his back yard. In our back yard in Arleta where Bob & I lived for almost 20 years, we had a huge, ancient avocado tree- that bore NO fruit until Bob & my son Kelly chopped down a massive dead tree branch. Shortly after that, we began enjoying a glut of avocadoes – over 200 that spring; I was making guacamole in large bowls to freeze for later.

(For the record, health-food and diet cookbooks often offer a recipe for Mock Guac made with peas. I just came across a Mock Guac recipe in a book called The American Vegetarian Cookbook by Marilyn Diamond, and it’s made with frozen petite peas. Diamond also offers a recipe for Mock Goat Cheese Dressing that actually sounds pretty good to me. Better than real goat cheese, anyway).

Included in Sicherman’s Mock Food Meal is his “MOCK MOCK TURTLE SOUP” which made me laugh. Guess what the principal ingredient is in every recipe Al found for mock turtle soup? To Al’s horror, it was a calf’s head. Al says he’s not cooking a calf’s head. However, some hundred years ago, people did cook calf’s heads as well as a lot of other strange animal body parts, and cookbooks from the 1800s are replete with instructions that begin with the instruction “take one Calf’s head”. As I recall from one of these old books, you held it by one ear as you dropped it into a pot of boiling water. My cousin, Renee, found a recipe in our maternal grandmother’s cookbook for mock turtle soup that starts out with the instructions, “Clean a calf’s head well and let it stand in salt and water two or three hours…”. Grandma also had a recipe for Mock Terrapin Soup that was made with calf’s liver. And, in Henrietta Nesbitt’s cookbook “THE PRESIDENTIAL COOKBOOK/or FEEDING THE ROOSEVELTS AND THEIR GUESTS, there is a recipe for Calf’s Head Soup that starts out “Scald head to remove hair but leave on the skin. Have it sawed so that brains and tongue can be removed…” ew, ew! With it, she served brain dumplings.

Incidentally, my facsimile copy of the 1896 Boston Cooking School Cookbook by Fannie Farmer contains a recipe for mock turtle soup that starts out with…you guessed it….one calf’s head. It also contains a recipe for Mock Mince Pie that is made with “common crackers”.

In Cincinnati, my hometown, you can still buy mock turtle soup, made by the Worthmore Company, which is actually made with beef. In fact, I have a copy of my Aunt Annie’s recipe, which is made with a pound of ground beef. As for why calf’s head instead of real turtle—go to an old cookbook and read the instructions for killing a turtle—most of which are, I think, now endangered species. Ew, ew.

Sicherman’s recipe for Mock Mock Turtle Soup actually sounds really good to me.

He comments on mock chicken legs which, in the 1940s and 1950s, were made with veal—presumably veal was very inexpensive at the time. The meat was cut into pieces and pushed onto wooden skewers; then breaded and fried. Al suggests that we substitute sliced turkey or chicken breast for the veal. So if mock chicken legs (which we called “City Chicken” when I was a little girl in Cincinnati), are made with turkey or chicken instead of veal, wouldn’t they be mock mock too? And if you use turkey breast instead of veal to make Scaloppini or Wiener Schnitzel, would that make it mock Scaloppini or mock Wiener Schnitzel?

Incidentally, Sylvia Lovegren, in her fabulous book “FASHIONABLE FOOD”, published by Macmillan in 1995, provides a recipe for mock drumsticks, under the chapter heading “THE FORTIES”, and notes that, considering the reversal of prices since the 1940s, a thrifty cook would be much more likely to use chicken or turkey to make mock veal. So, now we should make mock drumsticks out of real chicken?

Lovegren quotes Mary J. Lincoln in her 1904 BOSTON COOK BOOK when she expressed the Anglo-Saxon horror of eating baby cows, stating “At its lowest price veal is never a cheap food when we take into consideration the small amount of nutriment it contains, the large amount of fuel to cook it, and the danger of being made ill by its use”.

Lovegren explains that veal had never been an American meat staple. (I don’t think I have ever eaten veal—unless my mother passed it off to us as something else, like chicken – the way they convinced me that fried rabbit was actually chicken one time when we were visiting her friend, Vera.)

Veal, however, was considered an inexpensive substitute for the “desirable high-priced chicken or turkey” which, in the 1940s, were not yet being raised in huge numbers by poultry factories.

Al Sicherman also provides a recipe for Mock duck which he found in a number of older cookbooks. This sounds like something that my sister in law used to make, that she called Dutch Turkey. Dee made a stuffing and rolled meat around it (I thought it was round steak; she says it was beef or pork ribs).

Sicherman finishes off his Mock Food Meal with Mock Hollandaise Sauce, a Grape-Nuts Mock Pumpkin Pie and the famous (or infamous, however you want to look at it) recipe for Ritz Cracker Mock Apple Pie.

While leafing through some older cookbooks, I found a recipe for mock ham that’s made with leg of lamb. This turned up in a copy of “MORE FOOD FOR THE BODY FOR THE SOUL” published by Moody Press in 1948. I can’t even begin to explain this one, unless it was to disguise leg of lamb with cloves, pineapple rings and brown sugar so that the people eating it would really think it was ham. You think? Maybe not. I told my son Steve (when he was about three years old and gullible) that the skillet of liver and onions cooking on the stove was Salisbury Steak. He never ate Salisbury Steak (much less liver and onions) again. The question is, would someone be fooled into believing that leg of lamb was really baked ham? People can be fooled into believing that Ritz cracker pie is apple pie, so who knows?

Curiously, I found a recipe for something called Mock Giroles in Jeanne Voltz’s “THE CALIFORNIA COOKBOOK”; it took searching through three dictionaries before I found Giroles defined in Larousse Gastronomique. Giroles is a kind of mushroom, specifically the popular name for a mushroom also known a chanterelle. Jeanne’s recipe for “mock” Giroles calls for half a pound of small mushrooms and doesn’t specify any particular kind. I am left to assume (knowing full well the dangers of assuming) that this was called “mock” Giroles since, perhaps, real Giroles are not readily available. On the other hand, it seems to me that a mushroom is a mushroom is a mushroom.

There is an interesting little book called “THE COOK’S TALES” by Lee Edwards Benning, published in 1992. The subtitle is “Origins of Famous Foods and Recipes” and each chapter is a letter of the alphabet. Under “M” I discovered “M is for Mock”.

Benning sheds quite a bit of light on the subject of mock foods, and says that the practice of creating mock versions of foods dates back to Apicius, the fellow from the first century who wrote the first cookbook and spent a fortune on food before he was twenty-three years old.

Writes Benning, “Apicius gives as his third recipe the methodology of making mock rose wine without rose leaves, substituting citron leaves and palm leaves and sweetening with honey. His fourth recipe is for making a mock expensive oil from a cheap one: Use inexpensive Spanish oil, add spices, stir frequently for three days, and then let stand…” Apicius assures us that everyone will believe it is Liburnium oil. Apicius also provides a recipe for making white wine out of red by adding bonemeal or three egg whites or the white ashes of the vine to the flask to bleach the wine. Benning asks why would Apicius resort to such ingredients – and comments that it certainly wasn’t for lack of money. More likely, writes Benning, Apicius experimented when ingredients or foods that were needed were either out of season or in short supply. “In fact,” says Benning, “when one examines the history of mock foods, one usually uncovers strong motivations for their development. Unavailability of ingredients is typical”.

As an example, Benning explains, “Britain’s green sea turtle soup is considered one of the world’s great delicacies, the aristocrat of soups. Here in colonial times, when turtles were readily available at any fish market or wharf, the American housewife began her turtle recipe by buying a live sixty-pounder that she took home in a wheelbarrow or wagon and dumped near the chopping block. She then began the soup by chopping off his head, a task not often performed easily. Retractable heads have a tendency in strange surroundings to stay retracted. If the head could be enticed out of the shell, it took a quick whack with an axe or a 2-by-4 between the jaws to keep the head extended. Remember, 60-pound turtles have jaws that can crush a human arm. Obviously, making turtle soup was neither for the fainthearted nor the weak. And I’m not sure but that women welcomed the news that it was becoming more and more difficult to get sea turtles.

Unfazed,” continues Benning, “the British came up with a mock turtle soup made from the liver, heart, and head of a calf, which, when cooked and cut up, has a gelatinous, meaty texture and a flavor that tastes deceptively like turtle meat…”

Benning goes on to explain that substituting a calf’s head for a sea turtle was no easy matter, either and goes on to explain what it entailed. I will spare you the grisly details. Benning also notes that even today, making real mock turtle soup requires a calf’s head and observes that this is not the easiest item in the world to find nowadays. Therefore, says Benning, because of the unavailability of a crucial ingredient, we now have mock mock turtle soup made, according to Benning, with meaty veal bones instead of the calf’s head. (All of the recipes I grew up with in Cincinnati used ground beef).

Benning notes that, if you search through very old cookbooks, you are likely to find more recipes for mock food dishes. Unavailability of ingredients was always a problem prior to widespread canning and freezing. People ate what was in season—or made up a substitute dish. “For example,” says Benning, “mock coconut pies were made with potatoes and mock cherry pieces were created from raisins and cranberries….”

Benning observes that Mrs. Beeton’s 1859 cookery book provides more than half dozen mock food recipes including one on making mock goose out of one ox heart or two calves hearts. I can go one better—an old copy of the Settlement Cook Book offers ten mock recipes including a mock champagne punch, mock crab on toast, mock duck, a couple of recipes for mock turtle soup (which start out with one calf’s head) and a mock venison, made with lamb.

Benning has quite a bit more to say on the subject of mock food recipes but what intrigues me most is her observation that I bet most of us haven’t thought about: The world is full of mock foods—the strawberry is a mock berry; botanically speaking, it’s really a rose. The banana really isn’t a fruit—it’s a berry and grows on the tallest herb in the world. The sweet potato mocks a potato in appearance but is really a flower, the morning glory. My favorite vegetable, the asparagus? It’s actually a flower and belongs to the lily family. And, imagine this—deadly nightshade and the narcotic mandrake are botanical cousins to the eggplant and the chili pepper. So, you see, the world is full of things that aren’t quite what you think.

Researching for mock food recipes sent my friend Sue Erwin scurrying to the computer to see what she could find on the Internet—you’d be surprised! One article from the Post-Gazette offers, by popular demand, mock crab cakes, made with (who’d have guessed?) grated zucchini! (I can’t wait to try this one out on some crab cake friends!). The Post-Gazette’s column, “In the Kitchen” also offers a recipe for mock deviled eggs (made with egg beaters)) and from the Search Engine, “ASK JEEVES”, Sue found mock cheese souffle, mock hollandaise, mock pecan pie (made with oatmeal), mock tuna salad (made with garbanzo beans), mock salmon loaf (chief ingredient—peanut butter!) and mock chopped liver (made with mushrooms).

There is also mock pea soup (made with string beans and canned asparagus), mock butterfingers (cornflakes and peanut butter), mock oyster casserole (eggplant), mock clotted cream (cream cheese), mock turkey and dressing (made with something called FriChik, which I have never heard of before) and mock dogs (apparently, hot dogs made from baked beans and cheddar cheese).

There were also recipes for making mock orange julius, mock peach daiquiris, mock pink lady cocktails and a mock sangria.

If you are not yet converted to mock foods, there is still something called mock peanut brittle, which is made with peanut butter and cornflakes, and mock chicken legs (cheaters- they’re made with beef roast and pork roast, when everybody knows it should be veal).

In this quest to find as many mock food recipes as possible, I learned an important lesson that is no laughing (or mocking) matter. Some of the least appetizing-sounding mock food recipes can be found in a book called “WE’LL EAT AGAIN” by Marguerite Patten, in association with the Imperial War Museum. “WE’LL EAT AGAIN” is a collection of recipes from the war years (World War II) when the folks in Great Britain suffered a great deal more than we did from the pangs of rationing, making do or doing without. This little book, originally published in 1990, serves as a reminder to us all just how serious rationing was in England, and how difficult it was for mothers to keep food on the table. Included in the book are recipes for mock oyster soup (made with fish “trimmings”—presumably this could mean any part of the fish), mock apricot flan—made with carrots (the author notes the carrots really do taste a little like apricots), something called Poor Knight’s Fritters (actually nothing more than fried bread), mock cream, mock crab (made with reconstituted dried eggs and a little bit of cheese), mock goose (the main ingredients are potatoes and apples), and mock sausages, made with oatmeal. “WE’LL EAT AGAIN” is really what inventing mock food dishes is all about. And while WW2 ended in 1945 – and ended rationing for us, in America, rationing continued in England for years afterwards.

Since I know you are all just itching to rush out to the kitchen to make some mock recipes, the following two recipes may pique your interest. One is the most-requested Mock Crab Cakes which, rumor has it, people won’t believe doesn’t contain crab.


2 cups coarsely grated zucchini, unpeeled (about 1 medium)
1 onion, finely chopped (we grated it also)
1 cup Italian bread crumbs
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Old Bay Seasoning
1 egg, beaten

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl (we grated the zucchini and onion into a colander so some of the liquid could drain out). The texture can be adjusted—if it’s too dry, add another egg; if too wet, add more bread crumbs (we had to add a couple extra tablespoons of crumbs). Heat some oil in a skillet; form mixture into patties and fry over medium heat until golden brown on both sides, about 2 to 3 minutes per side. Makes 4 big or 6 medium cakes.

The following is a recipe for mock turtle soup. I will spare you the recipes that start out with “take one calf’s head…”


1 pound ground beef (uncooked)
1 large onion, chopped
2 tablespoons vinegar
1 tablespoon A-1 sauce or Worcestershire sauce
1 cup brown flour (this is made by browning flour in a dry skillet)
1 can beef gravy (10 ½ oz)
1 bottle Catsup (14 ounces)
3 beef boullion cubes
1 tablespoon pickling spices (tied in a cheesecloth bag or in a tea caddy)
2 ½ quarts water

2 hard boiled eggs, sliced
1 lemon, sliced thin

Combine all ingredients except the eggs and lemon; simmer 2 hours. Top soup off with sliced hard-boiled eggs and sliced lemon.

Sandra’s Cooknote: Mock Turkey soup, like authentic Cincinnati chili – may be an acquired taste. This could be “You know you’re from Cincinnati….if you like Mock Turtle Soup….You know you are from Cincinnati….if you eat chili with spaghetti.

Happy Cooking and Happy Cookbook reading!!

–Sandra Lee Smith



  1. I found your article on Mock food fascinating. It is ironic that in 2011 the manufactured foods are more expensive than the original versions. For example: (Ritz Crackers and fresh Apples).

  2. This was an awesomely well-researched article on mock foods.

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