Cooking Up History: Mock Fruit Pies | Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

Cooking Up History: Mock Fruit Pies

Cooking Up History: Mock Fruit Pies | Wisconsin Historical Society
EnlargeFinished Mock Pies


Our modern supermarkets make it easy to forget about times when your cooking and baking was determined by food shortages and growing seasons, but historically Wisconsinites had to be creative if their harvest had been bad, if they had already eaten their stock or if they craved apple pie in July. Rather than going without their favorite pie, they would find ways to mimic scarce ingredients.

Mock Apple Pie

Searching for the phrase “mock apple pie” in our digitized historic newspapers in Chronicling America, we found two recipes: One from 1887, which was published in the Wood County Reporter and the Mineral Point Tribune; another from 1913 published in the Wausau Pilot. Both recipes call for similar ingredients, but we chose the earlier version because it offered a more detailed description.

EnlargeMock Apple Pie Recipe


The recipe suggests soaking cracker crumbs in water and lemon juice to imitate the flavor and texture of baked apples. Although crackers could be bought at the bakery or even the store, they were not quite like what we call crackers today. Traditionally, they were thicker and less salty. The Dodgeville Chronicle included a recipe on May 16, 1873. The crackers consist of butter, salt, flour, and cold water. We rolled the dough out until it was about 3/8th of an inch thick and cut it into rounds. We baked them at 400° F for about 17 minutes and let them cool and dry overnight.

EnlargeMock Apple Pie Ingredients


Once dried, the crackers are broken into pieces and soaked in water and the juice of one lemon. Lemon zest, sugar, and nutmeg are added to recreate the apple flavor. Strangely, the recipe does not call for cinnamon. The mock apple filling is baked in a pie crust and served hot. To be honest, we were skeptical. However, the final result had the texture of hot apple pie and the taste was so similar, we had to take another bite, and another, and another reminding ourselves that we were in fact eating “soggy crackers.” One thing we’d change is the size of our cracker pieces. We left them relatively big hoping to make them look more like apple chunks and avoid them from turning into a paste when adding the liquid. Next time, we’ll make them a little smaller to ensure that they don’t dry out.

In a nutshell, mock apple pie is worth a try. Who knew?!    

The Recipe in 2020

Mock Apple Pie

  • Pie crust
  • 3-4 Crackers (see recipe below)
  • 1 cup cold water
  • 1 lemon
  • Nutmeg
  • 1 cup sugar

Crumble crackers and soak in water. Zest and juice the lemon and add to the cracker crumbs. Add nutmeg to taste and stir in the sugar. Bake the filling in a single pie crust at 350°F for about 15 minutes, add a weaved lattice top crust and bake until crust is golden brown (about 15 more minutes). Enjoy hot.


  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 8 cups flour

Rub butter, salt, and flour thoroughly together with the hand. You can also use a food processor to save some time. Add cold water to make a quite brittle and hard dough. You can either pinch off pieces and roll them out individually or roll out the dough to about a 3/8 inch thickness and cut the crackers. Bake for about 15-17 minutes at 400°F. The crackers should stay quite pale. Leave them out to cool and dry. This recipe makes much more than you will need for the mock apple pie, but they also taste great with some butter and salt.

Now that you no longer need your apples for pie, try using them in our Apple de Lux recipe from 1922.


EnlargeMock Pumpkin Pie Recipe


Mock Pumpkin Pie

When we mentioned to colleagues and friends that we were making mock pumpkin pie using prunes, we realized that the dried plum has a very bad reputation. Although we also found the occasional use of the word “prune” as a derogatory term in our digitized historic newspapers, most of the coverage the fruit got was positive. In 1903, the Northern Wisconsin Advertiser described prunes as “exceedingly wholesome” and a great dessert. Moreover, like many other newspaper articles, the Advertiser highlighted the health benefits of the fruit: “They are nutritious, laxative, and healing to the membranes of the stomach.”

We found the recipe for mock pumpkin pie in a 1915 issue of the Iron County News. The pie filling consists of prune pulp, eggs, salt, butter, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, sugar, and milk. Although the recipe says to steam the prunes for three hours, it didn’t take that long for us to be able to sift them. The finer the mesh of the strainer the more work it will be but also the less likely you will find little “chunks” of fruit in your pie.

EnlargeMock Pumpkin Pie Ingredients


Our concern was that the filling wouldn’t firm up enough to mimic the texture of a pumpkin pie, but after 30 minutes in the oven, it could have fooled us for the real deal. This is a great pumpkin pie alternative and, according to a pumpkin pie skeptic, worth its own proud name: Prune Pie. Apparently, what you eat at Thanksgiving is really just a mock prune pie. 

The Recipe in 2020

  • Pie crust
  • ¾ lb prunes
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 3 Tbs butter
  • ½ tsp ginger
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp nutmeg
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 pt hot milk

Steam the prunes until they can be easily sifted. You will need 1 cup of sifted prune pulp for the filling. Add two well-beaten eggs, salt, butter, spices, and sugar, and mix well. Stir in hot milk.

Bake with one crust like pumpkin pie at 350°F for about 30-40 minutes. Do not overfill as the filling will expand slightly while baking.