First aired on The Next Chapter (3/9/12)
If you put together Ritz crackers, butter and cinnamon, what do you get? If you are a Caker, the answer is apple pie. Well, mock apple pie. (Check out the recipe for yourself below!) We all know a Caker: they love Cheez Whiz, cook with mushroom soup and think Jell-O is a side dish, not dessert. Author Brian Francis (he penned the novels Fruit and Natural Order) is a caker, and proud of it. In fact, he chronicles his adventures in Caker cooking on his blog, Caker Cooking, sharing recipes like tomato soup cake and taco casserole with the world, and he recently stopped by The Next Chapter to discuss why.
"Caker" is short for "Mangia Cake," a term used by Italians to describe Canadians of Anglo-Saxon descent. However, the defining characteristics of a Caker is not who your ancestors are or where you live, it's what you put on the table at dinnertime. Francis grew up in a tried-and-true caker household. His mother served roast beef with Jell-O-encased Mandarin oranges as a side dish and Francis "grew up eating a lot of casseroles, a lot of Tater Tots." But he didn't realize he was a Caker until he met his partner's Italian family. At first, Francis was ashamed of his newfound cultural identity, but he quickly learned to embrace it.
"I was a little ashamed at first because it's not exactly complimentary," he told Shelagh Rogers. His partner's family strongly identified with Italian food: rich pastas and pizzas filled their kitchen and their bellies. But he realized that food and culture are connected and a lightbulb (or oven light, if you will) went off for Francis. He was a Caker -- he should be proud of it. "You know what? Caker food tastes good. It's part of how I grew up." He began throwing Caker Christmas parties -- where his friends and family would each bring a Caker dish -- and it's a tradition that continues to this day.
Francis pulls from all sorts of places to find the recipes for his blog, but a majority of his culinary creations come from church cookbooks. Francis loves the sense of community and history these books bring to his kitchen. "This is comfort food, it's nostalgic food for a lot of people. It represents an era of the '70s. Even these cookbooks themselves [are nostalgic]. A lot are coil-bound and printed. You don't see these around any more."
But what Francis loves most of all (despite exposure to plenty of different and delicious caker recipes) is that discovering he was a Caker has allowed him to embrace and celebrate his own history. "It does embrace a lot of the cultures of the people I grew up around and the food that we ate," he said. "I think that a lot of who we are as people are defined by the traditions around the dinner table and what we ate on Sundays."
Mock Apple Pie
This recipe is adapted from Brian Francis' blog, Caker Cooking. Brian originally got the recipe from A.R.C. Industries Cookbook (Desserts, Preserves, Candy, Pastry, Miscellaneous) from Napanee, Ontario.
Brian says: "This looks, tastes and smells so much like apple pie you'll be called a liar when you serve it. No one will believe it doesn't contain apples, so keep the recipe close at hand if you're requested to produce evidence."
- 2 cups of water
- 1 ¼ cups of sugar
- 2 teaspoons cream of tartar
- 20 Ritz crackers
- Double pie crust
Heat oven to 400º.
Bring water, sugar and cream of tartar to a boil in a saucepan. Drop in 20 whole Ritz crackers. Don't break them up and don't stir. Allow to boil for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside. While that's cooling, you can make your pie crust. The recipe can be one of your choosing, although if you're going for true caker style, don't even think about making it from scratch. Buy the ready-made dough.
Lay one pie dough inside your pie dish. Pour the slightly cooled cracker mixture into it. Sprinkle with a little cinnamon and a few dots of butter or margarine before adding the top crust. Seal the edges. Bake for 30 minutes or until done.
Image and recipe courtesy Brian Francis' Caker Cooking.