As April Fools’ Day approaches, we’ll see plenty of ideas from clever, creative sorts for cakes, cookies and other foods transformed into things they are not, the better to turn the tables on folks. Such as cakes turned into what looks like, oh, scrambled eggs or hamburgers, or cookies turned into carrots, and the like.
Such “Fooler Foods” bring to mind some of our efforts at the now-defunct Times Advocate newspaper, precursor to the also-now-defunct North County Times.
Our Food Department was me, whichever feature reporter was free at the time, and anyone else in the newsroom we could rope into helping with a story. We had no test kitchen, so if we needed actual baking or cooking, we did it ourselves at home and brought the results in to be photographed, tasted and written about.
For an April Fools’ Day story one year, we decided to make some recipes that contained “fooler” ingredients and write about them. Some of these were from the Depression and/or World War II era, when ingredients were scarce and home cooks improvised with what they had on hand. Others were the ideas of public relations folks who were pushing their company’s products in any shape or form.
Like the famous (or infamous) Mock Apple Pie, also known as Ritz Cracker Pie, created with, yes, Ritz Crackers. Ritz in the crust, Ritz in the filling. This recipe goes far back and evidently can also be made with saltines. Anyway, we baked one and were astonished that the filling actually did taste like — well, fruit, if not apple. (I thought it was kinda like peach.)
Another was the Sauerkraut Cake, which called for well-rinsed kraut added to the chocolate batter. How someone could even conceive of this was amazing enough. But — the sauerkraut ended up tasting like coconut and the cake was well-received.
A third was a brownie recipe that called for pureed garbanzo beans (chickpeas), perhaps an early version of those recipes adding black bean and/or prune purees to stand in for some of the fat. This one never made it to the office, because the recipe just said “garbanzo beans,” and the reporter who gamely volunteered to make it didn’t realize the recipe was calling for cooked beans. He bought uncooked ones, put them in the blender as per the instructions, and nearly destroyed the appliance. So, no beany brownies. But we did get a good laugh out of his inadvertent April Fools’ surprise.
(That brings to mind another recipe we made — Cinnamon Christmas Ornaments — for a different story. These were created from a dough of Elmer’s Glue and lots of cinnamon (which, after all, is a kind of sawdust), rolled out and cut into holiday shapes with cookie cutters. Dried, decorated and hung as ornaments, they gave off a lovely cinnamon scent. After the photo shoot, we left them on a tray in the office for anyone to take home. One reporter wandered by, picked one up and sampled it. “These cookies are really pretty, but they’re kind of dry,” she announced. We quickly removed the tray. I don’t think we told her what she’d just chewed on, either.)
Then there was the Tomato Soup Cake. This one is from Campbell’s, and goes back to at least the 1960s. The home economist who thought it up created several variants, including an “Easy Fruitcake,” a “Steamed Pudding,” and “Rosy Rocks” cookies (like oatmeal cookies). I baked the cake myself back in the day as part of a Home Ec assignment, because it sounded so weird. Turns out Tomato Soup Cake tastes like spice cake; with a white or cream cheese frosting topping it, no one would ever guess the mystery ingredient.
Until you tell them. And that’s the innocent fun of these recipes — telling folks the “fooler” ingredient. (Little kids especially may enjoy springing the surprise on people.) No harm done, since the ingredient isn’t anything nasty, like grasshopper parts or fish scales. (I’m sure you can find recipes with that kind of thing online, though.)
This recipe is from “Cooking With Soup, A Campbell Cook Book,” my mom’s copy, shown in the photo. No copyright date in it, but it had to be the early ’60s. People online are still raving about this cake. The link is to the recipe’s current version, which is slightly different.