My Oh My! Fritos Pie!

Noteworthy culinary journeys
My Oh My!
Fritos Pie!
An upcoming book about Fritos
relays a savory tale of family history
and Texas snack-food innovation,
while serving up 150 intriguing recipes
The original Fritos
Chili Pie recipe remains
classic: “Heat can of
chili, pour into bag of
Fritos, and sprinkle
with grated cheese
and chopped onions.”
Excerpted from Fritos® Pie: Stories, Recipes,
and More by Kaleta Doolin (Texas A&M University Press, 800/826-8911,,
slated for publication in August 2011
Texas Highways | June 2011
he Frito Company began in 1932, when Charles
Elmer Doolin, a San Antonio confectioner who sold cakes,
pies, candy, and ice cream, decided to diversify into other
More Fritos recipes at
snack foods. He came across a corn chip he liked and convinced the
vendor to sell him the recipe for $100. Doolin tweaked the recipe,
named the product Fritos, and a Texas legend was born.
Sometimes described as the Thomas Edison of snack food, C.E. Doolin not only
originated Fritos, but other innovations. He had experimental farms across Texas,
where he hybridized corn for use in Fritos products. He and his brother Earl invented food-production machinery for Fritos factories. In an upcoming book by Doolin’s daughter
This 1960s poster—displayed with
Kaleta Doolin, she writes that the company’s early
Fritos products in grocery stores—
history “abounds with inventions and patents on
illustrates some of the company’s
items such as the clip racks in grocery-store aisles
innovative marketing efforts, many
that we now take for granted.”
of which featured Fritos Chili Pie.
Ironically, despite his immersion in the
snack-food industry, C.E. Doolin was passionate about health food. According to
Kaleta, he saw Fritos as a side dish, and
never imagined that someone might eat
an entire bag in one sitting. Kaleta and
her siblings were raised as vegetarians
and rarely ate desserts or anything that
contained refined sugar. On the other
hand, Kaleta’s mother used Fritos in
cooking family meals, often developing
her own recipes.
The first person, however, on record to
use Fritos as a recipe ingredient was Kaleta’s grandmother, Daisy Dean Doolin (or
“Mother Doolin”), who added crushed
Fritos to fruitcake batter in 1932, the same
year the company was established.
Kaleta writes, “It was the Great Depression and it probably felt like a sin to
discard good food in the form of fresh
but broken Fritos. [Mother Doolin had
an ample supply of broken Fritos, since,
in the beginning, she, along with Kaleta’s
grandfather, father, and uncle, made Fritos in her kitchen at night, for sale in the
family confectionary the next day.] I can
imagine that she was excited about her
new idea and that she then began to think
of other recipes in her repertoire that she
could also adapt by adding Fritos. The
company’s Cooking with Fritos promotional campaign grew out of her fruitcake
and other ideas it engendered.”
Of all the recipes developed for Fritos
products—and there have been hundreds, ranging from Fritos Texas Loaf
(“the best meatloaf you ever tasted,” according to Kaleta) to Red Snapper in
Negra Modelo Batter—the most famous
is that of Fritos Pie. Here’s Kaleta Doolin’s take on the iconic dish, excerpted
from her upcoming book. TH
ritos Chili Pie, still one of the betterknown Fritos recipes and a traditional comfort food in the Southwest, is not a pie per se. The basic Fritos pie simply consists of Fritos corn
chips, chili, onions, and cheese. Any variations in the recipe usually involve the
June 2011 | Texas Highways
placement and texture of the Fritos
and even the vessel
in which the “pie”
is made. Sometimes
it’s prepared as a
casserole or started
in a Crock-Pot, but
sometimes it’s prepared directly in a
cardboard boat or,
especially in the
past when the bags
were sturdier, in the
Fritos bags themselves. The variations are endless,
and some by contemporary chefs are
quite complex.
Fritos Chili Pie
was one of the first C.E. Doolin experimenting at home with the prototype of one of his inventions, the
recipes given away Ta-Cup, used to make deep-fried tortilla “cups,” similar to today’s taco-salad bowls.
at conventions as
part of the Cooking with Fritos promo- Chili. In his book Bowl of Red, Frank X.
tional campaign. It was chosen for this Tolbert included Fritos Brand Chili in a
purpose because it used two Fritos prod- list of canned chilis he considered admiraucts: Fritos corn chips and Fritos Brand ble because they followed classic recipes.
Fritos Pie Revisited
Fritos Pie may date to the 1940s, but it made
the headlines last September, when a zanier-than-usual
version—Texas Fried Frito Pie—garnered the coveted Best
Taste award at the State Fair of Texas in Dallas.
You’ll also find “regular” Fritos Pie at the State Fair. Kaleta
Doolin says it’s one of her favorite places to enjoy the dish.
Another Doolin-approved venue is Tillman’s Roadhouse
in Dallas’ Oak Cliff section. Two Austin restaurants also
serve a mean Fritos Pie: Texas Chili Parlor and Jo’s. (At
Jo’s, you can even get it with wheat roast.) In Tyler, the
place to eat it is Cox’s Grill. In Victoria, the Texas Drive Inn.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on Fritos Pie. Is it a guilty pleasure? Texas
comfort food? Does it rekindle memories of high school football games?
Where’s your favorite place to eat it? Let us know (email [email protected], or write to Fritos Pie Stories, Texas Highways, Box 141009,
Austin, TX 78714-1009), and we’ll share some of your best letters in an
upcoming issue.
—Nola McKey
Texas Highways | June 2011
Beginning in the 1950s, Fritos Chili Pie
was also featured in point-of-sale marketing displays in grocery stores, where
copies of the recipe were available along
with cans of chili and small bags of Fritos. The original recipe said simply: Heat
can of chili, pour into bag of Fritos, and
sprinkle with grated cheese and chopped
onions. In 1962, during the company’s
sixth annual Fritos Chili Pie promotion,
more than one million bag headers (cards
folded over the tops of the bags and stapled) carried a similar recipe.
This concoction was popular at football
games because it could easily be produced
at snack bars and handed to customers
along with plastic spoons to scoop up
every bit of chili, cheese, and Fritos from
the bag. Many people have told me that
they have fond memories of eating Fritos
Chili Pie during their high school football
games. It also was and continues to be a
favorite at drive-in restaurants, baseball
parks, Cub Scout meetings, state and
county fairs, rodeos, fundraisers, open
houses, and bingo games. It has reached
the status of comfort food, at least in Texas.
In the 1960s, Teresa Hernandez popularized the Fritos Chili Pie at Woolworth’s—later the Five & Dime General
Store—in Santa Fe, New Mexico, using
her mother’s recipe for red chili. At one
point she sold as many as 56,000 Fritos
Chili Pies in one year.
Many people have the misconception
that Teresa Hernandez invented the Fritos Chili Pie recipe, but the dish was on
the menu of the Dallas Dietetic Association’s closing banquet in 1949 and the
recipe was already widespread in grocery stores as early as 1956, well before
it was printed on those one million bag
headers in 1962.
The Cooking with Fritos campaign
waned in the 1970s, but Fritos Pie lives
on. While many people prefer to make it
the traditional way—in the bag—Kaleta
Doolin offers a vintage alternative that’s
almost as simple (see recipes on page 24).
Heat, eat, enjoy! TH
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June 2011 | Texas Highways
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Vintage Fritos
Chili Pie
2 cups lightly crushed Fritos corn chips
1 (19-ounce) can chili (without beans)
1 large onion, chopped
1 cup grated American cheese
Reserve some of the corn chips for a topping;
place half of the rest in the bottom of a casserole.
Pour half the chili over the corn chips. Top with half
of the onion and cheese. Repeat, and then top with
reserved corn chips. Bake,
uncovered, at 350° for
20 minutes or until
well heated and
onion is thoroughly
cooked. Serves 4 to 6.
Crock-Pot Chili
The author developed this easy chili recipe to reflect
her changing tastes. For Fritos Pie, she ladles chili
over a bed of Fritos (about a cup) in individual bowls,
and tops it with shredded aged Gouda cheese, diced
organic red onion, and chopped jalapeño.
Canola oil or other vegetable oil
½ onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 ½ pounds lean ground grass-fed beef
2 cups water
1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
Wick Fowler’s Texas One-Step Chili
Seasoning Mix
1 (15-ounce) can beans, drained and rinsed
Spray the bottom of a skillet with canola or other
vegetable oil. Add onion and garlic, and cook until
onion is translucent. Add beef, and chop into small
pieces with a spoon. Continue cooking, turning beef
until browned. Empty contents of skillet into a slowcooker. Add remaining ingredients, cover, and cook
on the low setting for 8 to 10 hours. Serves 4 to 6.
Texas Highways | June 2011