The Frito Pie Is Not from Texas: Commence Pearl-Clutching...Now

Categories: Get Lit

Huston004.jpg
Jalapeños are a popular Frito pie topping in Texas...if you're not a weenie.
There I was in Half-Price Books this weekend, poring over the alarmingly titled 500 Things To Eat Before It's Too Late (fearmongering listicles: they're not just for food blogs), when I saw it: a section on our beloved Frito pie. Was the Frito pie endangered?! I had to know.

After reading the small section, I came to find that the "endangered" status of the Frito pie was the least of my concerns.

"We feel it is time for Santa Fe to stop pretending that the Frito pie was created there," wrote Joyce Saenz Harris in the Dallas Morning News. "Historically and culturally, Texas owns this dish, baby."

Okay, so far so good. But what's this about Santa Fe?

Joyce's assertion notwithstanding, most culinary historians do believe that the Frito pie was invented in Santa Fe at the lunch counter of the old Woolworth's, which has become the Five & Dime General Store, at the corner of the plaza. Teresa Hernandez, who came to Santa Fe from Madrid, New Mexico, about 60 years ago told us she had always enjoyed the way local drive-ins served the chili in a paper cup on a bed of shredded lettuce, garnished with a handful of Frito chips.

That's right, folks. A freaking bed of shredded lettuce. Not only was the Frito pie supposedly created in Santa Fe, they didn't even do it right. Get a rope.

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Photo by Troy Fields
C&D Burger Shoppe makes a mean Frito pie.
The book goes on to further insult the legacy of the noble Frito pie by saying that although Texas may lay cultural claim to the bagged snack, it's still the best when served in Santa Fe. Even that traitor Joyce Saenz Harris gets in on the shanking:

We won't debate provenance with Joyce...but we will point out that she herself observed that the "prettiest Frito pie ever seen" is served at Santa Fe's oldest restaurant, the Plaza. And while it is somewhat iconoclastic -- not served inside a Frito's bag, as is traditional; not containing chile con carne -- it is the Frito pie to eat if you eat only one.

So now the book is recommending that if you eat only one of these iconic ballgame snacks, you eat the one that least resembles the traditional favorite. And those assholes in Santa Fe put beans in their chili. Enough.

Fritos themselves are Texan. Chili is Texan. Cheese and onions...well, we can't lay sole claim to either one, but we're really good and throwing both ingredients into our dishes and making them sing. So I'm sticking with the story I grew up on -- food historians be damned -- the one that tells of the legend of Elmer Doolin and his mother, Daisy Dean Doolin.

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Photo by Troy Fields
C&D's finished Frito pie in all its onion-capped glory.
Writes Joyce Saenz Harris in her original 2007 article from the Dallas Morning News:

According to corporate lore, Daisy Doolin invented the immortal Frito pie not long after her boys created Fritos.

Early on, says her granddaughter, Kaleta Doolin of Dallas, Daisy helped market Fritos by developing recipes that used the corn chips as an ingredient. In a burst of genius, she was inspired to pour chili over Fritos corn chips, and the rest is history.

And if NPR puts their stock in this story, that's good enough for me. Besides, as one reader reminded me on Twitter that afternoon: "Red Velvet Cake was created in NY but is considered a Southern Dessert. Frito Pie will forever be Texan to me."



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25 comments
klsalas
klsalas

This sudden brainstorm that Daisy Doolin had was nothing more than coming up with a variant of chilaquiles, just as "Fritos" are little more than a tweaking of the fritas recipe and technique that Elmer Doolin bought from Mexican Gustavo Olquin. 

On the history of Texas vs. New Mexican chili Aji (the Spanish transliteration of the Arawak "Axi" or pepper) was "discovered" in the Caribbean by Dr. Diego Alvarez Chanca, physician to Queen Isabella during the second Columbus voyage.   However Capsicum Annuum has  been reportedly been cultivated as early as 4000 BC and the Aztecs called it Quauhchille.  Capsicum Annuum was brought back to Spain and cultivated there.  When Don Juan de Onate brought 500 settlers and about 7000 head of livestock and other supplies from Spain to territories that are now northern New Mexico in or around 1598 he also brought chiles. 

I have read varying accounts of the founding of Texas chile.  By one, Spanish settlers from the Canary Islands brought chile to San Fernando de Béxar (now San Antonio) in around 1730.  By another account in the 1850's miners and cowboys created the first chile made from rehydrated dried beef and chile peppers.  Other accounts trace the beginnings of meat chili to the mid to late 1800s. 

Regardless of which you choose to accept proponents of the idea that chili was created in Texas would have to believe that for more than 130 years after chiles and livestock were brought to what is present day New Mexico nobody used chiles for what was already known as their express purpose: to flavor food. 

in one article I read there was a quote from a J.C. Clopper who wrote about San Antonio chile in 1926. He said:

"When they have to pay for their meat in the market, a very little is made to suffice for a family; this is generally into a kind of hash with nearly as many peppers as there are pieces of meat - this is all stewed together."

It is hardly a revelation that people would combine the foods available to them in a way that is affordable and appealing -- that maximizes the amount and flavor of the food. That is precisely why it is a laughable argument that for 130 years after chile and livestock were brought to Northern New Mexico nobody combined the two (plus onions, oregano and other available ingredients like beans).  That quote also precisely explains why New Mexicans have historically eaten chili with beans. Beans are a nutritious, filling and inexpensive staple. 



smoke.tetsu
smoke.tetsu

So many people want to lay claim to the Frito Pie but how much brain power does it really take to smother some fritos with chili con carne, onions, etc? If anything I'd call it idiot food.

Also thanks for calling me and my entire region assholes over what? Beans in Chili. Some people might have beans with chili but others don't. Yes, I'm from Santa Fe. Maybe you'd like to start a war just over some friggin' chili smothered corn chips or chili beans?

Also nobody I've seen in real life puts a Frito Pie on a bed of lettuce but then again in the grand scheme of things Frito Pies aren't as popular as you might think here. There are many more popular and dare I say it.. better or more thought out dishes around here.

New Mexican
New Mexican

Why is Texas so jealous of New Mexico? Is it because NewMexico has history that is thousands of years old?! Is it because New Mexicohas a history that dates back to the very first expeditions in to the area fromthe first European explorers?! Is it because Santa Fe de Nuevo Mexico was thecenter of the northern part of New Spain since 1598?! Is it because we have ourown culture that dates back tens of thousands of years and even encompasseswestern Texas?! OR IS IT BECAUSE TEXAS TRIED TO CLAIM OUR TERRITORY WHEN THEYCOULDN'T EVEN MANAGE THEMSELVES AS THEIR OWN COUNTRY AND CAME TO THE USA WITHTHEIR TAIL BETWEEN THEIR LEGS?!

You can go ahead and try to pet your ego as the"home of the Frito pie" and complain that the "assholes" inSanta Fe don't know how to make it... I don't really care, you can have it....at least I'm not making an ass of myself trying to discover some culture in the"Frito pie" and trying to bash my neighbors to the west. Why don'tyou go back to Wikipedia where this article is referenced and learn a littlebit of history. Hey maybe Frito pie can be the start of "Texanculture"...

RangerBob
RangerBob

All these stories about a Frito Pie being invented in New Mexico is incorrect.  They may think they did, but......it was invented in San Antonio, Texas by the fine folks at America's Original Kiddie Park, founded in 1925.  Being the second owner of the Park, I was told by P. W. Curry (the orignal owner) that they were invented at the Kiddie Park in the early 30's.  The original cost was 5 cents, and if you wanted shredded cheddar cheese and onions it was a 3 cents more. Jalapenos were free.  All they did was slit the bag open lengthwise and pour the chili con carne in the bag (absolutely no beans), and put a spoon it the bag.   I recieved this information from the horses mouth.  It makes sense since the Kiddie Park is just down the road from where Fritos were invented, and  one of the few venues in town at that time that would serve something as unique as that.

Rcdlk2005
Rcdlk2005

I grew up in Lovington New Mexico, back in the 1950s there was always a "school store" were many of us congregated for lunch. When I started high school in 1959 the popular thing to eat at the "school store" was a "Frito Pie". I do not know how many I ate over the years but a lot I am sure. The "Frito Pie" consisted of a bag of Fritos slit open on one of the long sides, a heaping spoon full of chili dumped over the Fritos, followed by white onions and shredded cheese. I had had Frio Pies long before this but can attest to the fact that the idea did not come from Santa Fe. By the way the part of New Mexico where I grew up was sometimes called "Lapland", meaning "where Texas lapped over into New Mexico".  I still hunger for "Frito Pies" and make them from time to time.

Iinhaled
Iinhaled

My goodness.  This is what gets Texans worked up?  Enough to call Santa Feans "assholes" who ought to be obliterated with nuclear attacks?  Keep your stinkin' Fritos and go on looking ridiculous.  

Lizarde
Lizarde

Good chili has beans in it. If it doesn't have beans, it's 7-11 hot dog sauce.  And what's wrong with lettuce? More Texans should learn to eat a vegetable now and then.

Lucrece Borrego
Lucrece Borrego

Being a New Mexican living in Texas, this would seem to call my heritage and loyalties into question. Instead, I'd like to call attention to the fact that both states are part of the same heritage and at TWO times in history, the same country - first, New Spain and then, the original Republic of Texas.I will, however, note that the frito pie was, for me, growing up, a far more important part of daily life and standard home eating than I have witnessed amongst anyone here in Texas, where chili tends to be a special occasion or party dish rather than a part of daily consumption. Just sayin'...

Bobby Freshpants
Bobby Freshpants

I had the Frito Pie in Santa Fe at the 5 and dime only a few months ago, my father took me there as he went to college at St Johns. Its served in the bag of fritos, cut open length ways with chili on top. No lettuce to be seen. Im pretty sure my dad was in college there around 1970, some time ago. Not sure where is the best but it was pretty damn good. 

Festus
Festus

What California Yankee wrecked the Frito pie w/ sour cream in the top photo?

Craigley
Craigley

My great grandmother invented the frito pie at a Sagemont Cowboys game in 1973.

And truth be told, that Shepps brand triangle sour cream at the Austin wannabe joint looks terrlble.

Nobody was serving sour cream on the original.  Grandma was selling these out of the back of grandpas's crew cab.

Early Cuyler
Early Cuyler

Being a chili purist, here is the loop-hole, it's Frito Pie, not chili.  I am addicted to James Coney Island's Frito Pie, and it has BEANS in it.  As far as the lettuce thing, well that's just wrong.

Ed T.
Ed T.

NEW MEXICO wants to lay claim to Frito Pie!? Forget the rope... it's about time to resume above ground nuclear tests! What better place to conduct them, then in the state where the first one took place?

~EdT.

Andyphifer
Andyphifer

"Get a rope" had me cracking up at my desk. Awesome.

Guest
Guest

Frito Pie isn't exactly a complex culinary creation, so it's not hard to imagine it was invented twice.  Plus, the one that Teresa Hernandez handed to me at Woolworth's also had a serving of pinto beans in it...major clue?

Glenn Livet
Glenn Livet

Man, I wonder what MAD-drid, NM, was like 60 years ago. Now it's just snarky hippies and a bar that closes at 10. Pretty place, though.

Also I'm angry about pies, or something.

Bud Kennedy
Bud Kennedy

Great--I agree with you about Frito pie.

One tiny chip to pick: The Doolins popularized Fritos. They didn't invent them -- they bought them from a soccer coach in San Antonio who went back to Mexico -- His name is Gustavo Olguin --

CameronByars
CameronByars

I had Frito Pie for dinner just last night! Beaver's has a great spin on it. Served right in the bag like it should be, it is smothered with BBQ pork and queso. It was pretty amazing.

trisch
trisch

I don't understand what the controversy is: "...served the chili in a paper cup on a bed of shredded lettuce, garnished with a handful of Frito chips..."?  That's no Frito pie.  That's a taco salad.  So Santa Fe wants to toot their horn about inventing an anemic taco salad?  Be our guest.

FattyFatBastard
FattyFatBastard

The only acceptable additions are sour cream and jalapenos.  Santa Fe needs to shut it.  They can call their concoction Santa Fe's famous Skyline 6 way bean soup with lettuce.

FattyFatBastard
FattyFatBastard

This comment was linvaluable.  Thanks for your linsight.  I take it you found our opinions to be linjustified?  Sadly, all Texans do is Lin in the end.  Thanks for the linquiry, though.

Herro
Herro

Vegetables? We sometimes eat onions AND jalapeños on our Frito pies, both of which are more nutritious than iceberg lettuce. 

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