(NEXSTAR) — It may be a Texas classic and you may like to consider it a Texas creation, but the origin of the Frito Pie — the cheesy, crunchy county fair treat — is not so cut-and-dry. In fact, Texas is in a long-standing rivalry with another state for birthplace bragging rights.
And a winner appears to have been proven with historical records, but you’ll have to keep reading to find out.
The popularity of Fritos Pie, as it’s officially called by the Frito-Lay company (though it’s often colloquially just called “Frito Pie”) goes back to the 1950s and ’60s, when the ease and availability of snack products like Fritos began making their way into American mealtimes.
Fritos Corn Chips themselves date back the 1930s, when, as Frito-Lay explains, co-founder C.E. Doolin purchased the recipe from a San Antonio manufacturer and began selling the chips from his Model T Ford. Frito-Lay North America would go on to be headquartered in Plano, further entrenching the corn chips in Texas culture.
As Houstonia Magazine reported in 2013, many Texans believe Frito Pie was created in San Antonio by Doolin’s mother Daisy Dean Doolin in the 1930s. Meanwhile, many residents of New Mexico say Frito Pie was invented in the 1960s by Teresa Hernandez at the Santa Fe Woolworth’s (which was later called the Five & Dime General Store).
The late chef Anthony Bourdain even stopped in at the Five & Dime to try the pies during a now-infamous 2013 episode of his popular food travel docuseries “Parts Unknown.” In the episode, Bourdain angered many New Mexicans after calling the state’s version of the meal both “crap in a bag,” a “colostomy pie,” and called it “as deadly as the Manhattan Project.”
Among Bourdain’s complaints (which can still be viewed on CNN’s YouTube channel) were that the Five & Dime General Store made the dish with canned chili and “a day-glow orange cheese-like substance.” Though Bourdain was later corrected about the store’s chili (and he issued an apology), he urged New Mexicans to defer to Texans for how to make it, calling the dish a Texas creation.
So who’s right here?
The answer, it turns out, lies in a 2011 book called “Fritos Pie, Stories, Recipes and More,” written by Kaleta Doolin, daughter of Charles Doolin. In the book, Doolin settled the ‘Who really invented Frito Pie?’ debate, as Houstonia explains.
Using Frito-Lay records, Doolin proved that Frito-Lay’s publicity department served “Fritos chili pie” to the Dallas Dietetic Association in 1949. This was well before Hernandez was credited with the dish.
What’s more, Doolin also demystified the pie’s origin story. It turns out, according to records, “Fritos Chili Pie” was created by the Frito-Lay company team, not by her grandmother. In fact, Doolin’s book shows archival newspaper clippings discussing Frito-Lay’s team efforts to create food items/dishes. Per Houstonia, the circa-1960s article reads: “Perhaps the most famous recipe developed by the Consumer Service department is that for Fritos Chili Pie.”
And though the origin story seems to be settled, the celebration of Frito Pie goes rightfully on in both New Mexico and Texas. After all, it doesn’t have to belong to you for you to enjoy it.
What goes in Frito Pie?
The official Fritos Pie recipe, according to Frito-Lay, includes 1 bag of Fritos Original Corn Chips, 4 cups of chili, 3/4 cups diced white onions and 1 cup of shredded cheddar cheese. But there are endless variations.
Some recipes, like this Southern Living one, adds sliced jalapeño peppers and sour cream to the top. Meanwhile, Betty Crocker advances the standard recipe from a pie to a Frito Pie Casserole, calling for taco seasoning, enchilada sauce, beans, green onions, ground beef, sour cream and guacamole.
How do you eat it?