Names have great power, particularly when it comes to foods we hold near and dear. Take the case of Crack Pie, one of the most famous American desserts of the past quarter-century. Created by pastry chef Christina Tosi, Crack Pie sets a gooey, sweet, salty, satiating filling of heavy cream, egg yolks, vanilla and sugar in a buttery oatmeal cookie crust.
After tasting Crack Pie, my first thought was: “This stuff is dangerous, really addictive. Where can I get some more?” That’s the common reaction.
Not everyone found this reference to crack cocaine appealing, particularly in light of the number of communities, many African-American, that have been devastated by the drug. After lengthy protests including comments suggesting that the bakery also offer Heroin Cupcakes, Tosi recently announced that the name would be changed. Her bakery website now refers to it as “Milk Bar Pie, formerly known as Crack Pie®.”
Are we getting a little bit too sensitive and inflicting culinary correctness? Or, is it about time some of these verbal offenses were addressed?
It’s complicated, says Dana Derichsweiler, owner of the Walnut Cafe restaurants, which occasionally feature Crack Pie. “We are sticking with the name Crack Pie, at least for now. It’s how customers know the pie,” she says.
Derichsweiler is no spring chicken when it comes to food name controversy. “Back in the 1990s we had Killer Brownies on the menu. Some of our customers complained. We had a contest and chose The Slab. We would never call anything ‘Killer’ now,” Derichsweiler says.
In fairness, a lot of menu items were called “Killer” back then. Even today, the best-selling organic, non-GMO bread in the U.S. is Dave’s Killer Bread.
Derichsweiler notes that in the ’90s a half-caf, half-decaf espresso drink was commonly called a “schizo” by baristas, but no longer. “Now we have to make sure food names don’t have any gender connotations,” she adds.
The Walnut Cafe Boulder menu includes Duzzer’s Breakfast Burrito. The vegetarian item topped with cheddar, salsa, sour cream and black olives is named after a longtime customer, filmmaker and do-gooder Ryan Van Duzer. The eatery donates $1 for each burrito to the Kirk “Rocky” Derichsweller Foundation, named after Dana’s late brother. “The burritos have raised more than $22,000 to fund the foundation’s holiday bike giveaway. More than 400 kids a year get bikes, helmets and locks,” Derichsweiler says.
“I want to focus on what brings us together, not what offends us,” she says. That said, she ignored folks who complained because she used Girl Scout cookies in a pie crust. “Come on!” she says.
If you look into many beloved foods and beverages you’ll find names fraught with cultural appropriation, misogyny, exploitation, racism, environmental harm and heaping helpings of sheer stupidity.
There has been a movement to remove Confederate monuments, yet we keep buying Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben’s, names born out of slavery, plantations and segregation. Native American groups have long objected to the imagery on Land O’ Lakes Butter and the Inuit people to Eskimo Pies. I’m not sure whether the Quakers appreciate Quaker Oats.
Just the other day my naming radar blipped when I heard about a brand-new Denver eatery called Pistol Whip. Um, here’s the definition of pistol whip: “To hit or beat (someone) with a pistol generally in the head.”
It reminds me of the Denver bar that insisted, for a while, on pouring a drink called the Donkey Punch. You’ll have to Google that one yourself. Alcoholic cocktails have a long, obnoxious history with bartenders creating and naming everything from Irish Car Bombs to Date Grape Kool-aid.
The hot sauce industry is also home to a legion of misogynist and racist food product names. Go to hotsauce.com to order your bottle of, well… we can’t really print many of the names.
Other food names like Chick-fil-A are now controversial because of what the companies do. Colorado-born Illegal Pete’s has fought various entities concerning its name for a quarter century including a recent Delaware lawsuit alleging the burrito restaurant’s name had “racist connotations.” In fact, Pete Turner named the place after his dying, hell-raising father, Pete Turner Sr., and displays exceptional corporate values.
Times have changed. The Blue Parrot Restaurant, which closed in Louisville after 90-plus years in business, had a popular Italian sausage patty sandwich on the menu. They called it a “Wopburger.” “Wop” is a derogatory term for a person from Italy and it was once hurled as an insult at some of my relatives. Here’s the way it was explained to me: It was OK because the owners were Italian. An Italian could call another Italian a “wop,” but it was never OK for a non-Italian.
By the way, Crack Bacon is available at Syrup, a brunch place in Denver.
Local Food News
The Gold Hill Inn is open for its 57th summer season of mountain dining, live music and mystery dinners. Meanwhile, the Boulder Cork is celebrating 50 years of serving teriyaki steak. … Gaku Ramen is open at 1119 13th. St., Boulder … Boulder’s Hoplark Tea will open their new taproom at 3220 Prairie Ave. on May 22 serving hop-infused sparkling iced tea … Broomfield’s award-winning 4 Noses Brewing will open a barrel house and taproom, Oak Addendum, at 2205 Central Ave.
Taste of the Week
I unexpectedly made potstickers on a recent Tuesday because I unearthed a package of wonton wrappers from the freezer. I had leftover chicken roasted with carrots, potatoes, onions and apples. I put a tablespoon of the mix on a wrapper — essentially a fresh pasta sheet — folded and sealed them with a wet finger. The dumplings got pan-sizzled ’til crispy in hot olive oil. It was so easy and appealing that I filled another one with sautéed onions and extra sharp Cheddar cheese, then another with posole and salsa. My finale was a banana, cinnamon and toasted hazelnut potsticker.
Words to Chew On
“In our house we break a fast/ with dates from Huun/ and glasses of buttermilk/ Then on to bowls of lamb soup flavored with mint, trays/ of stuffed grape leaves/ spiced fava beans drenched/ in olive oil and lemon juice.” — From the poem “Ramadan” by Khaled Mattawa
John Lehndorff hosts Radio Nibbles on KGNU. Listen to podcasts: news.kgnu.org/category/radio-nibbles