By Nola McKey
The 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 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 Kaleta Doolin, she writes that the company’s early history “abounds with inventions and patents on items such as the clip racks in grocery-store aisles that we now take for granted.”
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.
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. Heat, eat, enjoy! TH
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.
Chili Pie Casserole
- 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.
Kaleta’s 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
- 1/2 onion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 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 (optional)
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 slow-cooker. Add remaining ingredients, cover, and cook on the low setting for 8 to 10 hours. Serves 4 to 6.