Ritz Tort Has Transcended Its Appalachia Roots

Sometimes, unusual combinations just work. Recently, one such recipe went viral when podcaster Justin McElroy shared his recipe for "Ritz tort," a dessert made from pecans, Cool Whip, and crushed Ritz crackers. The video garnered over 289,500 likes, and the "tort" — seemingly spelling variation of "torte" — received glowing reviews from viewers, despite its unusual ingredients.

McElroy shared the recipe, a family favorite his mother used to make, on his TikTok account, @hoopsmcelroy. McElroy, who grew up in Huntington, West Virginia, now hosts a series of popular podcasts with his two brothers (via Vulture). He's not known as a foodie — he earned his 175,000 TikTok followers through his jokes and video game journalism — but his fans ate the recipe up, both literally and figuratively.

McElroy notes that the tort isn't widely known, enthusiastically explaining, "My tweet about it one time seems to be the top Google search, so I'm preserving Appalachian history!"

What is Appalachian cuisine?

Spanning 13 states, from New York to Alabama, Appalachia refers to the region surrounding the Appalachian Mountains and its unique cultural identity (per Blue Ridge Mountain Travel Guide). Home to roughly 25 million people, the region has historically been steeped in poverty — and unfair stereotypes.

McElroy was right; there's little information on the history of the Ritz tort or its relation to Appalachia. However, the desert is characteristic of the region's creative can-do attitude toward cuisine. As Atlas Obscura explains, adaptation and ingenuity were necessary for the Appalachian people, thanks to limited resources and terrain unsuitable for large-scale farming. Instead, Appalachians hunted, foraged, and learned to cook with what they had. Since they relied on small personal gardens for fruits and vegetables, they bred crops for flavor rather than large yields. Many unique and flavorful heirloom varieties come from the region, like Candy Roaster melon squash and the hybrid variety of green beans known as Greasy Grits.

This culture of culinary creativity spread to baked goods, too, as McElroy's tort shows. The Appalachian region gave birth to desserts like vinegar pie, created to mimic the taste of lemon pies when citrus fruits were scarce. These pies, which originated in the Great Depression, were known as "desperation pies," — but as Mike Costello writes for Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown, "innovation pies" might be a more apt name.

What is Ritz Tort?

To make his mother's famous dessert, McElroy beat egg whites with sugar until they were "thick and creamy," just before they formed a meringue. Next, he crushed two rolls of Ritz crackers in a plastic bag and combined them with a cup of chopped pecans, a teaspoon of baking powder, and a teaspoon of vanilla.

After folding the mixture into the eggs, he poured it into an 8x8 pan and baked it for 30 minutes in a 350-degree oven. Once the baked crust had cooled, McElroy topped it with "about a tub" of Coolwhip before garnishing the dessert with grated chocolate. He ended the video by presenting it to his father, who attested, "It's amazing."

His fans agreed. After making the recipe, TikTok user @optimistickitchen gave it a stamp of approval, noting, "I prefer this to pecan pie." Commenting on his original Twitter post, @cammpurdy called the tort "absolutely delicious."

With such simple ingredients, you may be able to whip up a Ritz tort of your own without going to the store. But even if you can't, consider cooking like an Appalachian and using your creativity to create your own unique version with what you already have.