Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Book Club Dessert Was a Forgery, Too

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Book Club Dessert Was a Forgery, Too

Article excerpt

Last month, my book club read "The Forger's Spell: A True Story of Vermeer, Nazis, and the Greatest Art Hoax of the Twentieth Century" by Edward Dolnick. It is a captivating who-done-it, where the reader knows who-did-what, but the experts do not.

It seems that in the late 1930s and early '40s, a so-so Dutch painter, Hans Van Meegeren, had his own paintings dismissed soundly and publicly. Sneering critics said he had the talent of a magazine illustrator. Others called his work cloyingly sweet and creepily erotic. Given those reviews, his career flopped. With his ego deflated and his income dashed, Van Meegeren was furious. Hell hath no fury like an artist scorned.

He decided to exact revenge on his critics. He did so by painting forgeries in the style of Johannes Vermeer, a Dutch baroque artist in the 1600s. Since only a few genuine Vermeers, maybe three dozen, were thought to exist, the art world was ripe for the "discovery" of lost paintings. When Van Meegeren passed off his fakes as original masterpieces, incredibly, it worked.

The paintings fooled Vermeer experts and sold for enormous sums, about $30 million in today's money. Among his gullible customers was Hitler's right-hand deputy, Hermann Goering.

Eventually, the lying Dutchman was exposed. In May 1945, Van Meegeren was arrested, charged with collaborating with the Nazis and imprisoned.

That's the back story.

Expose

When the 10 members of our Book Club meet for dinner and discussion, the hostess makes an entree and the rest of us fill in the menu with wine and side dishes. In keeping with the theme of our reading, I volunteered to bring Dutch Apple Pie. (Of course.)

After an enthusiastic book discussion, we turned to other topics while dessert was served. Several women asked for second helpings of pie a la mode, and one asked for the recipe. As soon as their scraped-clean dishes were cleared, I stood. I had an announcement.

"Hah!" I said. "That was not an apple pie, it was a mock apple pie! You have eaten a fraud. A fake. A culinary forgery. There are no apples in this dessert. The filling was made from Ritz crackers."

Ritz Mock Apple Pie is a Great Depression-era classic. Baked with homemade pastry, it looks just like an apple pie. It smells like one. It even tastes like one. But the filling never came close to an apple orchard. The main ingredient comes from a box of crackers -- 36 to be exact. The filling's texture closely resembles a soft and tender apple pie. Or a big apple Newton. Homemade pastry goes a long way to enhance the forgery, as does a scoop of ice cream. A cook's reputation as a good pie baker only adds to the authenticity.

Born of thrift in the 1930s, the recipe for the pie has been printed on the back of the Ritz Cracker box for some 75 years. During World War II, it became popular again because apples were scarce and expensive. …

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