Do you like Velveeta? How about Ritz crackers? How about ketchup? How about eating all three together? It’s not a seventh grade lunchroom double dare or a pantry challenge gone horribly wrong. It’s a real family recipe and a true “don’t knock it till you’ve tried it” experience.
Unlike other curious childhood favorites like beet-pickled deviled eggs and sleeping bean salad, research turned up no provenance for this recipe. Even my dad, a usually reliable source of food memories, can only recall that it was served to him as a completely normal don’t-bat-an-eye snack food in his youth.
He’s the one who passed this unholy alliance along to his cheese-loving daughters and left us to explain what the hell we were making to all roommates and husbands for the next 20 years. (Block Velveeta, not slices, was the norm for this dish, though I also remember a few instances where—and sensitive readers may want to leave the room for this sentence—spray cheese from a can was substituted for the Velveeta layer. Good parenting.)
But here’s what I think happened. Velveeta was invented in 1928, Ritz Crackers were born in 1934, and we Pittsburghers all know that Heinz has been in the ketchup business since 1876. Given the ingredients’ place on the food timeline and our country’s ongoing obsession with cheap, almost-instant edibles, I’m starting to believe this snack might have been a wartime leftover, kind of a poor man’s meatloaf.
Google (as well as your garden-variety community cookbooks and recipe exchanges) turns up a number of recipes for cheeseburger mac, cheesy skillets, bean dip, and meatloaf that involve ketchup, Velveeta, and ground beef. Take out the expensive protein source, replace it with a cracker, and you’ve got a distinctly working class substitute, though I doubt Bruce Springsteen will ever write a song in this snack’s honor.
But the taste, Casey, the taste! Is it really edible, ’cause it sounds vile? Despite each component sounding too cloying, too strongly identified with its own flavor profile on its own, something happens when you make a tiny tower of all three ingredients and throw it back for a one-bite adventure. The ketchup’s sweetness mitigates that weird stick-in-the-back-of-the-throat Velveeta aftertaste, and the Ritz cracker mellows it all.
This could be a from-scratch challenge. I could make my own crackers, my own ketchup, even my own Velveeta with real cheddar cheese (more on that soon, I hope) and build a completely wholesome version of this strange snack amalgam. But in this case, and in the rare occasions that I indulge this little game of oddball nostalgia, making it healthier and less perverse seems beside the point. I’m preserving this specific taste memory as is, letting its little freak-of-nature existence remain intact and celebrating it as a fun family curiosity.
I’m not even asking you to try it, but I do want to know: is this the weirdest snack you’ve ever heard of? What’s the most out-there thing you used to eat as a kid?
Velveeta and Ketchup on Ritz Crackers
Prep time: 5 minutes
Total time: 5 minutes
Makes more than you can finish
- 1 sleeve Ritz Crackers
- 1 block Velveeta cheese
- 1 bottle Heinz ketchup
Unwrap the sleeve of Ritz crackers and the block of Velveeta. Slice off a few pieces of Velveeta and cut into cubes.
Place the cubes atop the Ritz crackers and squirt each with a dollop of Heinz ketchup. Eat until you start to feel queasy.