I Made The Fake Viral Utah Cranberry Pickle Pie
Every time I get on social media, something crawls out of the abyss to challenge my inner peace. Last week, it was a Fox 13 News tweet featuring a photo of the most heinous pie I’ve ever laid eyes on: a cranberry pickle pie—or so it claimed to be.
The pie in the photo was partially eaten so that the dark magenta and pink filling was exposed. Completely covering the top like cursed lily pads were generic dill pickles. The whole ensemble looked like a terrible gender reveal party or a medium rare hamburger in a pie tin, but it wasn’t. It was a pie polluted by pickles.
As chilling as this image was to see, the accompanying caption was an affront to my state and the entire field of journalism.
“Cranberry and pickle pie? Apparently, it’s a Utah thing,” Fox 13 News wrote.
A “Utah thing” is funeral potatoes and faux coffee shops. A “Utah thing” is throwing extra y’s and h’s into perfectly fine English names. No Utahn that I knew of had colloquialized this so-called pie, and no Utahn I knew of ever would. We have a pretty well-known pickle pie from the Sunglow Cafe outside of Capitol Reef National Park, but that pickle pie tastes delicious and doesn’t look like it came straight from the Upside Down version of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. This “pie” was unacceptable.
Fox’s tweet got retweeted hundreds and then thousands of times, with comments ranging from “I’ve lived in Utah my entire life and this is not a thing” to “I’m calling the police” and “this is why bullying exists.” Then it got outside of Utah Twitter.
“This is why everyone’s breath stank and they ain’t got no teeth in Utah,” Vernon Maxwell tweeted.
“We can get by with 49 states, tbh,” Funny Maine tweeted.
Someone went as far as calling out to the ghost of Lilburn Boggs: “LILBURN BOGGS, AMERICA CRIES FOR AID- RETURN FROM YOUR SLEEP AND SAVE US."
The picture made it as far as Ice T, who retweeted it to his over one million followers.
I stewed about that ugly pie and its alleged origins for half the day. Then, as a sort of joke, I tweeted, “100 likes and I’ll make and eat the cranberry pickle pie.”
It wasn’t a low number of likes, but it wasn’t that high a number, either. Everybody has two wolves inside them, and my wolves were the desire to block every person who retweeted the pie, and the disturbing desire to try the pie. I was even getting a bit excited for the chance to make a pie that might redeem my state’s honor as I watched the likes tick upward, until I briefly scanned the recipe and remembered I’ve never baked a homemade pie in my entire life. 114 likes later, I found myself Nancy Drew-ing the baked goods aisle at Macey’s and googling stuff like “you can slice shortening?” and “what does cornstarch look like.”
I found the recipe for the “Utah” cranberry pickle pie because Fox News made a segment showing the WordPress blog they got it from. The blog, called “lindaseccaspina remembers the invention of the wheel,” didn’t actually list all the ingredients. It redirected me to an offsite recipe for a traditional cranberry pie, which you need to make first. The blog said after you’ve made that traditional cranberry pie, you simply lay the pickles on top to serve, which feels a bit like spitting on a meal before passing it to a friend, if you ask me, but I digress.
The first time I looked up this blog, I only briefly scanned it to get the recipe, but something about it felt a bit funny. Utahns commit to the bit. They don’t halfheartedly make anything, including pickle pies. That pickle’s going to be infused throughout the filling or made into some kind of elaborate dipping sauce, not just lying there like a soggy afterthought.
I took a closer look at the blog. What I found was a trail of deceit.
Fox 13 had run their story seemingly without reading the entire blog post they got it from. The post was called “Cranberry Pickle Pie and Utah Pickle Pie.” It was first published on November 1st, 2020 and then republished this November. Most importantly, it featured TWO DIFFERENT PIES. It led with the directions to make a cranberry pickle pie, and beneath that were directions for an imitation Sunglow pie, the true Utah pickle pie.
I thought maybe the blogger was local, which is why Fox 13 called the cranberry pickle pie a “Utah thing.” Turns out Linda Seccaspina hailed from a little Utah town you’ve probably never heard of called Quebec, Canada.
Perhaps most embarrassing of all, that photo on Linda’s blog? The one being used to smear Utah’s good name up and down the internet? It was a fake. That picture was stolen from a 2010 Pen & Fork blog post about a Veg-a-Pickle Pie created by Bryan’s Black Mountain Barbecue in Arizona. That pie is made of sweet potatoes and beets with pickles on top. No cranberries.
In short, the bulk of Fox 13’s report and their heinous tweet were about a pie that wasn’t real.
At this point I realized that I had made the worst trade deal in the history of trade deals. I had unknowingly promised the internet that I would make a terrible looking cranberry pie that never existed in the first place. It was one thing to believe the pie had been made before and presumably enjoyed by somebody. It was an entirely different thing to believe it was the figment of a chaotic evil food blogger’s imagination.
I planned to meet up with my friend Stephanie (who happens to be a pie expert) the night before Thanksgiving to bake the pickle cranberry pie. Wednesday afternoon, I called her to break the news that the pie was a lie. I had no idea if anyone had actually attempted to bake it. We ultimately decided to go through with it and make a genuine made-in-Utah cranberry pickle pie by following the recipe on Linda’s blog and giving it our own personal twist.
I wanted Linda to pay for her crimes, so before Steph and I started baking, I tagged Linda on Twitter and demanded an explanation. That woman’s SEO must have been turning water into wine, because she responded like the protagonist of a 2000s coming-of-age movie.
“I was a small town Canadian blogger yesterday who watched at least 2-3 Law and Order’s every night-and today I am still a small town blogger but Ice T likes my cranberry pickle pie from last year LOLOL,” she said. (Note that Ice T’s only public comment on the pie has been, “Why the F would you do that?!”)
I told Linda I was confused, because the photo she used in her blog was a picture of a totally different pie that was stolen from another website. That’s when she told me about Antoinette.
In an update to her blog post, which was now getting national attention, Linda said all of this started when she posted a recipe for a cranberry pie online and her friend Antoinette said she’d made that same recipe with a little twist: pickles. Linda decided she wanted to try it with pickles, too.
Note: Linda’s blog was updated to include Antoinette’s involvement with the cranberry pickle pie after Linda and I had our Twitter conversation about it. When I first found her blog, it sounded to me like the cranberry pickle pie was Linda’s brainchild.
When Linda decided to make Antoinette’s cranberry pickle pie, she said Antoinette sent her the photo of the Veg-a-Pickle Pie as if it was her own.
“She always sent me pictures of her baking so I never questioned her LOLOLOL,” Linda told me.
Linda posted the fake photo Antoinette sent her on her blog. From what I can gather, she hadn’t made her version of the cranberry pickle pie at that point. She might have just been excited to talk about it. What she didn’t realize was that Antoinette had misled her. But why? I wondered.
I felt like I had a stake in this game now and I was nosy AF, so as Steph and I prepped the cranberry and orange filling for my pickle pie, I reached out to Antoinette on Facebook to see what I could deduce. I told her I’d seen a photo of her pie on a blog and then tested her by saying I was curious about what pickles she used for the top. I wanted to see if she’d actually made this pie. I heard back from her Thanksgiving Day.
“I did not care for the cranberry pickle pie (I used butter and sweet pickles) but I LOVE this pickle pie recipe,” she said, linking to the recipe for the Sunglow copycat.
This absolutely tracked with my experience. I had no idea from Linda’s blog post what kind of pickles would taste good on this pie, so I’d bought some Mt. Olive bread and butter chips (which taste sweet) and some Nalley hamburger dill chips. After heating the filling over the stove, I put a dab of it on one of the sweet pickles to taste test and experienced the remorse of Saul realizing the crime I was about to commit against a perfectly good cranberry pie. It tasted vile.
But my question remained unanswered: if Antoinette made the cranberry pickle pie, how and why did she send Linda the Veg-a-Pickle Pie picture? Was Antoinette’s pie unfit for human eyes, and so she sent Linda a photo that could pass as a cranberry pie because she was embarrassed? Or was this all a big ruse?
After a bit more pressing on my end and some digging on Antoinette’s, the pieces fell into place.
Antoinette had made the Utah pickle pie recipe—the delicious one from Sunglow—in April of 2020 and loved it, so she posted a photo of it on Facebook. Four months later, a man named Jerry Ezekiel posted a picture of the Veg-a-Pickle Pie on Facebook, but he mistakenly called it a cranberry pickle pie, saying “Cranberry Pickle Pie.....Would you try it?” Jerry’s post had over 800 shares, and it somehow found its way to Antoinette and Linda, inspiring both of them.
“I think Linda may have originally posted this post which I then shared in anticipation of making the cranberry pickl[e] pie after the [Utah] pickle pie was such a success,” Antoinette told me.
Antoinette shared Jerry’s post the morning of November 1st, 2020, the same day Linda published her blog post, and she tagged Linda in it. Her caption on Facebook read:
“My next desserts with pickles challenge thanks to Linda Seccaspina who knows I can’t resist. But I think I will try a combo of sweet and sour pickles finely chopped with crystallized ginger; that will make a lovely carmelized crust. The pickles in the photo don’t even look cooked. All y’all going ewww are gonna be sorry!”
It looks like the only one who was sorry was Antoinette. She told me she did make a cranberry pickle pie inspired by the image Jerry posted, but her pie didn’t turn out as hoped.
“I did not care for my version so it does not look like I posted photos. But it may be that a quick read resulted in folks thinking this was my pie,” she DMed me.
Because the only photo Antoinette shared when she talked about making the cranberry pickle pie was the Veg-a-Pickle Pie one Jerry posted, it seems Linda got confused and thought that pie was the one Antoinette made. So, in her blog post, Linda wrote about Antoinette and her pickle pie baking experiences and she shared the photo of the fake cranberry pickle pie right below the blog title, which is exactly where Fox 13 found it when they chose to single-handedly besmirch the good name of Utah’s pie scene. And all of this started because Antoinette fell in love with Utah’s real pickle pie and was inspired by a fake Facebook post to try pickles in other pies.
The Taste Test
Back in Steph’s kitchen in North Salt Lake, it did not escape me that by choosing to create this fake Utah cranberry pickle pie, we were, in a very isolated sense, actually making it a “Utah thing.” I didn’t mind so much as long as it looked presentable for polite company.
After making the traditional filling of cranberry, ginger, orange juice, and orange zest, rolling out the dough Steph had refrigerated overnight, and popping the crust into the oven, I started what was the most ridiculous part of the whole process: cutting Nalley hamburger pickles into diamonds and circles using miniature cookie cutters. What made the viral “Utah cranberry pickle pie” so disgusting looking in my mind was the fact that the pickles were just laid across it with no finesse or artistry. If this pie was going to taste as bad as it sounded, I at least wanted it to give “nightmare dressed as a daydream.”
To make the pickles less juicy, we patted them down until brine was released, squeezed them between two paper towels, and put them in the fridge to chill overnight with the finished pie. We learned the next morning that doing that dehydrates them into shriveled yellow pickle corpses, and you need a little juice to give them shape, so we made new cut-outs.
I carefully placed the diamond and circle-shaped pickles on top of the pie until they formed seven six-pointed snowflakes. Then we sprinkled the pickles with sugar in an attempt to make the taste blend a little better with the cranberry filling. This was one of the bigger differences between our recipe and the one on Linda’s blog. It might have been cheating a little, but I considered it the Utah way—turning something truly disgusting into something salvageable. And baby, that pie looked like something from Martha Stewart.
It was finally time for the moment of truth. Would this pie be a pleasant surprise, or would it be a jailable offense in all 50 states? I stuck my fork in and took a bite.
What I expected to taste was a swamp of sour pickle juice pouring down my throat. What I tasted instead was just cranberry pie with a hint of pickle. The cranberry filling was tart enough on its own that, even though you could taste the crunch and the sourness of the pickle, it wasn’t overwhelming and it was only a few notes off from the tartness of the filling. I was surprised that I ate as much of it as I did. Was it excellent? No. But was it terrible? Also no. I was able to get my mom to eat two or three bites, which felt like a small success. My biggest complaint was that the cranberry filling wasn’t more sweet. In the end, it was an okay pie.
The real test would be eating it two days later, that prime window when many pies reach their peak deliciousness.
When I pulled the pie out of the fridge Saturday night, the pickle snowflakes had absorbed the red of the cranberry and begun to sink into the pie. It looked like roadkill, honestly. I had run out of Nalley pickles, but I had a jar of unsliced Kosher Dill Pickles in my fridge, so I cut those pickles about 1/3 of an inch wide and laid them like checkers across a piece of pie so it more closely resembled the pie from Linda’s blog. This time, I chose to forgo sprinkling the pie with sugar.
The second I put a piece of this pie in my mouth, I knew it had become something entirely untouched by the light of God. The schlurpy crunch it made between my teeth as I chewed it was astronomically loud, and while the taste had been more balanced with the Nalley pickles, the taste of these pickles was like a sour punch in the throat, like sucking a whole lemon down my gullet. I dry heaved and came very close to vomiting. The worst part was that it wasn’t over when it was over. Less than five minutes after I ate it, that pie had hit almost every pitstop in its digestive journey through my body.
I finally understood why neither Antoinette nor Linda had shared their photos of this pie. All three of us had dabbled in a profane alchemy, foisting something into this world that had no business being in it, something that rightly rebelled against its own creators for giving it life. I, too, would want to wipe Utah off a map if I thought this was the kind of dessert we produced on the regular. Maybe it was the size and type of the pickle that wrecked this pie, which had tasted okay two days ago. Whatever it was, it was utterly inedible now.
I eagerly await the day Fox 13 posts a Notes app apology explaining why they did Utah as dirty as they did with that cranberry pickle pie story. Did they, like Linda, do too quick a read of an online post and just run with it? Or, faced with a slow news day, did their production team wake up and choose violence? I don’t rightly know. What I do know is that from here on out, the only pickle pie allowed in my home is the one from Sunglow, cranberries forbidden.
Want to make your own pickle cranberry pie (the one that didn’t make me almost vomit)? Here is the original Utah cranberry pickle pie recipe made by Stephanie and I.
For the Crust
- 1 ¼ cups of all-purpose flour
- ¼ tsp. of salt
- 8 tbs. of cold unsalted butter
- ¼ cup of ice water
For the Filling
- 6 cups (600 g) fresh cranberries, coarsely chopped (or food processed)
- 2 cups (400 g) granulated sugar
- ⅓ cup (80 ml) fresh orange juice
- ¼ cup (32 g) cornstarch
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon orange zest
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
For the Topping
- Nalley hamburger dill chips
- Sugar (for dusting)
Make the Crust
- Combine flour, salt, and sugar into a bowl.
- Cube cold butter into ½ in. cubes. Add to flour mixture.
- “Shingle” butter by hand by squishing cubes in between your thumb and pointer finger until butter pieces are about the size of walnut halves. Coat in flour mixture.
- Hydrate flour/butter mixture with ice water by tossing it by hand to evenly distribute.
- Bring the fully hydrated pie dough together and combine into a round disk shape. Cover with plastic wrap.
- Let rest in the fridge for 1 hour (up to overnight).
- Preheat oven to 425*.
- Roll out chilled crust until it’s in a long oval shape, then fold oval shape into thirds. Roll folded dough out into a big circle-like shape to laminate.
- Line a pie plate with circle-like dough, trim the edges until 1/2 an inch to an inch of pie hangs over. Crimp the edges with your thumb and fingers, making sure dough is aligned against the bottom inside edges of the pie plate.
- Puncture entire bottom of crust with a fork to mitigate air pockets.
- Cover dough with parchment and fill with pie weights (dried beans work!).
- Place in oven on the lowest rack (best if on a preheated baking stone or cookie sheet).
- Bake for 15-17 minutes.
- Remove crust from oven. Remove pie weights. Crust should be slightly browned. Egg wash hot pie crust to avoid a soggy bottom!
Make the Filling
- Combine the chopped cranberries and sugar in a large bowl. Let sit for one hour.
- Adjust the oven rack to the lower third position and heat to 450°F.
- Add the orange juice, cornstarch, flour, ginger, salt, orange zest, and vanilla to the cranberries. Stir until well combined.
- Transfer mixture to a medium saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until thickened (about 3 minutes).
- Pour the filling into the par-baked crust and place the pie on a preheated, rimmed baking sheet.
- Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 350° and bake for 20 minutes until the filling is bubbling. Cover the edges with a pie shield or aluminum foil if they become too brown during baking.
- Transfer to a wire rack and cool at least 4 hours before slicing.
- Before serving, top the pie with classic Nalley hamburger dill chips (you can use miniature cookie cutters to make them into fun shapes) and dust with sugar. (Beware: the sugar topping will extract moisture from the pickles and pie filling.)
Recipe adapted from the following recipes:
Other ideas that didn’t make it into the recipe development:
Line the bottom of the pie crust with pickles: There were many ways to further incorporate pickles into this pie. One idea was to line the bottom of the pie crust with pickles before filling the pie. This would ensure that sour crunch in every bite. Some considerations: blotting some of the excess brine off the pickles before lining the bottom of the pie crust will help the crust from absorbing too much brine. You can also egg wash the par-baked crust to create a protective layer between the pickles and crust.
Cranberry-pickle brine reduction: This idea we did attempt, but overcooked. The instructions require chopping the cranberries, combining with the sugar, and letting it rest for an hour. This helps the sugar extract the juice from the cranberries and softens the fruit before it’s prepared. We reserved about 1/2 cup of strained cranberry/sugar juice after the cranberries rested and splashed in about 1/4 cup of pickle brine. We set it over heat to create a syrup-like reduction to further incorporate the pickles and cranberries, and we planned to drizzle that on top of the finished pie. We let the mixture reduce too long, but it had a unique tangy-briney taste that could have worked well on top of the pie. Another idea would be to reduce cranberry juice concentrate with the pickle brine to make the syrup.
Brûlèe pickle topping: If you have a kitchen torch, this may be a unique way to add some color and a depth of flavor to your pickle topping. Once you’ve topped the pie with pickles, you can dust with sugar and immediately torch or brûlèe the sugar to give it that roasty crack. This also could mitigate the excess of moisture the sugar is pulling out of the pickles. It could be the secret to elevating this pie from novelty to delicacy.