Yummy Origin Stories: Frito Pie
Updated: Jul 11
We love food! We especially love creative food treats that were invented to make us happy, if not necessarily healthy. You just know the origin stories of those delightful products have to be interesting and probably surprising, too!
Like many great gastronomical concoctions, the origin story for Frito pie (or Fritos pie) has a number of twists and turns with various characters laying claim to various versions of the recipe. A simple version of fried tortilla strips and salsa roja was likely a popular fiesta treat for many years prior to the American invention.
According to Kaleta Doolin, daughter of Fritos founder Charles Doolin, the recipe for Frito pie was created by Daisy Doolin the founder’s mother and is included in a 1937 recipe booklet promoting all the different ways you could use Fritos corn chips in cooking, including adding them to a fruitcake recipe! Her Fritos Chili Pie recipe called for Fritos covered with Texan chili con carne, diced white onion and cheddar cheese. It was heated in the oven in a casserole dish for 10 minutes to melt the cheese. Individual servings of Frito pie quickly became a popular treat in Texas and has been sold at football games, rodeos, and county fair concessions ever since.
Frito pie may also have been invented by Mary Livingston, Doolin's executive secretary. The Frito-Lay company has also attributed the recipe to Nell Morris, who joined Frito-Lay in the 1950s and helped develop an official cookbook which included the Frito pie.
Likewise, Carmen Ornelas has also been credited for dreaming up the snack at the old Santa Fe, NM, bus depot’s café on Water Street where she worked in the 1950s.
Another story claims that the true Frito pie originated only in the 1960s with Teresa Hernández, who worked at the F. W. Woolworth lunch counter in Santa Fe. Her Frito pie used homemade red chile con carne with cheddar cheese and onions, and was served in the bag, which was thicker in the 1960s than it is now. The old Santa Fe Woolworth’s is now a Five and Dime General Store and still sells Frito pies from their lunch counter made with Fritos chips, red chile, diced onions, yellow cheese and lettuce and served “in the bag.”