Soup

Why I Love Store-Bought Crackers

December 13, 2017

I have a deep affinity for crackers. Not gourmet varieties, or even homemade, but good old Plain Jane, everyday crackers, be it Captain’s Wafers or saltines—and especially any kind that comes two to a pack.

I don’t think anyone needs a reason to like crackers, but my fondness, I am certain, begins with my childhood memory of inexpensive family restaurants and sit-down pizza joints that bring cracker baskets to the table instead of bread. I love the cracker basket—who in their right mind doesn’t? They hold something for everyone after all. Remember those crunchy breadsticky thingys, the sesame rounds, or the oblong crackers shaped like flattened capsules all wrapped up, by twos, in cellophane?

Oyster crackers living their best life. Photo by Julia Gartland

Wandering along my merry way as we do in life, I eat crackers. I eat crackers without much thought. I eat buttery, rectangular crackers wrapped in thinly sliced bacon and then baked. I learn it is okay to pair a martini with saltines topped with pickled bologna and American cheese because they are a match made in heaven. I will never forget having Georgia cracker salad and realizing it is nothing more than a tomato, mayo, and white bread sandwich on steroids. And my favorite, I use all kinds of crushed crackers as croutons for my salad. To this day, every time I walk past a stick of butter I can’t help but want to drag a saltine down the length of the stick before popping it into my mouth, the perforations at the edges of the cracker leaving the soft butter to look like a perfectly raked zen garden.

I have always underestimated the power of the cracker because for the most part I always think of them as nothing more than a tasteless foil for other flavors, which is not true. They are more than that. The cracker can add creaminess when combined with wet ingredients or a needed crunch when exposed to dry heat and they absorb the flavor and aroma of anything they touch.

It was at culinary school though that I recognized fully the cracker’s utilitarianism: they are more than appetizers, they are the mother of necessity used for so many creations. In a pinch, I have used ground crackers for breading fish instead of panko breadcrumbs, or as a binder in green tomato casserole or crab cakes, and for that matter in meatloaf and forcemeat, too. I would never have imagined polenta made from matzo, but the Union Square Cafe did and even published the recipe in their cookbook. I have even used them in a recipe for a Sardinian type of lasagna, which calls for crackers in place of traditional noodles.

Crackers are friendly even if they live a life of the nondescript and even though we don’t always know why we like them we do. The next time I buy a box of saltines I am going to remember there is so much more to the box than simply crushing a handful over my bowl of chicken noodle soup.

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8 Comments

Jaye B. May 14, 2018
I agree with using saltines for breading fish, works like a charm. I love crackers but am fussy about them. They have to be crisp and must have a detectable, however subtle, toasty flavor. When it comes to the everyday saltine, I only buy the Kroger house brand which I deem as good or better than more expensive brands.
 
Rhonda35 December 19, 2017
"To this day, every time I walk past a stick of butter I can’t help but want to drag a saltine down the length of the stick before popping it into my mouth, the perforations at the edges of the cracker leaving the soft butter to look like a perfectly raked zen garden." YES!!!
 
suzybel63 December 15, 2017
Any kind of crackers, love them. My favourite way for saltines besides crumbled over soup is slathered with Cheez Whiz and dribbled with Heinz 57 Sauce. Oh, and the one where you dump them in a bag, throw in melted butter and Ranch season and bake, I can eat the whole bag.
 
Gemma1122 December 14, 2017
Marion Cunningham's Supper Book has an improbable and fantastic recipe called Lil's Ice Water Crackers, in which saltines are soaked in ice water, then drained and covered in melted butter and baked. They are genius and ridiculous.
 
Nikkitha B. December 13, 2017
This soup was awesome! I couldn't stop eating it once it came out of the test kitchen.
 
Author Comment
thirschfeld December 13, 2017
Thanks for the kind words!
 
Victoria C. December 13, 2017
This sounds great. I make what I consider a delicious split pea soup, adapted from David Leibovitz's recipe, and I love it served with either crackers and blue cheese or with Pepperidge Farm Goldfish, which are my guilty pleasure.
 
Author Comment
thirschfeld December 13, 2017
Goldfish are in a class buy themselves. Love em.