They came from the sewers. They were packed with vanilla pudding power. They were deep-fried and glazed with sugar, and they came with a free sticker. They were Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Pies, and they were legendary. If there is a single food item that could unite the entire generation of 80s-born kids, these pies would be it.
Online demand for the pies is staggering. Hell, it’s an entire movement. Gaining traction since 2005, the “Bring Back The Ninja Turtle Pies” Online Petition has garnered a whopping 3,499 signatures. And counting, I’m sure. There’s a Facebook group demanding that the pies be brought back, and it has over 200 members. 212 to be exact. But wait—there’s yet another Facebook group devoted to the pies! It has 104 fans.
Alright, so these aren’t exactly the numbers of a revolution. So let’s just call it a cult following, and count me in. I’ve had this idea that I wanted to re-create the Turtle Pies, to make them myself. I’m not the first person to think of this; there are a few recipes online and other blogs that have attempted it. I read one where a guy bought Hostess chocolate pudding pies, spooned out the chocolate, and replaced it with vanilla pudding—an intriguing idea, but I wanted to do it the right way.
But first, I needed to study up. I needed to know my Hostess history.
Hostess are sorcerers behind the Twinkie, Sno Balls, Ho Hos, Ding Dongs, and the ever elusive Chocodile. Then there’s the line of fruit pies with fillings like cherry, lemon, and of course, apple. In 1986, Hostess introduced the pudding pie, for those of us who want nothing to do with something with the word fruit in the title.
With flavors in chocolate pudding and vanilla, Hostess had clearly achieved total snack cake domination. Little Debbie couldn’t compete—not even her “Cosmic Brownies” could stand up, and those things are cray-cray-crazy with those rainbow-colored chocolate chips. Seriously, they’re like whoa dude.
I remember there was a bizarre commercial on television advertising the Hostess pudding pies featuring a boy, a girl, and a pie. The ad, with some vague and creepy undertones, had the girl losing control of herself over the creamy pudding filling in the center. I mean, she like completely submitted herself to this pie:
Yeesh. That’s the only fitting word for that. Whatever that is. But let’s try, in vain, to put aside the fact that this commercial was completely disgusting. Because these pies were incredible. In 1990, Hostess branded the vanilla pudding pie as a Turtle pie, dyeing the outer crust green. It was a promotional tie-in with the first Ninja Turtle film. The vanilla pudding would now be known as “mutagen goo.”
The Turtles endorsed them in a silly commercial where they rapped and sliced the pies in mid-air with swords. I was in love. Then again, it really didn’t take much to win over my heart.
That’s no radioactive pickle, folks. That’s a photograph of actual Ninja Turtle pie. They were hefty little pies, like grenades, and these packages of doom packed in over 500 calories, over 25 grams of fat, and 50 grams of sugar. There’s a lot of debate out there about what made the pie so great—and actually this debate is only taking place in my head—but let’s examine anyhow. Was it the green dye, which made the pies “Turtle-y”? Or was it that great, crinkly wax wrapper? Could it have been the accompanying sticker?
Or maybe it was me, ten years old. That year, 1990. The Turtles had hit the big screen, and it felt like a personal accomplishment. After all, I was the fifth Ninja Turtle. I was always twirling sticks and doing karate kicks and joining them on adventures in my mind. When I saw the movie in the theater, I felt like I was also watching myself up on that screen, vicariously, at least. The movies! Our biggest adventure yet! Yes, that was what made the pie so great. Well, and all that sugar and fat and fried dough. I was in Turtle heaven.
The Turtle pie hung around until the 2nd Turtle movie. Then by the 2000s, the regular pudding pie became scarce. It didn’t help matters that Hostess had filed for bankruptcy in 2004. While it’s relatively easy to find the chocolate pudding pie on store shelves these days, finding a vanilla one is like spotting Bigfoot in the wild. Some folks online claim it exists. I’m a skeptic.
So I decided to brush off the old half-shell and summon up some Turtle Power. I’d make the Turtle pies myself. I work from home and have all day to dream up this kind of crap. I looked up a recipe online, went to the grocery store to buy the ingredients, and waited for the girlfriend to get home from work. She didn’t know it yet, but she was actually the one who was going to make them.
“What’s all this stuff for?” she asked after walking in the door.
I needed her help, and I had to strike the right tone to get her to go along with it. I needed to convey a necessity—that it would be an inexorable certainty that we would make the pies.
“We’re making Turtle pies,” I said grimly.
She didn’t even know what a Turtle Pie was, so I gave her the crash course in Hostess Pudding Pies 101. “They’re individual-sized,” I explained, drawing complex diagrams, “…folded over—think like tacos.”
“Like empanadas,” she said. Ah. The student was catching on fast.
The first step was make the pudding. I used a packet of vanilla Jell-O Instant mixed with whole milk. Buying the individual pudding cups may seem deceivingly easier, but don’t be fooled. All you do is add milk and stir. It sets in five minutes.
The second step was to make the dough. I bought a box of Jiffy Pie Crust. All you do is add water and stir.
But then there’s the essential, critical step of the entire operation—using green food coloring to dye the dough green. Here’s the thing. You can’t be a pansy about it. If you want to get it green, you have to get your hands dirty, kneading the color in throughly.
As you all might have expected, I’m a big princess and I don’t like getting stuff on my hands. However, the girlfriend, who is a play therapist and works with children all day, eagerly dove into the messy assignment.
With her hands now dyed green forever, or at least through the next ten showers, the girlfriend showed off her skills. Next, she added the pudding center, leaving plenty of room to be able to fold and seal the pies shut.
One box of the Jiffy Instant Crust yielded four pies, a pie for each turtle:
Then the girlfriend crimped those pies like a master. It looked damn good, too. See this? This is why I’m marrying her.
The next step is to fry them. It would certainly be easier and healthier to bake them in the oven, but it’s not how God intended it.
We fried them for about a minute and a half on each side.
Next, I made the glaze myself. I found a recipe that combined powdered sugar, corn starch, vanilla extract, dry milk, and water for the glaze. However, I have no patience to mess around with measuring spoons and measuring cups. I think it’s a superiority complex, really. Bah, measuring spoons. I just decided to eyeball it. I dumped a little bit of each into the bowl, as it felt right to me. This turned out to be a terrible idea, creating a murky, chunky, dog puke-like liquid.
Lastly, we glazed the pies and set them to cool:
And now for the part you’ve all been waiting for—the taste test. Because of the frying, the pudding and the dough fused together, which made them moist and gooey and limp.
If I was going to make them again, I’d make the outer shells first, and then fill them with the pudding afterwards using a pastry bag. I’d be like a professional if I had a pastry bag. Hell yeah.
The taste, unsurprisingly, was overwhelmingly that of green food dye, which also leaves a wicked aftertaste. I’ll be honest. They tasted disgusting, the flavor of dough soaked in canola oil and synthetic dye, with just a hint of vanilla pudding. Looks-wise though, I think they turned out decent. I think I’ve contributed something important to the Internet. The pictures are the closest replication we have to a Ninja Turtle pie in 2011 yet.
All in all, it felt like a true Turtle experience, another adventure accomplished. And in case you’re wondering, yes, the girlfriend’s hands are still green.