We scraped every precious bit of crust and filling out of the pie plate after serving the last full piece of Sunday's Perfect Apple Pie for dessert last night and used it tonight as topping for a dish of Rum Raisin ice cream. Babe wanted to know where the food was.
"What killed lard was Crisco, billed as a healthy and hygienic alternative," writes Matthew Amster-Burton in "The Real Thing: Nothing beats lard for old-fashioned flavor." Kim Severson has more in The Trans Fat Solution re the partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (AKA trans fat) that came to dinner three generations ago -- introduced to home cooks and commercial bakeries, restaurants and hotels in 1911 -- and transformed the way America cooked, unwittingly contributing to a nation of lardbellies. In an online "book preview" Severson writes:
At the turn of the nineteenth century liquid fats were useless in a European-based culture where butter and lard were the fats of choice. But then a scientist named William Normann discovered a way to turn that relatively healthy liquid vegetable oil into something that stayed solid at room temperature . . . The result is so stable -- meaning it won't easily go rancid -- that it improves the shelf life of any food made with it.
"It will be fairly easy for restaurants and bakeries in New York to create tastier foods; it’s going to be tough for them to create foods that look good without using trans fats," writes Michael R. Eades, M.D. in Health & Nutrition, noting that "Proctor and Gamble from its earliest days touted Crisco for this very virtue," citing a book published by P & G in "1913 when Crisco was first marketed. This little book was distributed far and wide to cooks and housewives all over the country in an effort to get them to switch from butter and lard." Advertising works. Here's Crisco's own blurb re The First Crisco Cookbook: "Created to accompany the introduction of Crisco into American homes," it "helped launch an educational [propaganda?] campaign to market Crisco to homemakers who were familiar with lard and butter cooking methods, but new to the use of vegetable shortening."
It was cheaper than butter, "and, of course, Crisco is a whole lot easier and cheaper to come by than good, rendered lard," observes Severson, noting that Marion Cunningham herself, current editor/reviser of The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, "swears by Crisco for pie crusts":
She's well aware of the dangers of trans fat, but she thinks the small amount one might consume in a pie crust is well worth the fool-proof nature of working with it -- especially for cooks without much experience.
After years of study, a process was discovered which made possible "the ideal fat," Crisco's 1913 promotional cook book assured housewives, "a purely vegetable product" that "solved the problem of eliminating certain objectionable features of fats in general, such as rancidity, color, odor, smoking properties when heated."
What would Fannie have made of such a development? We think she would have understood. Her classic, commonsense "Plain Paste" in the last edition of The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book authored entirely by herself (published in 1918 and available online) called for 1/4 cup of lard and 1/4 cup of butter. Crisco was the new kid on the block back then. In later revisions like our own venerable Eleventh Edition of The Fannie Farmer Cookbook edited by niece-in-law Wilma Lord Perkins and published in 1965, vegetable shortening was listed alongside lard and a combination of lard and butter as a suitable fat to use in making plain pastry. Wilma Lord Perkins in her Preface explains:
Chiefly that in making any changes Aunt Fannie's own words have been the inspiration. "Could it be better?" was a regular phrase of hers . . . I have tried to take account of the many new products and techniques which make the cook's task easier. But chiefly my aim is to maintain the high standards which have characterized the book since its first edition in 1896.
New recipes have been added with caution, since many are passing fads, and my purpose is to keep the cookbook the clear and dependable basic it has always been.
We don't know whether trans fats are really as bad for our health as they say or just the latest fad to facilitate nanny-state interventions in the marketplace like Mayor Bloomberg's ban on trans fats in NYC restaurants. The "ideal fat" fad started in 1911 by Crisco's invasion of American kitchens lasted for decades. As it progressed, the national waistline, facilitated by the unstoppable advance of the fast-food phenomenon, larded up alarmingly. Severson again:
Fast food and convenience foods started to hit the market in the late 1960s and '70s, and a key ingredient in everything from TV dinners to french fries was partially hydrogenated oil. Demographic and social changes saw more single-parent families or families with two working parents, which meant less time to cook. Convenience foods and eating out became a bigger part of the American diet . . . Portion sizes increased too, leading to even more trans fat in our bellies.
Since 2006 food manufacturers in this country have been required to list trans fats along with other fats and calorie counts and such on their packages, but is the average "consumer" really paying attention? Will Crisco's misfortune be a window of opportunity for "the great misunderstood fat," non-hydrogenated lard? Amster-Burton in "The Real Thing" is on the case:
It produces flakier and tastier pie crusts than vegetable shortening, with no trans fats.
For frying, there's nothing better: chicken, potatoes or doughnuts emerge from the oil perfectly crispy, with no greasy flavor or texture . . .
Lard can be rendered from two kinds of pork fat: back fat or leaf (kidney) fat. Leaf lard, with its milder flavor and softer texture, is the best type for pie crust and pastry.
But if you're determined to make the very best lard pie crust and don't want to render your own . . . the best source I've found is Dietrich's Meats in Pennsylvania (610-756-6344). Their freshly rendered leaf lard is $2.50/pound. Shipping is about $10 for anything from one to five pounds, so go ahead and order five pounds, because the holidays are coming up, and fresh leaf lard (or a pie made with it) makes a great present.
We rendered our own batch of lard for the first time last week and were thrilled with the result but wouldn't want to get into the habit so we called Dietrich's and placed an order for 8 pounds this morning. As our sis commented during one of our recent talks, "Everything that was old is new."