Step one in making The Best Pie Crust Ever

January 11, 2011 · 23 comments

For most of my life, when I heard the word “lard,” it usually conjured images of greasy cardboard-sided cans with labels looking like they hadn’t changed since first designed in the 1950s.

It was an ingredient that my grandmother might have sworn by, as a non-negotiable ingredient in her pie crust.

But to use it today? Of course not; it’s the stuff of bad Mexican restaurants and dirty kitchens, a Most-Wanted criminal in the realm of coronary distress.

Over the past few years, however, my opinion of fats has changed fairly drastically. While I used to reach only for olive and canola oils, occasionally baking with butter but using Earth Balance as a “butter-flavored spread,” I now readily use butter (only the real stuff, preferably from grass-fed cows) and other animal fats with more abandon, believing that if the fats come from animals who foraged, ate grass, and overall lived species-appropriate lives on well-tended farms, their fats are actually good for us. In short, I had become much more comfortable with animal fats, namely the dairy and poultry varieties.

But what about pork? I kept reading things about lard, but had no idea where to get it, no category for using it. They don’t sell it at Trader Joe’s, and I didn’t just want any lard, I wanted clean lard from pigs that led a happy life (the all-important essential fatty acid balance of animal fats is heavily dependent on what the animals ate when they were alive).

So there I was, in a state of lard-acquiring limbo, when it was mentioned in conversation with our egg farmer at the Indy Winter Farmer’s Market. As I paid for my eggs and nitrate-free bacon, Mandy said that lard would make the Best Pie Crust Ever. And that was really all I needed to know.

Fast-forward through the holidays, and last Saturday at the Market I found myself walking away with 3 pounds of leaf lard (high-quality fat that surrounds the kidneys), ready to bring home and render. Mandy pointed me to the directions on their website for setting to this work.

If at first confused about why I needed to render lard from… lard, it became clear when I opened the package. I was conveniently forgetting that fat, on an animal, is grisly and somewhat sinuous. I was to chop up the fat into 1/2-inch pieces, and while I know my chef’s knife is due for a good sharpening, it took a surprising amount of elbow grease (pun absolutely intended). I was reminded of the kitchen-induced carpal tunnel I flirted with the day I tried to make mayonnaise with a whisk; my right arm needed a good shaking out every 1/2 pound or so.

To get the creamy, clean fat to use for that Pie Crust, I would need to cook the chopped lard so that the fat was liquefied and the cracklings could be strained out. This I accomplished in our crock pot over the course of about five hours. After straining out the cracklings I was left with a golden-hued liquid which I poured into canning jars and left out to cool overnight.

Then I went to bed in a house that smelled like a french-fry-factory (the downside of rendering lard in the winter when you can’t open your windows). This morning, my lard had cooled into the creamy white stuff that The Best Pie Crusts are made of. One jar will go into the freezer where it will keep for up to a year, and the other jar will keep for a couple months in the refrigerator.

How many pies can I make in 2 months? An untold number of frozen sour cherries and blueberries from last summer will help determine a reasonable answer to that question. Check back for the highlight reel.

……………………………………………..

This post is part of Tuesday Twister at GNOWFGLINS.

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{ 23 comments }

Angie January 11, 2011 at 3:16 pm

I’m intrigued. Can’t wait to hear Part 2 of The Best Ever Pie Crust. I may need to go make use of my 6 jars of Trader Joe’s Morello Cherries after reading this post.

katy January 11, 2011 at 9:52 pm

Cherry should be my first attempt — if I can get it together, maybe even this week. We’ll see! It’ll be hard to top the CI vodka crust, but that one was always so hard to work with…

Angie January 12, 2011 at 8:17 am

I gave up on CI’s Vodka Crust a couple of years ago. It was causing me to sin. :) I think I mentioned Dorie Greenspan to you a while back. She is a baker, and you will find her on dessert blogs all over the internet. She has written several books as well as coauthored a book with Pierre Herme, the famous French pastry chef. Love, love, love her and her pie crust. It is so consistent. She uses 2 1/2 sticks of butter and about 5 Tbsp. of “shortening.” Try it sometime. It’s now my go to crust. Her book Baking: From My Home to Yours is a great one. I could recommend several desserts in there for you to try.

Melissa January 11, 2011 at 3:46 pm

You should give it a try in biscuits and dumplings. I also have never been able to find an acceptable source. I will have to ask around for a pork farmer. :)

katy January 11, 2011 at 9:52 pm

I have a feeling there’s more than one pork farmer in your neck of the woods ; )

I’ll try it in biscuits, for sure. Dumplings, too, if I can remember to add that to the menu.

Rebecca Martin January 11, 2011 at 3:56 pm

It came out beautifully! I am impressed. One day . . .

katy January 11, 2011 at 9:53 pm

um, yeah. You’ve got a while before you’re allowed to experiment with lard-rendering. Get that morning cup o’ tea down, first ; )

Stefanii Ferenczi January 11, 2011 at 8:49 pm

Okay, so I’m slowly joining the animal-fat bandwagon, but what’s your go-to oil for everyday cooking? As in veggies with dinner, etc? And how about for bread baking?

katy January 11, 2011 at 9:58 pm

I still use a lot of olive oil, mainly b/c I love the flavor. That and butter are my usual everyday cooking fats. Also any rendered fat for skillet dishes, such as the fat from bacon/sausage.

Olive oil in bread. Coconut oil in granola and lots of other baking. Palm oil when shortening is called for, but maybe that’ll be replaced by the lard? We’ll see.

Dinners & Dreams January 11, 2011 at 9:06 pm

So the secret is lard. I will have to try it in pie crust. I’ve always thought butter was the best!

Nisrine

Dad January 12, 2011 at 8:36 am

Gonnie collected bacon fat but otherwise used Crisco. She knew that heredity played a part in our family’s cholesterol issues so she tried to control what she could. She even quit using real eggs for breakfast converting to “egg beater” liquid to make pretty good tasting “scrambled eggs” and bacon that was patted down with paper towels prior to serving. I do, however, remember as a small child her frying real eggs in bacon drippings but that was before Dad’s high cholesterol was discovered. And yes, I do have cholesterol issues today.
that I control with medication.

katy January 12, 2011 at 3:10 pm

Dad, the cholesterol thoughts for the past 30 years are up for debate ; )
In short, I don’t think I’m increasing our risk of heart disease by making pie crust from lard, when the lard is from a well-fed, happy pig (genetics for or against me).

Dad January 12, 2011 at 7:12 pm

I understand perceptions are changing. I am referring to how she reacted to what she thought was the right thing to do 50 years ago. The era prior to mine just loaded on animal fat while mine has been much more conservative. But for the record, I do eat real eggs today! (EB from vegetarian fed hens)

Amy January 12, 2011 at 9:50 am

What did you do with the cracklings?

katy January 12, 2011 at 3:11 pm

Threw them out. They are edible, but by the time I’d smelled cooking pork fat for 8 hours, that was the last thing I wanted to eat!

Jennie Rader January 12, 2011 at 2:40 pm

Wow Katy….that is beautiful lard if I do say so!!
Boy can I relate. I scoffed at my mother in law years ago when she told me she makes her pies with lard (I secretly, or maybe not so secretly, judged her for infusing our veins with horrible fat.) And now, like you, Im wanting to know where I can get some.
Which makes my in laws say things like, “See, why obsess about nutrition? Its bad for us, and then its good for us!”
Perhaps they are right.

katy January 12, 2011 at 3:13 pm

Why, thank you (small bow).

I know, your in-laws do have a point. But it’s hard to argue with being as natural as possible, and using as much of an animal as possible, right? No matter how many times it’s been in and out of vogue?

Lard: it’s the new black.

Kelly January 14, 2011 at 2:09 pm

I, too, have been lard leery and have made not-so-flaky pie crusts out of butter alone. Thanks for showing me how to take the next step. The only problem is – where in the world do I find this kind of lard down here?

DesignHER Momma January 14, 2011 at 8:01 pm

so I wanna know. Do you go to the market with lard on your list? Or do you just stumble upon it and decide to make pie?

and also? I just want you to know that you are really teaching me so valuable kitchen lessons. No seriously, you are. I love each and every one of your post.

katy January 15, 2011 at 3:45 pm

Ha! This time it actually was on my list — but only because Mandy had talked me into trying it the week before (she only brings it if someone requests it).

Thanks for the encouraging words. They are coming at a good time ; )

April January 16, 2011 at 6:48 pm

This must be the most useful blog I’ve read in a long time. That lard looks so tasty!!

katy January 18, 2011 at 2:35 pm

Thanks, April! That’s actually my main goal — to share the accessibility of cooking.

Cooking, and lard ; )

Mandi January 25, 2011 at 10:59 am

So intrigued by this – I’m with you on the fat issue. Would much rather have real, honest fat than chemicals. I make my pie crusts with a combo of butter and coconut oil – super flaky and tasty. Try it when you run out of lard. =)

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