Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Lard or shortening?

Growing up in the '80s meant that my parents held a mixture of old family values and new-fangled ideals. These rifts and divisions were most evident in the kitchen where ounces became grams and lard became shortening.While my mom's mom used lard, my mom herself never did. She was of the 'heart-friendly generation' and vegetable bi-products were all the rage. Well into the 21st century we may have swapped imperial for metric, but the debate between lard and shortening is still raging. I've read arguments that go both ways. Some say animal fat is responsible for clogged arteries and heart disease. Others argue that it's the only way to go. Personally, I'm on the fence.

My mom's mom was infamous for her pie crusts. According to my mom, they never failed. When I was old enough to reach the counter I was allowed in on the secret recipe, although at that time I think I was more excited about the rolling pin than any secret recipe. When I finally got my own copy in my mom's handwriting the mix of family values was ever-present. The first thing the recipe called for was a 1/2 lb of lard or shortening. I'm pretty sure my mom wrote the "or shortening" part. She left in the "1/2 lb" part, though.

By the time I got the recipe I found it confusing. Ummm, what is lard and just where do I find it? Never mind that, how do I measure pounds? The package of shortening was always measured in grams.

So, needless to say, when I went to Magda Farm this weekend to pick up my family box of fairly and ethically raised pork, I wasn't overly enthusiastic when I was offered a free bucket of pig's lard. What on earth would I do with it? The answer: make pie!

I stared at the bucket for a few days, finally working up the nerve to open it. It smelled faintly of bacon, a smell that normally made me very happy. But pie isn't supposed to smell like bacon. I looked at it skeptically but, since I had promised Vera Top (of Magda Farm) to give it a try and report back, I carefully spooned the soft fat into a large bowl. Placing the bowl on the scale, I measured out a 1/2 pound. The dough itself was much more pliable and easy to work with than what I was used to. I hoped that the pie wouldn't taste like bacon, though.
While the pie (delicious blueberry!) was baking in the oven, I sat down to my computer to do a little research. I had recently read that lard was winning the health debate. I'm not surprised - shortening is a vegetable bi-product, mostly made of corn, and some 90% of corn is genetically modified, designed and patented by evil Monsanto. Wherever possible I eliminate support of Monsanto and genetically modified foods, so I was willing to give Vera's lard a try. Her pigs had led a happy life. They were free to run and wallow in the mud. They ate non-GMO pig feed, routed for grubs and whatever delicious little treats pigs find in the mud. The scraps she fed them came from restaurants like Borealis in Guelph. Most of their food is locally sourced and ethically raised. How could I say no to such a gift?
An hour later I removed the pie from the oven. The crust was glossy and light brown in colour. I sniffed at it expecting bacon. Nothing. It smelled like blueberry pie. Delicious blueberry pie.
So, if you're in the market for locally and ethically raised pig's lard, I know just where you can get some. The pie was amazing and the crust was light and fluffy! My mom would have been proud.
Click here for more info on Magda Farm.

For more on the lard vs shortening debate, please see these links:

I'm interested in your comments. What do you think about the lard vs shortening debate?