Kristen Morrison’s lard pie crust won her the top pie prize in the 1987 Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Contest.
She was a first-time, 18-year-old entrant using her grandmother’s recipe. The annual entrants of the notable pie contest, Morrison recalls, were shocked when her flaky crust won.
1. Preheat the oven to 225 degrees.
2. Fill a large roasting pan with the chopped fat.
3. Roast slowly for 30 minutes to one hour until the fat has melted and you have protein particles and connective tissue floating on the top.
4. Skim off the solid particles.
5. Pour the liquid fat through a mesh colander lined with a double layer of cheesecloth.
6. Store in glass canning jars in the refrigerator or freezer. It will keep for months.
Use the lard in place of oil when frying, in pastry such as pie crusts, sauteing vegetables or roasting potatoes.
Where to get lard
The easiest way to get pure lard is to render it yourself. If you decide to render it at home, you need the leaf fat, which is the fat deposited around the kidney area of the animal.
Laura Chisholm, who with her husband, Andy, runs Chisholm Family Farm in Elmwood, Neb., sells both the pig fat needed to make lard at home and already rendered lard. Five pounds of pig fat costs $25, and lard is $15 a quart or $8 a pint.
For more information, call 402-440-9409 or visit www.chisholmfamilyfarm.com.
Thistles and Clover in Danbury, Iowa, also sells ground pork fat suitable for rendering. The fat sells for $1.99 a pound, and with an order, Thistles and Clover will provide instructions for rendering. For questions or to place an order, call 712-371-9861. The farm also has an online store at www.thistlesandclover.com.
Kristen Morrison’s Best Pie Crust Ever
1½ cup flour
½ cup lard
¼ teaspoon salt
½ beaten egg
½ teaspoon vinegar
Water to make ¼ cup
Blend flour, lard and salt in a food processer until crumbly. Beat egg, add vinegar and enough water for ¼ cup. Add flour mixture and mix. Roll onto floured surface and roll. Add more flour if needed. Makes 2 crusts.
Grandma’s Homemade Biscuits
These biscuits are as authentic as they come, from a time when lard from the family’s hog and milk from the backyard cow were common fare. The dough can be rolled and cut with a biscuit cutter or dropped from a wooden spoon. Make these for a big family supper, as biscuits are best when eaten fresh from the oven. Makes 1 dozen
1⁄3 cup plus 1 tablespoon lard, cold and coarsely chopped, plus more for greasing the pan
2½ cups all-purpose unbleached flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon salted butter, melted
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Grease a baking sheet with lard and set aside.
Place 2 cups of flour, the baking powder and the salt in a large mixing bowl; whisk together. Using a pastry blender, work the lard into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs. Add the milk and stir.
On a sheet of wax paper, sprinkle the remaining ½ cup of flour. Turn the dough mixture onto the wax paper and knead for 5 minutes. Roll out the dough to a 1-inch thickness and cut with a biscuit cutter; alternatively, drop the dough using a large spoon and pat down onto the prepared baking sheet spaced 1 inch apart. For color, brush the biscuits with melted butter, if desired. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown.
“An apple pie without the cheese is like a kiss without the squeeze,” said Park Benjamin Sr., publisher of The Evening Tattler and The New Work, in 1882. The traditional way to serve apple pie in England, particularly in Yorkshire and Sussex, is with cheese, which adds a rich, complex flavor. While you probably won’t find this apple pizza (with cheddar cheese baked into the crust) served across the pond, it will amuse and delight pizza lovers everywhere. Serves 8
1½ cups plus 1⁄3 cup all-purpose unbleached flour
1¼ teaspoons salt
½ cup lard, cold and coarsely chopped
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
½ cup powdered nondairy creamer
½ cup brown sugar, packed
½ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
6 cups apple slices, pared or with peel, sprinkled with 2 tablespoons lemon juice
¼ cup butter, cold
Vanilla bean ice cream, for serving
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
In a large bowl, whisk together 1½ cups flour and 1 teaspoon salt. Using a pastry blender, cut in the lard until the mixture resembles course crumbs. Stir in the cheese. Sprinkle the mixture with ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, and stir until it comes together in a ball. Turn the dough onto a floured surface and roll out to fit a pizza pan (about 15 inches).
To make the topping, in a large bowl, combine the creamer with the sugars, the remaining 1⁄3 cup flour, the remaining ¼ teaspoon salt and the cinnamon. Sprinkle a quarter of the mixture over the crust in the pan. Arrange the apple slices in a circular pattern on top.
Using a pastry blender, cut the butter into the remaining sugar mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs; sprinkle over the apples.
Bake for 30 minutes, until the apples are tender and the juices are bubbling. Slice into 8 pieces and serve immediately with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream.
Enjoy the taste of the Maryland seashore, even when fresh crabmeat isn’t an option. Whip up a homemade tartar sauce with mayonnaise and diced sweet pickles. Or for a lighter version, use equal parts sour cream and mayo, a pinch of minced shallots or onion, and some fresh aromatic herbs of your choice (cilantro, dill, basil and tarragon are all delicious). Serves 4
1 (6.5-ounce) can crabmeat, drained
½ cup bread crumbs
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon chopped green onion (white and green parts)
Salt and black pepper
Lard, for frying
In a large bowl, place the crabmeat, bread crumbs, egg, Worcestershire sauce and onion. Season with salt and pepper; mix well. Shape into 4 equal-sized patties. (If more moisture is needed to form patties, add a dash of melted lard.)
In a large skillet, heat the lard over medium-high heat. Fry the patties 3 to 4 minutes on each side, until golden brown. Drain on paper towels and serve immediately.
All recipes from “Lard: The Lost Art of Cooking with Your Grandmother’s Secret Ingredient” from the Editors of Grit Magazine/Andrews McMeel Publishing.
“Every September I crank out about a dozen apple cream pies using that same recipe,” said Morrison, who now lives in Omaha. “I will only make a crust out of lard. I grew up with it, and I would rather use lard than a fat made in a lab somewhere.”
During the past 15 years, nutritionists and others have demonized lard — made from rendered pork fat — as the worst of the worst. Lard hasn’t changed, but the focus did. The new evil now is anything with a label that lists “partially hydrogenated” — hydrogenation being the source of trans fats that put extra LDL cholesterol, or “bad” cholesterol, into our arteries.
Lard, it seems, is en vogue once again.
This fall even marks the release of a new cookbook devoted to cooking with the fat.
“Lard: The Lost Art of Cooking with Your Grandmother’s Secret Ingredient” includes recipes for pie crusts and biscuits, but it also suggests using lard in more unusual ways: Crab cakes, chili, homemade pasta and foil-baked fish.
“Any place you might use butter today, you would have used lard yesterday” said Oscar Will, editor of Topeka, Kan.-based Grit Magazine, the magazine that wrote and published the lard cookbook.
When Grit surveyed its readership for recipes using lard and their memories of the ingredient, Will said, the response was overwhelmingly positive.
“We were expecting at least a few gloom and doom nutrition responses,” he said, “and that has not happened. But we’re also not advocating going out and slathering on the lard.”
Neither is Martha Nepper, a dietitian with Hy-Vee in Omaha.
She said nutritionally, lard and more modern ingredients such as Crisco are very similar.
“Both are solid saturated fat,” she said. “But lard certainly does make pie crust flakier.”
Nepper noted that when lard was the norm in most home kitchens, people were generally more active.
“When I was growing up, my family fried everything in lard,” she said. “But there was also less television and less eating out and portion sizes were smaller.”
She advised using any solid fat, be it Crisco or lard, in moderation.
Timothy Carr, the interim department chairman at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Department of Nutrition and Health Sciences, agreed that there is virtually no difference nutritionally between lard and Crisco.
“Fat is fat,” Carr said. “And all fat is natural. It either comes from animal or vegetable sources.”
He said the stabilizers that help keep products like Crisco creamy are also made from fat, not chemicals. And though it’s not hydrogenated, Carr said, lard still has some natural trans fats.
“There is no such thing as a superfood,” he said. “And there is no such thing as a killer food. What we need to look at is our entire diet and our lifestyle and pay attention to choices.”
Laura Chisholm, who runs Chisholm Family Farm in Elmwood, Neb., with her husband and two children, said she sells out of lard whenever she brings it to the farmer’s market in Omaha. Contrary to what lard newbies might think, rendered lard does not taste like bacon, though it smells of it. Her customers, she said, are learning about fat and wanting to eat more like their grandparents did.
“Lard used to be a really treasured part of food,” she said. “It was highly regarded.”
For Will and Morrison, cooking with lard is about nostalgia. It’s also about using something “natural.”
Jennifer Baker renders lard in her tiny Papillon kitchen, cans it and stores the fat in mason jars in her pantry to use year-round. Lard that hasn’t been canned must be refrigerated.
She uses it to fry eggs; saute onions and vegetables as the base for soups, stews or slow-braised meat; and make pastries, especially during the holidays.
“Really, it’s my go-to cooking fat.” she said.
Baker buys two whole pigs a year to feed her family, which includes five children. She said the family makes everything they eat from scratch using seasonal and locally grown food.
“When we stopped eating the standard American diet by eliminating all processed foods, making friends with farmers and growers and started scratch-cooking everything, our food tasted a lot better,” she said.
Will said his wife, a food writer, often tests lard in recipes at home, and most recently used it in a batch of chocolate chip cookies and a loaf of blue cornmeal cornbread. Will said all the baked goods tasted different.
“The cookies were chewier and the flavors of the chocolate and nuts stood out more than the flavors of butter and sugar, like normal,” he said. “The bread had a different crumb and was much moister on the inside.”
Morrison said lard intimidates lots of her friends.
“I think it has a richer flavor,” she said. “It’s contrary to what people want to believe. Its texture is less greasy and food cooked in lard is crisper.”
Though Morrison said she usually buys her lard at the grocery store, she’d buy larger quantities if she knew of a local source close to Omaha.
Rendering lard, and cooking with it, isn’t for everyone, Will said. But he does think for a certain group, it’s intriguing.
“Rendering lard is not that huge sort of crazy, smelly palaver that it might have been in the olden days,” he said. “I think it’s becoming OK for people to consider, in moderate quantities, adding a bonafied whole food back into their diets.”
It never left Morrison’s. Last week, she spent an afternoon with two of her three sons in the kitchen, making her award-winning pies to pass on to friends and family. Of course, lard was a main ingredient.
“I’m just really old-school about stuff,” she said.
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