Armageddon has arrived. I know it is the end times because I currently have this sitting on my counter:
That's right, at this very moment, a brick of honest-to-goodness liposuctioned-from-swine lard that I purchased and brought into my own home of my own accord is sitting in my kitchen. I know, I can't believe it either. This little brick of Babe encapsulates everything I have tried to avoid for the past ten years. Aw heck, make it the past 20. It's fat. Not just fat but saturated fat. Animal fat! Fat purely for fat's sake!!
I blame the apples.
On Saturday, in an effort to appease the SAT gods whom I worship by grading interminable mediocre essays*, I sent the wee ones off with my husband for a little fresh air and cider at the nearby apple farm. (It's organic! It's local! It's family owned! My yuppie heart swooneth.) I was anticipating them returning invigorated, apple-cheeked (naturally) and perhaps with a twee bag of fresh Honeycrisps, also known as Apple Heaven a.k.a. The Only Reason I Can Abide a Minnesota Winter.
They returned with a bag of apples all right. A 25 pound bag of apples. "You should have seen the kids! They were downright industrious! If only they would clean their rooms with that kind of vigor," my husband explained. Yet, not even the most voracious pregnant woman could eat that many apples before they rot so we immediately started planning what to do with them. We made 5 quarts of applesauce - which me being the delinquent homemaker that I am did not can but rather froze as I do not have the faintest idea how to can other than it involves a medical sounding implement called a water bath - along with a double cobbler and muffins. That accounted for half the bag.
"What about apple pie?" my husband suggested hopefully. At first I was all set to veto it on grounds of health concerns but then I remembered I'm having a baby shortly and the Holidays That Require Pie are nearly upon us. "We could make several and freeze them!" I enthused, visions of Marie Callendar dancing through my head. Imagine me, 3 weeks post-partum, showing up to the neighborhood soiree with a home-baked apple pie! It would be a coup on par with showing up in my pre-pregnancy jeans. Or my Betty Homemaker dress and pearls.
Those of you who know me at all are laughing your butts off right now. I can barely cook much less make a pastry that is as notoriously fickle as pie crust. I called a friend who is a pastry pro for advice. "You have to use Crisco," she said bluntly. "No way, no how, sister," I refused. "Crisco is the grand dame of partially hydrogenated oil." She sighed, "Then you need lard."
Five years ago those words would have sent me cowering behind my refrigerator hoping I didn't set any mouse traps off as I wept in fear. But a few months ago, I read Nina Planck's book Real Food ( you may remember my review ) in which she makes the point that we shouldn't be afraid of animal products as long as they are the real deal. I believe she has an entire chapter devoted to the salutary properties of a lard pie crust (it's right after her Ode to Whole Milk). The current research on saturated fat agrees with Ms. Planck, showing that it is not the demon nutrient it has long been made out to be. And then, just this week, I read all about how The Bag Lady rendered her own lard. It's like making jam but out of pig pieces! And it's shaped like a loaf pan! Charming!
It all seemed so natural, so pioneerish, so... healthy? Okay, so apple pie is not health food. It's not meant to be. I have tried "healthifying" it in endless variations all to end up at the same place: Not Pie. Some of the apple dishes I have made in the past have tasted okay. But they just weren't pie. Now, I love me nothing more than an apple baked just to the point of warmth - can't lose the crispness! - and sprinkled with cinnamon but one can't exactly show up to a Pie Holiday with a dish of cinnamon dusted apple slices. Trust me, I've done it. They don't get eaten. Sometimes you need pie. Plus my husband loves pie. And I love my husband.
So I bought lard! A whole pound of rendered pig fat shaped like a loaf pan of my very own. And I gotta say, it feels good. Somewhere my great grandmother is grinning.
Butter! Whole milk! Full-fat yogurt and cottage cheese! LARD! Have any of you made your peace with saturated fats? Or is it still the devil nutrient to you? Anyone have any pie-making tips for me??
*Yes, by day I am a WonderMom (at least that's what I say the cape and boots are for) but by night I grade the essay portion of the SAT test. Every time I post about doing that, I get half a dozen e-mails from readers wondering how they can get the same gig. First a warning: it is the world's most boring job ever. You will want to poke your eyes out. Second: You need a minimum of 3 years teaching experience at the high school level or above. If you're still interested, e-mail me and I'll happily pass you along to HR!