Lardfest 2009

That's right people: Lard. In case you haven't heard, it's in. This is mostly because transfats are out of favor, which includes vegetable shortening. So, we went old school by re-embracing butter. And, now we're going real old school with a renewed interest in lard.

The New York Times was singing its praises recently:

I have a suggestion for those Old World cooks who are wrestling with New World advice: take another look at the fat profile of lard. It has half the level of saturated fat of palm kernel oil (about 80 percent saturated fat) or coconut oil (about 85 percent) and its approximately 40 percent saturated fat is lower than butter's nearly 60 percent. Today's miracle, olive oil, is much lower in saturated fat, as everyone knows, but it does have some: about 13 percent. As for monounsaturated fat, the current savior, olive oil contains a saintly 74 percent, yes. But scorned lard contains a very respectable 45 percent monounsaturated fat - double butter's paltry 23 or so percent.

As with all dietary advice, the fat of the day will change. But eternal truths will remain: food is always best with little or no processing and eaten as close as possible to where it is grown. This goes for lard, too. The artisan pig farmers whose fortunes have been revived by a new market for pork with real flavor should look into selling lard because the supermarket kind is processed and dismal.

(Side note: I had a fascinating conversation with a local artisan pig farmer, which has inspired me to try rendering my own lard. But, stay tuned for more on that in a later post.)

And Slate seconded the wonders of lard:

Lard's fat is also mostly monounsaturated, which is healthier than saturated fat. And even the saturated fat in lard has a neutral effect on blood cholesterol. Not to mention that lard has a higher smoking point than other fats, allowing foods like chicken to absorb less grease when fried in it. And, of course, fat in general has its upsides. The body converts it to fuel, and it helps absorb nutrients, particularly calcium and vitamins.

In fact, I might need to get my hands on this book: Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, With Recipes. The Amazon listing even include ones of her recipes - Pumpkin and Bacon Soup.

So with all this hype about lard, I was super excited when my friend Maggie sent along a recipe for pie crust that was supposed to be to-die-for and suggested we have a pie baking party. It involves a mix of half lard and half butter. And, the trick is to use high quality, leaf lard. It's the most tasteless and the best for baking.

We convened at Maru's house on Saturday to find she had whipped up five different varieties of tamales. WHICH ALSO INCLUDE LARD! Do you see where I'm going here? Lard was the theme of the day! LARDFEST 2009!

Lardfest then got underway in ernest, with lots of pie-making.

The star of the day: Lard. Maggie ordered it from Minnesota.


Peeling - Peaches were still in season, so Maru and I made peach pies. I'm looking forward to making an apple pie a little later in the fall.

Fruit was prepped and crust ingredients were combined and chilled - and we were ready to roll out the dough! One handy trick from the recipe - thump the dough before rolling it out!

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Can you tell I'm excited?

A series of pre-baking photos:
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And, the finished products:
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We all agreed they were the best pies we'd ever made, and maybe the best pies we'd ever had.

So, Lardfest 2009, in summary:
three pies
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Final note: I also got a quick lesson on making tamales, so I'll have to attempt that on another day and report back.

Now there's just Lardfest 2010 to plan for!

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