Put Lard Back in Your Larder © Mother Linda's More lard recipes
In praise of lard and its multitude of traditional uses.
After years of experimenting with other
shortenings, such as Crisco in my misinformed youth and butter in my “French
phase,” I have returned to lard, because it makes the most pliable and
dependably flaky crust—an ideal partner for fall fruit pies. I have come to
the opinion that there is no substitute for lard when making a pie crust—not
even butter for it does not impart the same “stretchable” and “flaky”
qualities to the dough as lard—as I personally witnessed in Hungary.
On a recent visit to Budapest, I was treated to a
special demonstration on how to make a traditional apple strudel. Two young
female chefs at Owl’s Nest, owned by world-renowned restaurateur George Lang,
stretched a pliant dough made from flour and lard until it was thin enough to
read newspaper through, and then, after adding the filling, rolled the dough
into a cylinder as long as the table. A few quick cuts made smaller rolls that
would fit on a baking tray that was whisked off to the oven. This was to be my
dessert. I would come to learn there is no substitute for the lard used in
traditional Hungarian pastries and other fine dishes.
my childhood back in Hungary,” says Lang, “lard had a completely different
connotation from the one in the West. Here, we accept the French credo that the
three things most needed in the kitchen are butter, butter and butter. My mother
ran a Kosher home and usually cooked with goose fat, so I did not enjoy dishes
made with delicious Hungarian homemade lard at home. But when eating at
friend’s houses and on other occasions, I filled myself with good lard-made
dishes. Lard was often simply spread on a good slice of bread and then sprinkled
with paprika for a snack, used in the preservation of pickles and vegetables to
seal the jars, and to make splendid pastries and patés.”
The healthy, 78-year-old Lang, who
lives a life between two continents, thinks that today’s characterization of
lard as unhealthy, verging on damaging, is most unfortunate. To him, certain
things—some most unexpected ones—simply taste better when made with lard.
“Scrambled eggs fried in lard are fabulous,” he says.
In Germany, a lard/crackling combo
called Grieben Schmalz is a ubiquitous appetizer. Cracklings, or grieben,
are the solids left after rendering the lard. When some of the cracklings
are mixed back in with the lard, this produces something the consistency of
crunchy peanut butter. This humble appetizer, often served at room temperature
in little stoneware pots, is spread on rye bread as an appetizer (or a buffer
against intoxication) with a glass of wine before dinner. It has even made its
way into some of the best restaurants, like those in the Four Seasons Hotel in
Hamburg. Newcomers may be squeamish about trying this traditional German
farmhouse food, but will likely become hooked on the very flavorful spread if
While the Germans may have a new-found
appreciation for lard—or secretly kept it all along—other cultures are
battling with their stance on the fat. For example, a recent article in The
New York Times featured a Mexican woman who opened a restaurant in Oaxaca
and then bemoaned the fact that the locals were boycotting her establishment
because she had substituted canola oil for lard in all her dishes. I side with
the locals. Lard, although commonly misidentified as a saturated fat, should
really be classified as a monounsaturated fat. According to Mary Enig, author of
Know Your Fats, lard is about 40 percent saturated, 50 percent
monounsaturated, and contains 10 percent polyunsaturated fatty acids. It is also
one of our richest dietary sources of vitamin D.
Obviously, lard is making a comeback
from its nadir after years of vilification by big food corporations eager to
push their plastic substitutes (see “The Rise and Fall of
As for me, I make a sport out of hunting down good sources of lard. Since most of the lard sold in grocery stores (if you are lucky enough to find it at all) contains preservatives like BHT added to prolong its shelf life, I look for farmers who sell what they can’t use. Sometimes local butchers carry additive-free lard, or can order it for you.
Linda’s Pie Crust
Feel free to alter the type of flour, but be aware that low-gluten flours like spelt will not produce an elastic pie crust and thus be very hard to roll out. Also, the flour you choose will completely dictate the amount of water needed. Enjoy!
cups unbleached white flour, whole wheat pastry flour
or a combination
1 tsp. sea salt
cup organic lard
½-¾ cup cold
still or sparkling water
still or sparkling water
Measure flour into a medium-sized bowl, add salt and stir. Add lard and use a pastry cutter or fork to cut the lard into pea-sized pieces until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. You can confidently add the first ½ cup of the water, but continue adding the rest ¼ cup water one tablespoon at a time until the dough starts to come together. Lightly knead with your hands to make a ball and then divide into two equal parts. Reshape into a ball and then flatten into a disc; wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Makes two 10-inch pie crusts.
For more information:
Black, Kent, (August 14, 2002). In Oaxaca, a Cook Creates a Stir, The New York Times, pp. D1 & D4.
Forristal, Linda Joyce, (Summer 2001). The Rise and Fall of Crisco,
Traditions, pp. 56-57.
Lang, George, The Cuisine of Hungary, Bonanza Books, New York, 1990.
McGee, Harold, On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1984.