Lum: Culinary catastrophe, episode 1
Once a month, my daughters Skye and Hillery drive here from Carbondale and Leadville for a day of playing bridge with Jasmine Tygre, who lives across the street. Jaz is our tutor, the card games are very relaxed, and we play some 30 hands between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Jasmine claims that she doesn’t cook at all and teases that she only comes for the food, so when I apologized for using a Pillsbury crust on my rhubarb pie, she astounded us all by saying she made a very good crust using the recipe in “The Joy of Cooking” and refrigerating it overnight.
About this time I was listening to America’s Test Kitchen and perked up when they began discussing lard, saying that lard is now supposed to be better for you than shortening, and that if you do use lard, to for godsake not use the kind in the blue box that you get at the markets.
I don’t even try to keep up with what’s in and what’s out in the food department, but my grandmother made great pie crusts with real lard (the kind in the blue box) and maybe that was the secret that would solve my crust-making failures.
Taking the Test Kitchen’s advice, I went to ChefShop.com and ordered — at hideous expense — a 4-pound tub of lard made from the fat of the Mangalista wooly pig, called “the Kobe beef of pork.” Photos on the Internet show what look like very fat sheep with curly tails — the breed is now rare due to “fear of lard,” but making a comeback due to “greater fear of shortening.” Let confusion reign.
It happens that my rhubarb patch — which came with the house in 1972 — is in its prime pie time. The day after my lard package arrived, in a box approximating the size of a small coffin, I got out my copy of “Joy of Cooking” and set to work.
The recipe called for two cups of flour, one teaspoon of salt, two-thirds cup of lard and five tablespoons of water. The lard was supposed to be room temperature, so it sat out all day.
With a pastry cutter, I was to chop half of the lard into the flour and salt mixture until it was the texture of cornmeal, then chop the other half until the lard was the size of small peas. Sprinkle the water and stir quickly until it formed a ball.
I remembered that my grandmother and I used refrigerated lard, cutting it up with crossed knives (it sounded like a sword fight), but with this softened lard it went very quickly, and in no time I had my two pliable balls of dough, one slightly smaller for the top crust.
Perhaps I should have suspected something when, after sitting on the counter all the next day, my balls of dough felt like a couple of rocks. Undaunted, I proceeded to make the filling: three cups chopped rhubarb, two eggs, two tablespoons each of flour and melted butter, one and quarter cups sugar and half a teaspoon of both salt and nutmeg.
I then placed the bigger ball between two sheets of parchment paper and approached it with the rolling pin. Total disaster. The ball broke apart and crumbled into a rock pile with no resemblance to a pie crust and absolutely no possibility of restitution.
Fortunately, I had a couple of Pillsburys in the fridge and the pie was lovely, but I will not give up. Next time, I won’t refrigerate it, and I’ll make sure the lard is a bit cooler, since “room temp” these days could be 85 degrees, and at this altitude maybe I should use a bit more water.
The very best pie crust I ever made was from rendered bear fat in Alaska. It took forever and never really “set” (kind of like my room-temp lard, come to think of it), but the pie was terrific. Too bad a family of five homestead neighbors just happened to drop by — you know how well one pie feeds seven people.
Su Lum is a longtime local who looks forward to any crust tips you might have. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. This column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times.
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