Lard, Is It Your Secret Ingredient?
We almost passed up Lard: The Lost Art of Cooking With Your Grandmother's Secret Ingredient when it landed on our desk -- as it looked like yet another candied bacon trend-of-the-year sort of cookbook. But this is not another cookbook from a celebrity chef or a blogger who specializes in rendered pig fat soliloquies. Lard, to be released in early April, is a compilation of 150 lard chocolate cakes and corn pot pie recipes from the editors at Grit magazine.
If you've never heard of Grit, there's probably a pretty good chance you don't own a John Deere, or at least have it on your "some day" wish list. The bimonthly magazine has been in print since 1882 and focuses on what it calls "country lifestyles of all kinds."
Here, that means the audience has long been large farming and ranching operations and, more recently, amateur backyard gardeners and those with big-city chicken coop dreams. (Join their e-newsletter online and you get a free guide to chicken breeds - gotta love it!)
The editors are intent in the book's introduction and on various press releases to let us know that lard is healthy -- or at least healthier than many fats -- as it contains less saturated fat than butter and is trans fat-free. All well and good, but it's a curious angle to take (over and over) in a book that deals with historic rural recipes from the past century (the recipes have been culled from the magazine over the past 100 years).
During that time frame, you're inevitably going to get an awful lot of fried chicken (in numerous forms), fried green tomatoes and beef pot pie recipes -- as well as liver patties, mushroom meatballs and more than 100 pages of strawberry soda pop sheet cake and chocolate-caramel swirl brownie bake sale creations. Why not just call the book a long-lost lard revival and leave the French-fried cucumber (p. 50) health claims off the table?
A minor quibble, as we find it refreshing that Lard is a book about cooking with lard the old-fashioned way, meaning the laid-back way folks once did (using it simply as a fat substitute in everything from cherry pies to beef stew and those weekend pancakes). And it makes sense that these are everyday, homespun recipes, not Hipstamatic-enhanced nose-to-tail creations from chefs like April Bloomfield (check back for a review of her new book). That also means that for many of us accustomed to making Salad for Dinner from our farmers market finds these days, some of the recipes seem awfully old-fashioned in their beef bouillon-cube dependency (Beef Wellington, p. 72).
But that's exactly how our grandmothers and great-grandmothers really did cook. And sure, we might have updated those main course and side recipes in the book with more fresh veggies and such. Now, as for many of those baking recipes in Lard, yeah, we're still making our great-grandmothers' biscuits (p. 2), iced cinnamon rolls (p. 34) and peach cobbler (p. 207) pretty much exactly the same way they once did.
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