Saturday, October 6, 2012

The crust's the thing.....

It is a Thanksgiving tradition in my family as in many many others.....the homemade pumpkin pie. And as much as the rich, pudding quality of the spicy pumpkin mash is the star, the best supporting actor is the crust.

But it seems that crust can be an intimidating creation. It is crust that sends new cooks scurrying for the supermarket freezer aisle. It is crust that debates shortening or lard. And the camps don't seem in a hurry to declare a truce.

Shortening gained favour during the "all fat is bad for you" era and lard, being the rendered fat of pigs, was so declasse. However, shortening has its shortcomings. It melts quickly. And it is fussy. Work it too much and you get a tough, nearly inedible sheet of cardboard. Growing up, this trouble with shortening even made the small screen. I remember a commercial with a woman with a strong accent (French, I believe) saying when you use shortening, you get a "short" crust, which I believe means a crust that is finicky, demands as little working as necessary to get it combined. Crust made with shortening is a diva.

Now my Auntie Doreen could not abide a diva crust. She was more of a wham, bam cook and if the ingredients couldn't take it, she fired them to bring in the understudy. So in our family, we used lard.  Lard is generous, forgiving even. This pie crust recipe, handed down to me from Doreen through my mom, can stand a good mixing, either in the KitchenAid or by hand. It is a true supporting cast member, always letting the star shine while quietly holding up the scene. It sits happily in the refrigerator (sometimes as long as a couple months) just waiting to fill in in a moment of need.

It is neither sweet nor savory in itself so dessert or dinner pies are equally embraced. Once warmed a bit from its stasis in the fridge, it rolls out easily and allows even the thinnest of sheets to be used.

So to thank my Aunt, who was a force of nature in herself, I am sharing her crust recipe. Don't fret about the lard. It is a natural, earthy ingredient that requires very little in the way of processing to get it to a useable state. You can do it at home -- and if  you look through my blogs, you will see how easy and cheap it is. I doubt that shortening can say any of that. 


5 c flour                       2 tbsp white vinegar
1tsp salt                       2/3 c water
3 tbsp br. sugar            1 egg
1 lb. lard

Mix flour, salt, brown sugar and lard. Add vinegar to the water then beat in the egg. Add liquid mix to the dry mix and combine until it forms a ball. Wrap the ball in plastic wrap (cling film) and refrigerate at least overnight before use. Should last 2 weeks in fridge but I have had it there over a month.

Makes six double crust pies or countless tarts.

Enjoy and Happy Thanksgiving.