For many of us, our favorite memories include eating pie at Grandma’s house. Growing up, there always seemed to be a pie cooling on the windowsill. Even my mother’s generation followed the same tradition, that a meal just wasn’t complete without pie.
This delectable dessert is about as American as you can get. Even my hometown of Union City, Mich., has a sign on every street as you enter town proclaiming that this quaint village is “A slice of American pie.” A friend and I even have a friendly rivalry because whoever bakes one first, the other one knows she will soon have to follow because our guys talk and when one of them gets pie, the other one feels so entitled.
This is a story of pie. I have made countless but this time when I made a butterscotch pie, I got a surprise lesson in shortening to go along with the story behind butterscotch pie for me.
Butterscotch is Ron’s favorite kind of pie. This time when he asked for it, he threw me for a loop. “Grammy always made her crusts out of lard–can’t you try one like that?” he asked.
Sourcing Lard for Pie-Baking
Lard. No one uses lard anymore, it’s so bad for you. Can you even buy it anymore? If so, where would you find it?
Lo and behold, the local butcher shop did have their own lard that they had rendered. So, I decided to get their smallest package and try it. However, their smallest package was four pounds. What was I going to do with four pounds of rendered and clarified pork fat? Make pies, of course!
Is Lard Healthy to Eat?
In this day and age, most folks use vegetable shortening for their crusts, even though there are a few diehards who still use butter. I had a few surprises in store when I did a little research to see exactly how lard, vegetable shortening, and butter compare when it comes to making pie crusts.
Lard has half as much saturated fat as butter but double that of olive oil. Crisco and other partially hydrogenated shortenings have trans fats, which contribute to heart disease like saturated fats were originally thought to do. Yep, things in the pie crust world have changed a bit. In a big reversal of opinion, Harvard Medical School now states that there is not enough evidence to show that saturated fat raises the risk for cardiovascular disease. (Using polyunsaturated fats helps to reduce the risk.)
The body needs some fat to function, it’s the various kinds that make the difference. To start with, fats are either saturated or unsaturated. Saturated are mostly solid at room temperature and include fatty pieces of meat, some pork and chicken, dairy products like cream, whole milk, butter, cheese, shortening and coconut and palm oils.
Unsaturated are liquid at room temperature and there are two types of these. Monounsaturated fats are good for you. These are your oils such as olive, peanut and avocado and also includes most nuts and seeds.
The other kind are the polyunsaturated fats, which the body needs to function for muscle movement and blood clotting. There are two kinds of these: the omegas, which the body doesn’t produce on its own.
Omega 3 fatty acid is good for heart health and includes fatty fish like tuna, salmon, sardines, trout, mackerel, herring and oysters. It can also come from plants such as ground flax, flaxseed oil, soybeans, walnuts, sunflower seeds, chia seeds and hemp seeds.
Omega 6 fatty acids are inflammatory and most of us already consume enough of them. They are found in some soy, and oils like canola, safflower, soybean, sunflower, walnut and corn.
Unlike previously believed, lard is not solely saturated fats, but it also contains a good amount of unsaturated fats. In reverse thinking, lard is now considered one of the healthier options for shortening. It is not vegan or vegetarian but it is dairy-free.
Two Types of Lard
Photo by Lois Hoffman
There are two types of lard, fresh and shelf-stable. Fresh is simply rendered pork fat. It is a single, un-processed ingredient which is as natural as it gets. It has zero trans fats. I remember when our family butchered hogs as a kid, we would stand around the big butchering kettle as the pork fat was rendered down to lard. We would scarf up the little pieces that fell off and got crispy known as cracklins.
Shelf-stable, the second type of lard, contains hydrogenated fat (trans fat) to preserve freshness. This is the one that sets on grocer’s shelves so, by far, fresh is the healthiest and can be found at local butchering shops.
The very best lard for baking is leaf lard, a hard white fat that comes from around a pig’s kidneys. After rendered, it has almost neutral flavor and scent and adds richness and lightness to pastries.
Lard, by far, makes the flakiest pie crust because fat melts away to leave little air pockets that lend to flakiness and lard has particularly large fat crystals that leads to a flakier crust. Skeptical at first, I was amazed at how much difference there was in my crust made from lard as opposed to the ones made with vegetable shortening.
Lard also has a high smoke point so it can be used at high temperatures without issue, making it a great candidate for frying. Europeans loved their lard so much that they used to spread it on toast like butter. Not sure I would go that far!
Lard is definitely making a comeback as folks are getting away from highly processed foods and getting back to natural. It got its bad reputation in the 1900’s when vegetable shortening came on the scene. Big brands tried to oust lard with their aggressive marketing campaigns to reign in more dollars.
Vegetable shortening does have its place if you want a decorative crust because it holds its shape better because of its higher melting point.
My grandmother would be proud that I am sold on returning to lard for pie crusts. Now, back to the butterscotch filling. It is ironic that butterscotch was Jim’s favorite pie and it is also Ron’s. Howeve
r, the hunt for the best butterscotch has been a long and different road in both cases.
Jim swore that his mother made the filling from scratch even though we didn’t have her recipe. Being a truck driver, every time he stopped at a restaurant that served the pie, he would get the recipe and I would try it. Without fail, he would try a bite and say it wasn’t it. Finally, an Amish gal asked if we ever used a box mix with whole milk. Lo and behold, that was the “from scratch” recipe that his Mom used!
So, when Ron asked for butterscotch pie, I made it the same way; box mix with whole milk. He immediately knew it wasn’t the homemade butterscotch pie that he was used to. Back to square one…again!
So, my Aunt Sharlene gave me her recipe that was her mom’s homemade butterscotch and that is what Ron was used to. Hence, we think we have the perfect butterscotch pie and crust recipe. The perfect pie crust is credited to Patsy Orns and the butterscotch filling is from Sharlene Brueck. Enjoy!
Photo by Lois Hoffman
Perfect Pie Crust Recipe
Ingredients for crust:
- 2 cups flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 2/3 cups lard
- 1/3 cup milk
Directions for crust:
Yields enough crust for a double crusted pie. Cut flour, salt and lard together. Add milk to make dough, roll out to fit pie tin. (Cut recipe in half for the butterscotch.)
Ingredients for butterscotch filling:
- 4 large eggs, separated at room temperature
- pinch of salt
- ½ cup flour
- ¼ cup butter
- 1 cup packed brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 3 cups milk
Directions for filling:
Beat egg yolks and half cup milk then add remaining milk, flour, sugar, salt and butter. Cook on medium heat until it bubbles. Cool slightly, add vanilla. Cool and put in cooked pie shell.
Ingredients for meringue:
- 4 egg whites
- ½ cup sugar
Directions for meringue:
Beat egg whites until soft peaks form then gradually add sugar and beat until stiff. Spread to edges of filling. Bake 350* for 15 minutes or until golden brown.
Photo by Lois Hoffman
Lois Hoffman is a freelance writer and photographer covering rural living with more than 20 years of experience, contributing to Successful Farming, Country, and Farm & Ranch Living. She lives on a 37-acre hobby farm in Michigan. Read all of Lois’ GRIT posts here.
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Updated on Jun 27, 2021 | Originally Published on Jun 23, 2021
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