This is a story about lard. Yeah, you read that right. An ode to lard, if you will. The saturated fat of my pie crust dreams. Others can have their shortening, their butter, and their vodka and vinegar secrets. Truth is, I may stray in their general direction from time to time as well but for the time being, my heart belongs to lard and its creamy pure whiteness. The faint whiff of bacon goodness makes me swoon, ever so slightly. The connection I feel to pie makers of the past as I rub it gently between flour and salt is a strong pull, encouraging me to make more and more pie. I finally feel like I know what I’m doing.
Well wait a minute, let’s back up a second. It started when I walked into the retail store of Black Earth Meats in Black Earth, Wisconsin a while ago. It’s a wonderful place, this butcher shop. A couple of folks with strong family farming ties took over the neighborhood shop years ago and implemented something rather fantastic.
Not only do they sell meat, they raise the animals. Organically, humanely, pasture raised, well tended. Feedlot? Only if you consider a feedlot an uncrowded rolling green pasture. They slaughter right there too, quickly, cleanly and in the most humane way possible utilizing techniques pioneered by Temple Grandin, showing true respect to the animal from beginning to end. The butchering room is a sight to behold – a steady pace is upheld but nothing rushed and it’s spotlessly clean – surprising given the task. Not even a whiff of mass produced, factory farming in the vicinity. If you’re going to purchase meat, this is the place to do it.
The meats, cheeses and butter are amazing – full flavored, rich, wonderful. I bought a little of each but as I scanned the butcher case, marveling at the deep colors and sheer variety I happened to glance off to the right, to the freezer cases. Something caught my eye. There next to packages of frozen brats, summer sausage and hot dogs … the big white tub. I really hope that’s what I think it is.
As I got closer, a surge of excitement rose as I reached for the freezer handle. Lard. Oh glorious rendered pork fat! Yes, indeed, pure organic lard in a three-and-a-half pound tub. Oh hallelujah! It was mine, all mine. Let the others get excited about tri-tip steaks and gorgeous pork chops. I had me a big ‘ol bucket ‘o lard.
It sat in my freezer for a while, while I schemed up something special. I have a tendency to save things far too long waiting for that perfect recipe. No more I decided; this stuff had to be used. One night, I just went for it (and 3+lbs of lard goes a long way) so I tried it out on a tart crust and made a beautiful French Apple Tart. The dough was amazing – flaky, crispy and better than any pie crust I’ve ever made. It was easy to work with – as long as I froze the cut up bits of lard for at least ½ hour first – and rolled magnificently. I discovered I like the combination of a little butter worked into that mixture, for flavor. I had expectations of a porky essence that was unfounded, at least with the Black Earth lard. Maybe others are different. I’ve since worked it into my crust repertoire. Nothing will completely replace butter for me but lard definitely now has its place.
The farmers market last week was a magical place – my favorite farmer had both rhubarb and strawberries. This only happens for a few weeks each June-ish and I decided it was time to make a pie. My cousin had recently mentioned it was her very favorite and with her birthday coming up I thought that would be a nice surprise.
My beloved lard/butter crust was trotted out but rather than do a double crust, I topped it with buttery crumbles I copped from the Smitten Kitchen’s blog. I’d made her strawberry rhubarb crumble not long ago and thought the topping would be a delicious counterpoint to a bottom crust. I was right.
So if you’re lucky, you’ve got a few weeks left to whip this one up. If the farmer’s markets supply is long-gone, I bet there’s still rhubarb in the grocery stores and strawberries should be around for a while yet. For this round, I made four mini pies which made it easier to gift but the recipe will make one really nice 9” pie too and it’s written for that. If you have extra filling and crumbles, toss them into a ramekin and bake alongside the pie – a little treat for the cook.
If you’d like some additional pie crust tips, check out my previous post here.
STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: ARTERY CLOGGING GOOD. The pie crust is great, the pie is great. It’s just great all round and screams SUMMER!! almost as loud as cherry pie for me. There’s something so wonderfully stress reducing about the tisk-taskiness of rolling, shaping and crimping a pie crust. When that beauty comes out of the oven, golden brown and bubbling with that intoxicating aroma, my spirits soar. I gave away three of the four mini pies and the recipients were beyond pleased – an afternoon of happy text messages brightened my day. Please do keep in mind though that stress can make your hands hot – the ultimate mortal enemy of pie crusts everywhere. If you find yourself getting a little harried, put the dough in fridge and step away. Get a glass of wine, catch an episode of My Big Fat Gyspy Wedding and return much more relaxed and a maybe little tipsy. Your pie will be better for it. This much I know is true.
STRAWBERRY RHUBARB CRUMBLE PIE partially inspired by the Smitten Kitchen
makes one 9” pie
for the pie crust:
5 ½ Tablespoons lard (or unsalted butter)
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup ice cold water
For the crumble:
1 1/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 Tablespoons sugar
3 Tablespoons turbinado sugar (aka “Sugar in the Raw”)
Zest of one lemon (save lemon for the filling)
¼ pound unsalted butter, melted (1 stick)
pinch of kosher salt
for the filling:
1 quart strawberries
1 pound rhubarb
juice of ½ lemon
½ cup sugar
pinch of kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 Tablespoons cornstarch
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
- For the pie crust: cut the lard and butter into small ¼” pieces and freeze for at least ½ hour until very cold and solid.
- In the workbowl of a food processor, pulse the flour and salt 2-3 times until just combined.
- Add the cold lard and butter (or just butter) and pulse 5-6 times until the lard/butter is in small pieces but still visible (or do this by hand, working the lard/butter between your fingers).
- Add the cold water and pulse and additional 4-6 times until the dough just comes together.
- Turn out the dough onto the work surface and gently knead the dough until it just comes together and all the dry bits are worked in.
- Pat into a flat disc, wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least ½ hour.
- Preheat oven to 375°F.
- For the topping: In a mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, both sugars and lemon zest.
- Add the melted butter and mix until small and large clumps form. Refrigerate until needed.
- Roll the dough: If the pie dough is too cold and hard, let sit on counter for 5-10 minutes to take off the chill.
- Lightly flour work surface, place dough on the surface and lightly flour the dough top.
- Roll firmly from the center out, remembering to keep the dough moving so it doesn’t stick to the surface. Dust with a little more flour as needed.
- Roll dough about 2” larger than your pie pan – the single crust recipe is perfect for a 9” pan. Dough should be about 1/8” thick.
- If dough becomes too soft while rolling and you’re having trouble, chill it for approximately 15 minutes.
- Transfer to pie plate: Roll the dough over the rolling pin and unroll evenly into the pan. The key is to go slowly and not stretch the dough. If you have a tear, just patch it gently with some extra dough.
- Lift the edges slightly and ease it down into the lower creases of the pan – being careful not to stretch the dough. Press lightly to adhere to the pan side.
- Use scissors to trim the dough overhang to ½”- ¾” from the pan edge and tuck the extra under.
- Crimp the edges: Use your thumb of one hand and the thumb and index finger of your other hand to create evenly spaced fluted edges.
- Place your left thumb/index finger, spaced about ¾” apart, against the inner lip of the dough.
- Take your right thump and push into the space between the left thumb/index fingers, creating a “v” shape in the dough. Continue around the entire crust.
- Place the pan on a Silpat or parchment lined sheet pan and place in the refrigerator until needed.
- For the filling: Stem and halve the strawberries, or quarter if large. Cut the rhubarb into ¾” pieces (not if making small pies, cut the fruit a bit smaller so you can really pack it into the small tins.)
- Toss strawberries, rhubarb, lemon juice, sugar, salt, vanilla and cornstarch until well combined.
- Tumble the fruit mixture into the pie shell.
- Remove topping from refrigerator and crumble evenly over the filling.
- Bake until crumble topping is golden brown and fruit is bubbling beneath, about 45-50 minutes.
- Cool completely on a wire rack – at least 1 hour. Serve with vanilla ice cream, sour cream or whipped cream.