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Posts Tagged ‘lard’

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Dear Bakers,

First, mad props to you. Honest. Life is hard; you make us treats. Without you*, how could we forget about the workaday world of Cadillac SUV drivers who don’t signal, about 16-page apartment leases, about presidential candidates who strut and fret their hour upon the stage? A cinnamon croissant roll takes five minutes to eat, but what a blissful five minutes. How unburdened an experience. You are gods and archangels.

Thank you for the variety on your menu, thank you for offering both plain and fancified, thank you for blueberries in high summer and spiced pumpkin in the fall. Thank you for little saucers of broken-up scones to try while we wait for service. (Full disclosure: Sometimes I pop one to soothe a hungry stomach and then go. But you know I spend liberally the rest of the week. We’re cool.)

Thank you, so many of you, for making pie crusts with lard, or butter, or a combo of the two. Thank you, others of you, for eschewing shortening entirely for the glory of butter. You know your cookies will be flatter, but firmly avow that flavor must never fall to the ax of showboating.

But I must take exception to those of you who bake with excessive amounts of sugar. Of course America has a sweet tooth. We just don’t need as much sugar as you’re adding. Many of your cakes and cupcakes are too darn sweet, and lots of bakers don’t stop there: even a corn muffin these days can make a girl’s mouth pucker. My argument:

  1. If the first and last ingredient we taste is sugar, the product is dull.
  2. If the first and last ingredient we taste is sugar, the rest of the ingredients don’t get their say.
  3. Ibid., the structure will be gritty.

I love chocolate brownies, for example. But when did we make sugar more important than the quality of the chocolate, the richness of the butter, and the fudginess or cakiness of the square itself? I ate a brownie on Sunday that was gorgeous to look at. But it was so packed with sugar that I crunched my way through it.** The chocolate, fat, and texture were very much an afterthought.

Last point:

4. If one ingredient isn’t allowed to be a diva, we can appreciate the subtlety and balance of the other ingredients.

Like seals being tossed fish time and again, pushing sugar into the spotlight of baked goods narrows our thinking, dulls our senses, and deprives us of a fuller experience. Let us taste the almond extract in your cherry scones; we’ll be excited to learn they’re such a winning pair (cousins, almonds and cherries, you know). Let us search for a hint of orange peel, or come to adore exotic cardamom on first taste. We love to learn. Let us get excited by the nuances of your work.

The brownie above, now. Good example. Much less sugar, in the European tradition. More excellent-quality chocolate, cream, and butter. It was dense, sticky—a deep and powerful experience. I’ll drive a half an hour north for this thing, and I cannot imagine I’m alone.

Being active observers of flavors and textures is a positive; looking for them with eagerness and learning from them is a blessing. Conscious, discerning eating can’t help but inform conscious, discerning thinking outside the bakery, and goodness knows we can all use a little more of that.

Two thumbs up, and best regards,

~M (and my dentist)

*And maybe Lin-Manuel Miranda.
**Of course I ate the whole thing. It wasn’t a good brownie, but it was a brownie.

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Thanksgiving’s just a few weeks away. And while I’ve never been one to stand on ceremony, I am one to give credit, and thanks, where they’re due; and this seemed like the perfect time.

So. A schtickle of backstory.

I started blogging in 2011, on a lark, at the suggestion of a friend. Why? Because I just sorta decided (on another lark)* one day that I was going to be a food writer. Which makes no conceivable sense: my background is in business writing and editing, and I had precisely zero experience writing from my own point of view, let alone about food. I wrote crowd-pleasers like website copy, newsletters and fundraising appeals. Food was just something I thought about a lot and talked about a lot. Okay, a ton. But still. Write about it?

I knew very little about food blogs (still do, because I want to be sure to maintain my own voice), but I knew I didn’t want it to be just narcissistic blather, or to be cliche (how many blogs are out there with titles like ‘Fun With Cilantro’? Not that cilantro’s not fun, mind you; it’s a veritable RIOT at office potlucks, but I don’t want to oversell it, either). I also have no formal training of any kind in taking pictures; I don’t know a shutter speed from an F stop (is that the term?).

Since I’m clueless about technology, another friend set me up on WordPress. When he was done he said, ‘You’re ready.’ ‘What do I do now?’ ‘Well…you write something.’ ‘Right…yeah.’

I’d like to say I sat down and cheerfully banged out a stellar post within an hour.** I didn’t. But I did like my first post, rough as it reads to me now, which was an argument against letting outside forces dictate what you were and were not capable of creating in the kitchen.*** I’m a sociology nerd, too. I love ingredients and I love recipes, I do, you guys know I do. But I’ll always be more fascinated by how we approach food as a culture, what it means in our lives, how we shape it, and how it shapes us. Lucky for me there are so many of you out there, Eve’s Apple’s**** lovely crew of faithful readers, who like to talk about it with me.

My hat is off to friends and family who have supported me from the get-go, who read over the first few posts and offered feedback, coaching (see technology quip above), and recipes. And it’s off once more with an audacious flourish to the friends I’ve never met, most notably my LinkedIn food tribe, with whom I speak daily. I’m honored to have readers throughout the U.S. and all over the world, the collective wisdom of ranchers, retired farm wives, bankers, caretakers, artisans and many more, all of whom can discuss with me everything from why we don’t handcraft the way people did 100 years ago to the beauty of organic lard.

You trust me with your photos, your recipes, your memories, and your questions. You’re respectful of each other’s opinions and offer advice to each other. You’re willing to sift through my semi-coherent ramblings every week and encourage, counsel and make me laugh. You more often call my posts articles, or essays, not just pedestrian ‘blog posts’ (which is all they are), which is humbling. I can throw any topic out there—and goodness knows I do—and you all take it and run like slippery midnight bandits.

You want to celebrate with me the macro (farm stands versus supermarkets ), the micro (the smoke point of olive oil) and the warm underbelly (Halloweens of long ago). You get what I mean when I talk about the majesty of the simple. In my mind, you are the authorities when it comes to food, and sharing it, and I continue to be astonished at how much you have to teach me. You have made my world bigger, and have made me a more competent writer. I’m grateful to have this forum so I can keep learning.

Thank you. You’ve taught a girl typing alone at the beach so much.

*Truth be told, this one was a sparrow.

**I’d also like a pony.

***Here’s how much of a technodweeb I am: I didn’t even know you could add photos to posts. Consequently the first fat handful of posts were photo-free. Sorry about that.

****I almost called it Semisweet, but that name was taken. Not the bummer I thought it was 🙂

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I’ve always been fascinated by things that make no sense on paper. Like meeting someone and feeling an immediate and inexplicable connection. Or one day feeling absolutely compelled to go to Mexico.* Or this: A week or so ago I picked corn—off a cornstalk, that is—for the first time. And I loved it, just as much as I loved digging for potatoes.** Which was especially great because I’d been wanting to make a recipe I’d accepted for my year-long cooking project, one from a friend who was raised in Ohio and now lives in Maryland.

I’ve never had corn fritters before, let alone made them, but I figured using local, organic corn I’d picked that afternoon could hardly foul up the recipe.

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Not as high as an elephant’s eye. But maybe a well-fed hippo’s.

I’d read that to test of an ear of corn for ripeness you’re supposed to peel back a little of the husk and pierce an end kernel with a fingernail. If corn juice squirts out, you’re apparently good. Here’s a simpler method: If the ear’s fat, it’s ready.

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Really beautiful, and I didn’t see any children. Bonus.

When I got home I set about the less-than-enjoyable task of stripping the kernels by standing ears upright in a bowl and scraping them down with a chef’s knife. This is a task that at the very least means searching for 92 errant wet kernels that have ricocheted out of the bowl, and at the very worst means assassinating your bowl by impalement. The first happens every single time, the second not yet. I need a better idea. Send ’em if you have ’em.

I’ve never cooked with lard, although I’m not afraid to. It has a murky reputation—people have the idea that it’s horrible for you—but it actually has less saturated fat than butter. Finding it isn’t as easy to come by in suburban New Jersey as you’d think. Kidding. But I’ve read that New Jersey was once comparable to Parma when it came to pig production, and specifically fine hams. Would that it were still the case.

Not today. And I found just one variety, but it was so processed that it didn’t need to be refrigerated, which grossed me out considerably. Finally I went with a pat of butter. And it was good, but I’m not giving up on finding decent lard. The flavor’s got to be outrageous.

This recipe does not call for salt. I put a pinch in the batter and liked it, but as we say in publishing, this is purely a style issue. Add it or don’t. On the whole, the recipe is wonderfully Midwestern, reflective of the many Midwesterners I am proud to call friends—straightforward, unfussy, honest and utterly free of pretension. These fritters are not meant to impress. They are simply meant to taste good, which, quite frankly, matters a whole bunch.

And if you get the opportunity to pick your corn off the stalk…please put on your boots and jump at the chance. There’s nothing like it.

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Corn Fritters

6 ears corn kernels, cut fine (I mashed a few with a potato masher and left a few whole because I like texture. Again, a style issue.)

1/2 c all-purpose flour

1/2 c milk

1 tsp baking powder

2 eggs

1 tbsp lard

Mix, drop by half-cupfuls into hot fat, and fry. Flip when browned. Serve hot. (Medium low heat will work to cook the inside; meanwhile the outside will brown up all pretty pretty.)

Jo Grundy

Sykesville, MD

Thanks, Jobo!

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*The first has happened to me. The second happened to my uncle, decades ago. He went down the church steps with his family one Sunday and casually said, ‘I think I’ll go to Mexico today.’ And he WENT. That was the kind of guy he was.

**Silverton Farms in Toms River, NJ allows customers to pick almost anything, which is insanely cool. I asked the young student who works there if any other customers dig for potatoes besides me, and shocker, she barely blinked: ‘No, just you.’

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