and that means finding the perfect combination of fats. So, I am as happy as a puppy with two peters (as the old saying goes) to be able (finally!) to have found a local source for leaf fat!! What is leaf fat, you may ask, and what in the heck does it have to do with pie crusts?? Oh honey, there is nothing better than a combination of lard and butter to make the flakiest tastiest pie crust. I am a firm believer that if you are going to consume fats then let them be in their purest forms. Would I eat lard every day? Nope, but then I don't make pie crusts or biscuits daily. But when I need a fat I would rather eat pure lard, butter, or olive oil than hydrogenated anything.
Back to lard. Could I use lard from the grocery store? You've seen them- the green and white packages that read "Lard" but look closer and you will see the word 'hydrogenated'- noooooooo, not for me. Solution? Get your own pork fat and render it yourself. Easy-peasy. All you need is fat, a pan, and some heat. You can look up the directions from a gazillion websites, so I won't bore you with the details. What you will end up with is a serviceable lard and cracklins- those lovely little bits of fat and meat that are the leftover bits of yummy after the fat has been rendered. I have fond memories of my Mom's "cracklin cornbread" which was cornbread with a handful of cracklins baked in it. Mmmmmmmmm. The lard will solidify into an off-white, porky-smelling mass. That is the problem- the porky smell and flavor. If I was making a savory pie then a meat-tinged crust would be a good thing, but when making a sweet pie that just won't fly. Hence, leaf lard- back to where I started this whole post.
Leaf fat is the fat that surrounds the kidneys of a hog. There is only a small amount of it so it is precious stuff, as you can imagine. After rendering it yields a mild non-porky tasting lard, which is highly sought after by pastry chefs (and anal-retentive cooks like me). I remember seeing the words "Leaf Lard" on those same green and white boxes years ago, but sadly they are a thing of the past. I did lots of research to find a source and had just about given up when I realized my local slaughterhouse that does custom slaughtering just MIGHT be able to help me. Yup, they knew exactly what I wanted and I now have 10 pounds of fat ready to be rendered into lard. I am trying 2 methods of rendering to see which one works better. What I am trying to do is render the fat without letting it brown in the least bit- I want it to be as white as possible when it solidifies. Right now I have 5 pounds of it cut into chucks and slowly melting in my slow cooker. I added enough water so that the meat would not brown before it reached a melting point. So far so good. I will use a more traditional method with the other 5 pounds- just chunk it up and slowly melt it over a low burner. This could take hours but I will post my results. I can't wait!!!! And the butcher said he can get me all the fat I want if I give him advance notice. Oh honey......
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