Why Pie Fans Can Clap Hands for Trans Ban
The ban on trans fats finalized today by the FDA may chafe Popeye’s Chicken (3.5 grams in a large order of their Cajun fries) and Honey Boo Boo. It may glitter like a goldmine to litigators. But otherwise, it seems no more than a predictable baby step in the direction of better public health for Americans–unless you love piecrust.
If you love piecrust, the nationwide elimination of partially hydrogenated oils from the food supply is great news, a breakthrough, the herald, maybe even, of a new golden age. That’s because any shade thrown on trans fats leaves lard, which is less saturated than other oils–never mind butter, in a better light.
Now put that in the context of hipster butchers and their ilk. The current wave of artisanal reclamation is bringing leaf lard back, and leaf lard? Lord, love us! Let’s just say leaf lard lifts piecrust to the next level: “Heaven in a Pan,” according to Melissa Clark’s testimonial for the New York Times: “The Perfect Crust.”
Speaking of gray ladies, some of us grew up watching cooking shows hosted by people with good manners, bad clothes, and thick accents–here and there, an alcohol problem, a murky past. They appeared in black in white and, occasionally, in Canada, in both English and French.
Thus did Madame Jehane Benoit (ben-WAH), a petite, round chef from Quebec, introduce a nation to the pork pie eaten at Christmastime there. The crust of this tourtière, pronounced “tort-YARE,” naturally began with lard, and the tutorials themselves with commercials for a lard/saindoux (roughly, “sang-DOO”) named Tenderflake, pronounced “TENderflake.”
This, Madame Benoit assured us with a blink and a grin, made your piecrust “tender, flaky, and a-nize.”
Before she left us in 1987, Madame Benoit’s sincerity and twinkle were veiled by the Elton John-size tinted glasses she wore in her endorsements of Panasonic microwave ovens. But in the meantime, Tenderflake had taken that confiding tone and deep-fried it into a commercial so unironically cornball you’d think they were selling vegetable oil. Imagine a farm at day’s end, the farmhouse kitchen window open, and a jingle not even Dolly Parton could pull off. If memory serves, it went like this:
When I bake a pie for the apple of my eye
I bake it with a crust I know that I can trust.
I bake it so good, he can smell it from the yard.
Tell you what my secret is:
My secret is my lard.
Tenderflake was trying hard, all right.
You see, even back in the 1970s, lard couldn’t get arrested. In a brilliant essay titled “Lard, you poor dumb bastard, what have they done to you?,” the American Table Review explains that during that decade, Crisco vegetable shortening (named for the crystallized cottonseed oil first added to, then replacing, lard for baking) had conquered as savior, animal fat had been declared responsible for coronary heart disease, and not even butter was okay.
It’s but one ignoble moment framed in this account of lard’s fall from grace to mere GRAS (FDA-speak for “generally recognized as safe”) over the past century and a half. “First, lard lost its habitat in the marketplace,” explains the author. “Then, it was cast out of our minds.”
We are entirely persuaded us that freeing lard from its current “purgatory” would deliver not only dreamy piecrust but a corner of our cultural soul.
If you’ve read this far, you, too, have helped the cause. Take a bow!