Lard, Rye, Grit and what's really good for you



Lard has become almost a dirty four-letter word in today's culinary world.
  • flickr/Steve Snodgrass
  • Lard has become almost a dirty four-letter word in today's culinary world.

When Colby and Megan Garrelts opened their newest restaurant, Rye, in Leawood this past December, they made a shocking admission: The flaky crusts for the house-baked lemon-meringue pie and molasses-rich MoKan nut pie were made with lard. Yes, lard, that legendary ingredient which creates the lightest, flakiest pie crusts - and renders such a dessert verboten to vegetarians. (As Fat City has reported before, it's rare to find a restaurant or bakery ready to admit using the product anymore.)

The Garreltses aren't alone in celebrating lard. The joys of rendered pig are espoused in a cookbook (published by Kansas City-based Andrews McMeel) titled 100% Natural Lard: The Lost Art of Cooking With Your Grandmother's Secret Ingredient. The softbound cookbook was created by the editors of Grit Magazine, whose editor-in-chief, Oscar H. Will III, tells Fat City: "Lard is making a comeback, partly because of the slow-food movement and partly because the lipid hypothesis - that saturated fats are dangerous - has been debunked."

"The real culprit for a lot of modern health issues," Will adds, "are fats that don't exist in nature, the trans fats. Although no one should be making a diet of mostly fatty foods, no matter what kind of fat."

Using archival recipes that date back to 1882, when Grit was first published as a newspaper for primarily rural audiences, the cookbook presents dishes that would probably be made in this modern age with vegetable oil, including chicken and dumplings, french-fried cucumbers, and molasses crumb pie.

If cooking with lard evokes a very different time and place, so does Grit Magazine.

Comic books of the 1960s, which sold for less than a quarter, included lots of advertisements besides just Sea Monkeys ("Own a bowlful of happiness! Instant pets!") and cheap toys ("Polaris Nuclear Sub...fires rockets and torpedos..$6.98). There was also the fabulous, grown-up opportunity to sell greeting cards and seeds door-to-door.

I was one of those kids who was lured into all of those deals, including selling hundreds of packets of flower seeds in order to "win" a cheap plastic camera that fell apart the minute I tried to load it with film. What I didn't sell was a newspaper called Grit, despite the advertised promise of earning $1 to $6 a week in my spare time. What the hell was Grit anyway?

"It's a good-news community newspaper that dates back to the 1800s," says Brandy Ernzen, brand manager for Topeka-based Ogden Publications, which purchased Grit six years ago and morphed it from a weekly newspaper to a bimonthly magazine. As such, it's not sold door-to-door by kids anymore.

"That was stopped many years ago," Ernzen says. "We now distribute through more traditional routes like direct mail, online and newsstands."

Oscar Wills III says there was some hesitation before the cookbook, which even instructs home cooks on how to render their own pig fat. "We expected some sort of abuse from unenlightened health-food folks," he says. "And we've had a little of that. I was personally attacked in one blog seven months ago.

"But mostly we've had an outpouring of thanks and support and a hugely popular response. It's one of our best-selling products."

The nitty-gritty truth of the matter is that some people love lard. For instance, Rye co-owner and pastry chef Megan Garrelts. "I got a little bit of negative feedback about the lard when I first started experimenting with my pie crusts," she says. "But frankly, I don't care what people think. I'm not baking for the masses. I'm baking the best possible pies, and lard makes the best pie crust.

"I didn't really have a family recipe for pie crusts," Garrelts adds, "so I tried 15 different pie-crust recipes, using all kinds of shortening including butter and vegetable oils in different ratios. But lard is the best. And with the craze for bacon lately - it's an ingredient everywhere these days - I don't see anything wrong with a little lard."

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