I remember watching Julia Child on television on a black-and-white set. I loved everything about her. Her height, her apron, her accent, her bubbly personality, her spunk, the way she poured wine into the sauce and into her glass. You name it, if it was Julia Child, I loved it. I later learned to love her radical feminism as she became the first woman at Le Cordon Bleu. I loved her audacity as an American and mon dieu, a woman! I loved the way she loved her husband and her bravery after his death.
There is only one thing I can think of that I did not love about Julia Child. Her use of lard scared me. I remember using Crisco in pie crust as a kid, maybe we used it in cookies, too. Today the notion of using Crisco for anything other than boot polish, turns my stomach.
Lard is Crisco’s ugly stepsister. I know that lard is a stable fat with a high smoke temperature. I can even imagine Julia’s singsong voice talking about how lovely lard is in certain kinds of roux or as a jacket for the perfect baked potato. But as a new vegetarian (15 years a pescatarian, two or three years as the real thing, my husband John has been the real thing for 35 years), I have a hard time imagining lard without also imagining where it comes from and how it is made. Sorry, Julia.
I did not imagine I’d be writing about lard today. I mean who writes about lard on a sunny March afternoon? Today, it’s me.
At the co-op yesterday, I noticed that my favorite tortilla company had a new and bigger tortilla. All Souls Tortilleria makes the most wonderful corn tortillas, thick and chewy, tasting of earth and just the right amount of salt and with a bit of the mineral essence of the stones that grind the corn. The bigger tortillas are made of wheat. Sure, they’re not gluten free, but Vermont has some delicious wheat and bigger tortillas are better for burritos and quesadillas, so I grabbed ‘em. I made quesadillas for dinner: black beans, thinly slivered yellow onions, chipotles in adobo sauce, and almost too much Cabot Seriously Sharp cheddar cheese.
I grilled the quesadillas slowly on top of the stove on the flat cast iron frypan I cherish so much I take it with me on motorcycle camping trips (it’s too heavy for kayaking, but not so bad on the bike). This fry pan is perfectly seasoned from years of awesome pancakes, tofu steaks, burritos, and fried eggs. And cooking with cast iron actually increases the iron in your diet. As a sometimes-anemic person, I’m all over that. I made extra quesadillas so John could take them with him when he teaches at the university.
The quesadillas did not disappoint. In fact, they were better tasting than any I’d ever made. The tortillas were perfectly cooked to the point of crunchy just before being burnt. The cheese melted over the vegetables, oozed out onto the pan, and sizzled to crispy perfection. The tortillas were so good I had to wonder what the difference was between them and the tortillas I usually buy.
You guessed it. Lard!
The ingredients listed on a slip of paper inside the clear plastic package read: organic wheat flour, water, pastured lard, salt.
Pastured lard?! What the hell is pastured lard? Lard does not grow in a pasture! Lard is not the result of photosynthesis. Lard is rendered by death and knives and fire. Lard, lard, lard. This little piggy went to market, this little piggy went to pasture to become Lard!
When I was in high school, the worst insult you could give was to call someone a lard-ass. The implication was fat and slow. Neither of which I want to be. You never see athletes selling out their online workshops about how they became so strong and fit because of lard. The nimble and ripply muscled ones are always vegan!
“I’m sorry about the lard,” I said to John as we stopped chewing our meal. To his credit he resumed eating.
“Oh well, it’s okay,” he said. “I bet I’ve eaten plenty of lard in Mexican restaurants. Let’s just not buy those tortillas again.”
He did not eat the second half of his quesadilla.
I did eat half of the second half on mine. And just a small slice more. The crispiness and ever-so-slight greasiness of the tortillas was like a stolen sip from mom’s glass of scotch or a hit of a friend’s spliff. I loved it. I loved the flavor. The crunch and the sin of it.
And for lunch today I had half of one of the quesadillas I made for John. It was even better the second day! As guilty as I feel about it, I think I love lard! Who knew?
Julia. Julia Child knew.