Monday, February 29, 2016

What Would Jimmie Rodgers Eat?: Apple Pie with Lard Crust

In a recent interview with Nashville's Paul Burch about his new album, Meridian Rising, an imagined autobiography of Jimmie Rodgers, I asked him to extend his imagination to a 1920's dinner on-the-road for the blue yodeler. Burch described a meal that included fresh-killed chickens, greens, rolls, and a pie with a lard crust. I was inspired, and attempted to recreate the meal for my family.

Results were mixed. I'd never attempted to fry chicken before, and as a mostly-vegetarian for most of my life I maybe don't have the skill or equipment to make perfect fried chicken. It was just O.K. I know how to cook greens, though, and my version of rolls (drop biscuits) turned out nice and disappeared quickly.

But the star of the meal was the pie. Or maybe I should say the star of the meal was lard.

I've baked my fair share of pies, but I'd never tried using lard in the crust (see mostly-vegetarian comment, above) and none of my hippie, vegetarian, macrobiotic cookbooks could help. So I turned to Ree Drummond, "The Pioneer Woman," the blogger/cookbook author/television star with whom I have a complicated love/hate relationship. I'll set aside the hate for now. I knew she'd be able to help with the lard thing and indeed she published this excellent pie-making tutorial a few years ago by baker Pam Regentin. Regentin insists that lard and butter are far superior to manmade fats, and she promises a superior, flakey piecrust using frankly heroic quantities of animal fat. I followed her recipe carefully, including her suggestion to add butter to the filling. Like a lot of butter.

It was the best pie I've ever made. I want to think that Jimmie would have approved.

Apple Pie with Lard Crust

8 apples (I like Granny Smith), peeled and thinly sliced
3/4 cup sugar
zest and juice of one lemon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 tablespoons cornstarch
generous pinch salt
Prepared dough for double-crust pie (try this one, I'm telling you)
3-4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pats
egg wash: one egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water

In a medium mixing bowl, combine apple slices, sugar, lemon zest and juice, vanilla, cornstarch, and salt. Set aside to macerate while you prepare crust.

Preheat oven to 375.

Refrigerate half the crust while you roll out the bottom crust and transfer bottom crust to a pie plate. Pour apple mixture into crust. Top filling with butter. Roll out remaining crust and transfer to top of filling. Trim edges to about 1/2 of overhang and crimp the edge tightly. Brush with egg wash.

Bake pie at 375 20 minutes, reduce heat to 350, and bake 55 additional minutes, or until filling is thick and bubbling.

Cool for two hours before slicing and serving.