Tammy Algood | Special to The Tennessean
Back in the days before fat became a “three-letter, four-letter” word, it was as much of a kitchen staple as flour, canned goods and dried beans. It was utilized for all sorts of culinary wonders and was a regular purchase on trips to the supermarket. For some of us, it still is, and we stand proud of that even as some give us eye rolls.
Shortening is a great example of that. As I was checking out at the grocery last week, the clerk asked me why in the world I was buying shortening. I promptly replied that I was using it to make the crust for chicken pot pies.
She had no idea pie crust needed shortening, so I educated her briefly. The bagger was snickering as he piped in to verify the need from watching his grandmother. I knew immediately it would be my next column subject.
My own grandmother once told me she could remember when it was cheaper than butter. Another plus was the extremely long shelf life, and it soon became a worthy substitution for lard, which is rendered pork fat.
Shortening is a vegetable fat that comes to us via soybean, sunflower and cottonseed oils. It is transformed from the liquid to a solid state thanks to hydrogenation. This allows it to remain solid at room temperature.
Shortening is odorless, flavorless and can be stored for up to a year. It’s value in baking is twofold: It adds both moisture as well as tenderness. This is particularly evident in homemade pie crusts, but also in quick breads and cookies. If you aren’t a baker, it also steps up to the frying plate.
Butter-flavored shortening has the addition of that flavor as well as coloring. And the move from a can to sticks has made it not only easier to measure but also to store.
You asked for it
Ricki Jones of Knoxville writes: “I used chocolate candy coating quite a bit over the holidays. Is it chocolate?”
Actually it isn’t real chocolate because it doesn’t contain cocoa butter. Rather it has cocoa powder added. Candy coating is a mixture of vegetable shortening, sugar, color and flavor. It makes a great candy dip instead of semisweet chocolate because it becomes firmer much quicker.
Tammy Algood is the author of five cookbooks and can be seen on “Volunteer Gardener” on PBS stations in Tennessee. Follow her at www.hauteflavor.com