Surely this can’t be true, y’all. I’ve expounded on 114 topics and have yet to discuss Crisco? In my defense, I’ve lived outside the South for nearly two decades and have encountered this Dixie staple just about as often as I’ve seen folks back home wearing sweaters in July. (Not counting anybody in my sister’s house where the air-conditioner’s always set to “Arctic.”)
I’m happy to note that during my time as an expat, I’ve never once had a run-in with Crisco’s ugly step-sister, Butter-Flavored Crisco. While friends and longtime readers probably already know this, I feel I should mention that I’m vehemently opposed to butter-flavored anything that doesn’t derive said flavor from actual, made-from-cow-milk butter.Oh, but I must fess up and admit that this wasn’t always the case, as evidenced by a recipe I ran across the other day. (Part of my ongoing family recipe collection project–after 10 years, I’m still in phase 1.) I found a chocolate-chip cookie recipe that called for Butter-Flavored Crisco, which I’d attributed to myself! My shock and horror was twofold: A. That I’d once considered BFC an appropriate ingredient and B. That I’d copied the recipe from someone and slapped my name on it, seeing as I “wrote” the recipe long before I started baking as a professional hobbyist.
Whoever I fed those cookies to, I apologize. My bad. My very, very bad.
But back to Crisco, regular flavor. As far as I know, Crisco mainly serves two functions in Southern kitchens: deep frying and pie-crust making. That’s why you’ll often find a photo of crispy chicken or a double-crusted pie on the can. I can see how picturing just a glob of Crisco on the label might be detrimental to sales.Some folks even substitute Crisco for part or all of the butter in frosting and have the nerve to call it “buttercream,” but I try not to think about such unpleasant things. I know people will argue that it looks/holds up better, so let’s just agree to disagree. When it comes to food, I choose flavor over beauty every time. And for the love of Pete (whoever he is), please don’t use clear vanilla flavoring just so the frosting will be as white as the bride’s dress. Most likely, she’s not that pristine herself. But I’m not one to gossip.
Recently, I listened to a podcast that talked about the history of Crisco (not for research or anything, just because I’m nerdy like that). Turns out that two factors greatly contributed to its invention: Sinclair Lewis and the light bulb. The popularity of Lewis’ The Jungle (an expose on the meat packing industry disguised as a novel) made folks a bit leery of lard with passages such as:
They worked in tank rooms full of steam, and in some of which there were open vats near the level of the floor…. their peculiar trouble was that they fell into the vats; and when they were fished out, there was never enough of them left to be worth exhibiting, sometimes they would be overlooked for days, till all but the bones of them had gone out to the world as Durham’s Pure Leaf Lard!
Yum! And the light bulb? Thanks to that handy invention, Procter and Gamble’s candle sales were flickering out, and they had an abundance of cottonseed oil nobody knew what to do with…
Until! A German chemist named E.C. Kayser showed up with a ball of fat he’d concocted in a lab. Yes, folks, this was the start of hydrogenation.After a few failed attempts at naming the product (“Krispo”–trademark issues; “Chryst”–um, maybe not, y’all), P&G settled on Crisco, an abbreviation of crystallized cottonseed oil. The ad guys knew better to tout this as some sci-fi food-like substance. “From our lab to your table!” Nope, they played off folks’ fears of accidentally ingesting uncle Bob and pushed the healthy, all-vegetable angle. Ads featured recipes and benefits galore: flakier crusts, lighter cakes, less expense, all natural, and my favorite “It’s digestible!” Really, y’all, they used that one a lot.
100 years later and folks still rely on Crisco for frying, baking, greasing up
pigs at the fair and whatnot. As Loretta Lynn told us in the 80’s “Crisco’ll do you proud every time!”
Do you use Crisco? Tub or sticks? What for? Please keep it PG, people.
Photo credits: Crisco can circa 1970 by RoadsidePictures, Flickr Creative Commons; cookie dough by Sara R, Flickr Creative Commons; wedding cake by Graceful Cake Creations, Flickr Creative Commons