Foods Can Bind Generations to Each Other

Photo by Cohdra courtesy of morguefile.com

I grabbed a shopping basket and quickly strode through the grocery store. I felt like I should be wearing dark glasses and a wig to disguise myself. After looking in three places for the item, I finally gave up and found a grocery clerk.

“Excuse me, but could you tell me where I’d find the lard?” I asked in a hushed voice. “I’ve never bought it,” I quickly added.

“It’s right over there, in the blue boxes,” he said, pointing at a cooler.

I bought a few boxes and headed for my car. I was really hoping not to run into anyone who recognized me as a nutrition specialist.

I obviously felt a little guilty purchasing a food that’s viewed as so “unhealthy.” On top of that, I’d bought a deep-fat fryer earlier that week.

I was determined to make buttermilk doughnuts exactly the way my mom used to make them, deep-fried in lard. My kids didn’t have the chance to know their grandma, so making her doughnut recipe was something I could do.

The doughnuts were a success. In fact, I had to hide some from my kids and husband so I could have a couple. They found them, but I rescued two doughnuts.

Making doughnuts a couple of times a year has become a tradition, a way to bind the generations together. As long as the doughnuts remain a “treat” and not a staple item in our diet, we’ll be fine.

Despite its reputation, lard has an interesting history and chemistry. Lard was used widely in Europe and the U.S. into the 20th century. During World War II, lard was an economical butter substitute.

Our great-grandmothers of yesteryear and many pastry chefs through the years have sworn by lard. Because of its unique chemical structure and melting properties, lard produces the flakiest pie crusts.

Lard, however, became widely viewed as a “poverty food” and later as an unhealthy type of fat, so its popularity declined. Some religions restrict the use of pork products, including lard.

Although lard is viewed as less heart-healthy than butter, that’s not necessarily the case. Actually, butter has more saturated fat and cholesterol than lard. Lard is higher in heart-healthy monounsaturated fat than butter.

Despite these differences, I don’t think lard will be appearing on butter dishes anytime soon.

With the development of hydrogenation in the early 1900s, solid vegetable fats and hydrogenated vegetable oils became popular in cookies, cakes, crackers and deep-frying because they were less expensive and more stable. Solid vegetable fats were perceived as “healthier” than solid animal fats, too.

Nutrition experts later discovered a health issue with hydrogenated shortenings. “Trans fat” was formed during hydrogenation. “Trans” refers to the chemical structure.

As it turns out, trans fat is worse for our hearts than saturated fat. Eating a diet high in trans fat can raise your blood cholesterol level, including LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol). Trans fat can lower HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol).

Pay attention to the amount and type of fat you eat by comparing nutrition labels. Choose products with more monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat and less saturated fat. Minimize trans fat in your diet. Find out more about healthy oils by visiting www.choosemyplate.gov.

Because this is a nutrition blog, I won’t be providing my doughnut recipe. However, here’s a tasty, nutritious cookie or cake recipe. The recipe is from the Montana State University Extension Service.

Applesauce Cookies or Cake

1 c. sugar
1/2 c. margarine or butter
1 egg
2 tsp. baking soda
2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 1/2 c. applesauce, unsweetened
1 c. raisins
1 c. nuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cream together sugar, margarine or butter and egg. In a separate bowl, combine baking soda, flour, salt and cinnamon. Mix well. Stir flour mixture into shortening mixture just until moist. Add applesauce, raisins and nuts. For cookies: Drop dough by heaping teaspoon several inches apart on a greased baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes. For cake: Bake at 350 degrees in an 8- by 8-inch pan for 40 minutes. Check for doneness with a toothpick. When the toothpick comes out clean, it’s done.

Makes 24 cookies. Each cookie has 145 calories, 4 grams (g) of fat, 25 g of carbohydrate and 1 g of fiber.

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