Wednesday, 9 September 2009

The beauty of Lard

So this woman, all cheekbones, and tall intensity, walks into a tearoom and asks for vegetarian cakes. I'm sipping my tea, and me and the woman server exchange glances: what does she mean? I have this image of a bacon, icing sugar and puff pastry combination I had once in the south of France – sometimes when the nights are dark I can still taste it.

Turns out our gaunt customer means cakes made without lard. This is the future, but I've got to declare a vested interest. First thing I ever cooked was lardy cake. Eight years old and my mum lets me loose in the kitchen. I didn't know it at the time, but it's complicated to make: a bread dough layered with lard, unsalted butter, the dried fruit and the sugar. Then there's the glaze at the top.

I struggled and kneaded, worked at and baked, and my family loved it. It's a traditional cake of the area, maybe a way traditional bakers turned normal bread dough into something sweet. There are even little county variables which play around with the quantities a bit. It's also a thing of beauty: succulent moistness, dripping with flavour and unctiousness. It's the lard that gives it that edge, without it, it just becomes something plain.

OK, you'd have to have a manual job to really appreciate those calories. It's so unfashionable it hurts and those dried up monstrosities that the supermarkets serve up kill the dream. It has to be fresh, it has to be warm, but when it's just right there's nothing quite like it. All Hail to the Lardy Cake.

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