In honor of National Pi Day, which celebrates that elusive mathematical constant, I thought I'd take a moment to share one of our family's tried and true "pie" crust recipes made with chicken fat and shortening. While butter, Crisco and lard are all delightful options when making homemade pie, I have to go with chicken fat on this one, especially if you're making apple pie or mincemeat pie. There's just something about that salty, savory, sweet combo that can't be beat.
This is a very old recipe that was passed onto me by my granny Boohler (a.k.a. Beulah Bailey) back in Princeton, West Virginia, and as you'll see, it's characteristically vague (in a Southern passed down oral recipe kinda way) beginning with, "Next time you kill a chicken...."
|My granny and grandpa in WV. I spy some pies on that table.|
Back in the 1940's in Ceres Hollow, WV, my dad, uncle, grandpa, and my granny Boohler raised chickens on a small plot of land that skirted Woodlawn Memorial Park, a cemetery that my great-grandfather helped to build and where much of the Bailey clan rests today. Their two acre "farm" had a milking cow, a hog, a few hens and several chickens as well as an ornery rooster, which was known to hide inside the outhouse toilet where it succeeded in scaring the you-know-what out of my dad when he had to use it in the middle of the night.
It was here that my grandpa took care of all the chicken killing, and he did it the old school way by wringing the chicken's neck, before cutting off its head and gutting it after which it would be scalded, plucked and singed over a fire to remove any stubborn pin feathers. There's an old story that my granny used to love to share at the dinner table, which involved my grandpa unsuccessfully wringing a chicken's neck and then chopping off its head only to watch it take off down the road spurting a trail of blood (seems that sometimes the nerves don't always match up with the brain as with the phrase "chicken with its head cut off"). It was stories like these that made for excellent meal fodder as you can imagine along with plenty of nervous laughter, especially when you're staring at a big plate of granny's fried chicken and white gravy.
Whether you're slaughtering your own chickens or purchasing them at your local market, be sure to save the fat after you stew one or make chicken stock since this is best way to salvage all the good stuff. A super easy way to make chicken stock is to do it in the slow cooker (same goes for stewing a whole chicken). I got quite adept at this cooking method while testing recipes for The Southern Slow Cooker where I have both a slow cooker chicken stock recipe and a recipe for slow cooker chicken with cornmeal dumplings. Once you've made your stock or stew, simply chill the broth and scrape all the fat off the top for making pie crusts.
Chicken Fat Pie Crust Recipe
Chicken Fat Pie Crust Recipe
As told to me by my granny....
"Next time you kill and stew a chicken, save the fat drippings by chilling the whole mess. Just spoon off the fat that has congealed on top. Then substitute the fat in your basic pie crust recipe. Substitute the chicken fat for half of your shortening."
Basic Pie Crust Recipe
Pie crusts tend to be flakier when you don't overwork them and use as little flour as possible, so when flouring your board or your rolling pin go easy on the flour.
Makes two 9-inch pie crusts
2 cups flour, sifted
1/2 teaspon salt
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon shortening (use half chicken fat here if you like)
3 to 4 tablespoons ice water, plus more as needed
Mix the flour, salt and shortening with a fork until it's well blended together. Add the water and mix until a ball forms. To roll out, lightly flour your counter top and rolling pin. Roll out pastry crusts to fit two 9-inch pie plates.
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