I've shared my award-winning chocolate chip cookie recipe with a few people, including my home teacher, Jeff, who called me the other night from the grocery store. "What is shortening?" he asked. "You know, Crisco," I replied, and tried to explain what the container looked like and what aisle it could be found on. My cookies call for 1/3 cup of Crisco shortening and 1/3 cup of margarine or butter, but I explained to Jeff that you can make variations with all butter, all Crisco, or any combination. Shortening makes the cookies fluffier, while butter turns them crispy.
So the next day at church, I was explaining this to Peter, who, it turns out, is anti-Crisco. He won't even allow margarine in his house. He claims health reasons, as well as the fact that hydrogenated vegetable oil products are "unnatural," but this health kick of his doesn't seem to stop him from consuming gargantuan amounts of soda, so go figure. Anyway, we were arguing about it in church when Jeff came along and I asked him how the cookies turned out. "I don't know..." he said. "I just can't seem to get them to turn out like yours." I pressed him for more information, and it turned out that his wife is anti-shortening too! She won't let him have Crisco in the house, or use it in the cookies!
Having grown up in a home where an industrial sized can of Crisco is a staple, an item not to be without, this came as quite a shock to me. Who doesn't use Crisco in baking? I mean, people have been using it forever--at least since the 20s, right? And how could Crisco be bad for you--it's made out of vegetables! So, at E's suggestion, I thought I'd write a defense of Crisco shortening. But then I realized that I knew nothing about Crisco, and so I looked on Wikipedia to learn about it. There I discovered that Crisco was first invented in 1911, in a search for an alternative to animal fat candles. But then, because the stuff looked like lard, they decided to sell it as food. Hmmm. Well, worse things have happened. And, it turns out it's made less from vegetables and more from cottonseed and soybeans. But soy is good, right?
I also went to the Crisco website where I read, "Crisco brings to mind homemade, down-home, and traditional meals. It is recognized, comfortable, and trusted across generations, yet it is simple and unadorned. It brings about a certain pride in meal creation and attainable excellence in cooking." It's true in my case. Crisco reminds me of cooking with my grandma and mom, making easy pie crusts and greasing muffin tins, learning how to make simple but delicious food. Crisco makes baking easier because it's more stable than butter or lard, and with no odd flavor. It's reliable and convenient, and never spoils on the shelf.
I don't necessarily subscribe to the belief that Crisco is bad for you. I mean, sure, nobody should sit down and eat spoonfuls of it, but I don't think anyone has ever or will ever do that (have you tasted Crisco?). Okay, it's not good for you if you eat a ton of pie and cookies, but that's just common sense, and I would argue that the sugar in those things is far more harmful than the Crisco. Instead, I think we should give Crisco a break. We ought to embrace it as a modern convenience, an invention that brought us perfectly flaky pie crusts, and fluffy delicious cookies, not to mention biscuits. So it doesn't fit in with current ideas of organic pure food, but sometimes people need to just accept a good thing for what it is when they've got it. And if you're still resistant, well... I guess you just won't be winning any cookie contests.