“Is it short?” she wanted to know.
The reply on the tip of my tongue was that it was about an inch high, but intuition told me that was not what she meant. Someone else came to my rescue then and I gradually realized over the first few years of married life that “short” in cooking had nothing to do with height.
Shortening does exactly what its name implies. It shortens the strands of gluten in a bread dough. In a quick bread, which doesn’t take hours to rest and rise, that is important. If it were not “shortened” it would be too tough to chew. So biscuits, cornbread and other un-yeasted breads are far shorter than yeasted ones.
Which shortening you choose makes a world of difference too. Butter, oils, meat fats, and plain old shortening are the most commonly used, and the texture and flavor you want determines which one. If you want a sandier texture, use oil; if you want a flakier texture, use shortening. If the flavor makes a difference, choose olive oil for Mediterranean breads and bacon fat for cornbread—if you are from the south, that is.
Some recipes call for a mix of two or more shortenings to produce the best of each. You want a great cookie? Click on my recipes on the left sidebar and then click on Almond Crunch Cookies, which use both oil and butter—great flavor plus sandy texture.
I prefer to keep my pie crusts plain so they won’t detract from the filling. To that end I use shortening only. It also makes a flakier crust. Others mix butter and shortening, but I can tell you from experience that an all butter pie crust is difficult to work with and tends to be heavy.
Then there is cornbread. I can tell from a recipe whether the cook is from up north or down south. Northerners use less cornmeal, a good bit of sugar, and either oil or melted butter as their shortening—except maybe some Midwesterners who live where pork is king. I nearly flipped when a television chef based in New York used 1 cup of cornmeal to three cups of flour. To a southerner, it’s called cornbread because it has both the taste and texture of dried corn, plus that wonderful yumminess of bacon in the background.
I have been trying to figure out what we Christians use as our shortening, and I think it has to be love. Love can change both the texture and flavor of what you do. Notice Mark 10:21: And Jesus looking upon him loved him, and said unto him, One thing you lack… Love made Jesus tell this young man, the one who had done well at keeping the law all his life, exactly what he lacked. Try doing that without love and see how far it gets you.
Sometimes love is tasty and easy to get down. Sticking your finger in cake batter is a whole lot nicer than doing the same with pie crust. One is far sweeter and has much more flavor than the other. So pats on the back, compliments and pep rally encouragement are easy to stomach. It doesn’t take any maturity to handle it well.
Sometimes love gets a little salty. Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one. Col 4:6. Salt can sting an open wound, and sometimes that is exactly what we need—a sharp word to wake us up. That one is harder to handle, but what are we? Toddlers who still think that discipline means Mama and Daddy are mean, or adults who have learned the benefits of correction?
Keith grew up in a family where compliments were rare, almost non-existent. Until the day they died I never once heard his parents praise one of his sermons or Bible lessons. They viewed criticism as a way of helping, and if they didn’t love him why would they try to help at all? Most of the people up in those hills were exactly the same way. They appreciated plain speech, people saying what they mean and meaning what they say. They viewed pro forma compliments as hypocritical, and indeed, any teacher knows when the man shaking his hand and saying, “Good lesson,” means it and when he doesn’t.
And we should recognize the value of love in all its forms. When you know that a rebuke comes from a heart of love it is much easier to take, even a salty one—love shortens those tough strands of “gluten” and makes them tenderer and easier to chew on. Don’t ever dismiss a word of exhortation because it doesn’t taste good to you. God expects you to recognize the shortening and use the admonition to improve yourself whether you like its flavor or not.
A friend of mine once tried to sift some biscuit mix to “get out all those lumps,” not realizing they were lumps of shortening. What she produced were the toughest biscuits anyone ever tried to eat. If you try to get rid of the rebuke, even if it is shortened with love, God won’t be happy with your end product either. In fact, the comment you get from Him when you try to excuse yourself from not listening is likely to be something like, “That’s tough!”
Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it... Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy… Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent…Psa 141:5; Prov 27:5,6; Rev 3:19.