Oil debut of ’22

By Ike DeLorenzo
Globe Correspondent / July 15, 2009

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Let’s set the scene. It is 1922, and Lillian Smith, a homemaker in Westborough, is getting ready to bake a pie. Smith is an adventurous woman, at least when it comes to baking. She is experimenting with an odd new product that’s being advertised all over the country: cooking oil. Vegetable oil to be exact, or as the ads say, “pure delicious vegetable fat.’’ A few years earlier, food scientist David Wesson had figured out how to remove strong odors from cottonseed oil. At this point, his company has just commercialized the process, and the booming cotton industry suddenly has a valuable and edible byproduct.

Marketed in a tall metal tin, and often pictured with a salad, the mysterious light-colored liquid is manufactured by Wesson Oil & Snowdrift Co. (“Snowdrift’’ is a smelly vegetable shortening, also made from cottonseed.) The new and much tastier Wesson oil is a huge technological leap. While olive and other fruit oils have been used for centuries, Wesson is one of the first liquid vegetable oils. But until the company ramps up its marketing campaign, American women have no idea what to do with Wesson oil.

On the tin, Smith finds an almost impossibly simple pie crust recipe using flour, milk, and vegetable oil. From start to oven, the pie takes 20 minutes. Over the years, through trial and refinement, Smith perfects her crust. Her granddaughter Jan DeLorenzo, my aunt, uses the recipe all the time, most recently to make a blueberry pie for our family picnic. I think the crust is every bit as effortless, perfect, and delicious as originally advertised 87 years ago.

No, it isn’t French and buttery. It’s crisp and holds up to a fruit filling without overpowering it. A traditional French crust might be a great accomplishment, but are you going to make it at the drop of a hat?

Remember, the pie you make is always better than the pie you don’t make.