Saturday, December 05, 2009

rendering lard

Gene Logsdon suggests, in his book Organic Orcharding, that unless you intend to keep pigs you really shouldn't bother planting orchard trees. He says this not because pigs go well with fruit trees, but because the real gem of an orchard is pie, and no pie is divine without a crust made with the best lard. When I first read that book I was not sure he was right. But now I know The Contrary Farmer was onto something: the truth.

I rendered almost a gallon of lard yesterday. When our last pigs went to the butcher, we had all the internal fat ground and bagged and frozen. I have no idea how much we have, but a lot. Two big hogs = a lot of lard. I have slowly been rendering it as we need it.

I have found people think lard is bad, or gross. But it is just fat. Like the EVOO that we ship across oceans for our fancies, like the coconut oil, the canola oil, the butter, the palm oil shortening. The biggest difference is that this lard grew up here, and we know just what we fed it and how it died.

I used to (and still occasionally do) buy organic shortening, because as we all know the regular shortening in the stores is not actually food. But organic is expensive and I have to question buying a product that travels so far when I have a superior replacement right here. Well it is not even a replacement, it is the original thing: Lard! Whole books could be written about how lard has been demonized in favor of cheaper, less nutritious and in some cases downright toxic alternatives. The true cost of any choice is never really looked at, and is a huge ethical concern. Should we really all be eating EVOO from Italy, palm oil from Africa? That can never be sustainable. Of course, I am not speaking from a place of abstinence. We buy Canadian maple syrup, Californian olive oil, and other distant delicacies. It is just something worth thinking about. I try to think about it when I buy.

If you fall in with Traditional Foodies, you'll find a lot of people in favor of lard. Strangely enough, though, they seem to think nothing of eating local: It is all cod liver oil, Irish butter and virgin coconuts. But it is a good place to look for recipes that call for lard.

I have been learning how to use lard in place of butter (except for when we have our own butter!), shortening and the like. I have made birthday cakes, frostings, muffins, tortillas (the best- the only way I will make them), biscuits, scones, and pie crusts. Lard is also the best way to oil stoneware and cast iron, the only oil for refried beans and perfect for Spanish rice.

The lard we have is nothing like the lard you can buy in stores. First, the Armour, etc brands are hydrogenated and full of chemical additives. The properties of the end product are not like fresh lard. So I do not recommend trying it out. If you have a good butcher sometimes you can get fresh lard, or leaf fat from a hog to render yourself. This is how I render lard. Keep in mind that I have not been doing this very long. At the same time I have consulted many and developed a method that works very well, producing very high quality lard.

Just a note: Rendering lard is dangerous. It has been the cause of many a house fire. Even when using a crock pot it is serious business. Do not have children underfoot. I use our kitchen table so we have a big, wide area and my equipment is not on the edge of anything. If you get burned by hot oil it will be a lot like getting burned by hot oil. There is a reason it was a castle defense!

Our leaf comes in big bags, pre-ground. But because it is frozen I have to chop it into thinner slices.

Then it goes into my crock pot on high. This is not a long process, so it is not something you step very far away from. As the lard melts, clear oil surrounds the solid. Don't stir! When there is enough to pour, have your strainer ready. I use a stainless mesh sieve with a funnel over mason jars. This first lard is the best, but you have to use it first. Once you have poured a lot of the best off, use a stir to mix up the rest of the fat so it will evenly melt. When all the little pieces of meat are looking brown, pour the whole business through the sieve into a new mason jar. It will be very hot.

See here I am chipping way at it. It is best to do many little batches, to get the most high quality lard. A big batch will take so long to melt that the flavors will be off. The best lard is barely cooked, and is pure white with absolutely no flavor.

This is the meat you strain out, what will become the cracklings! Because I make many small batches I save all these up. This time I did not make cracklings so I have no pictures, but I will explain it. After all the lard is strained, return the cracklings to the pot on high. Stirring occasionally so that they cook evenly, they will eventually fry in their own fat to become one of the more delicious foods in the universe. They are all of the very best bits of meat, like bacon bits but uncured and sweet. Strain them when they seem done, and save then to add 1/2 cup at a tie to cornbread recipes. Seriously. The lard you strain from them is not fit for sweets. It will be golden when cool and is best for beans and places you want flavor- or soap if you're into making soap.

There's my sieve. Nothing fancy. When the jars are full, put a lid and ring on and they will seal as the cool. Still I keep mine in the fridge to preserve the flavor(lessness).

Another batch.

Here is my result. I put the first lard in pints and the more rendered lard in quarts. Depending upon your usage you may want half pints or all quarts. I tend to prefer the first lard for cooked applications, because frankly it is barely heated when you pour it. The quarts that were hot lard can be used raw in frostings. Always taste/ smell your lard before using to be sure you have a flavorless jar, if that is what you desire. There's really nothing so gross as surprise vanilla frosting with pork flavor. Use a clean spoon every time you remove some lard.

Some people take a single capsule of vitamin E and melt it in each jar while the oil is hot. This is a natural preservative. I have never done it.

Enjoy! And don't tell guests until after they have raved about the cake!

Those are pictures of the biscuits I made for lunch today with the lard from yesterday.
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