All my recent musings about biscuits, cookies, and stuff got me thinking about butter’s sister in the farm kitchen, lard. Lard’s proud history and tradition in America is well documented, if not celebrated. But somewhere along that track, lard picked up some heavy baggage, which, sadly, it hasn’t yet totally shed.
Even my old Delaware farm girl mother had a respect for the wonders of lard, but unfortunately, she joined the legions of her peers who, during the 40’s and 50’s, fell under the Crisco spell. But if pressed, she’d admit that only lard made a really good pie crust, but still, her infrequent pies were all made with Crisco.
And then came the era of “animal fat terror” – I think there may have been a list of some 100 or more reasons why mankind was doomed due to consumption of animal fats – and lard fell even further into the abyss of obscurity. It did not help that even the nature of the pig itself helped to restrict the future of lard, for the very taste of the American buying public was shifting from the old huge, fat laden porkers of the past century, to smaller, younger, and infinitely slimmer hogs of the modern market. The pig of old had disappeared.
When I was a lad, I can remember our neighbor’s pigs – giant animals (600-800 lbs), whose very size kept them off their feet, for I never remember seeing one of those huge things walking around. These were “lard hogs”, and named so, I suppose, because lard was the major product obtained from this animal. I also remember seeing whole pork loins in those days, and their size was such that a single loin (one side only) would have probably been good for perhaps 5 or 6, or more, individual roasts – today’s whole pork loins do well to provide 2 separate roasts! But then, today’s pig is butchered at about 225 lbs, of which only 30 or so pounds is lard fat.
Recently, the reputation of lard has taken a positive swing, with not only most of the negativity gone, but with lard actually taking its place as a healthier fat than many other competitors, including butter! And it is nature’s second most concentrated source (behind cod liver oil) of vitamin D! But with one major qualifier – shelf stabilized lard, the stuff that does not need refrigeration – is still a no-no, due to it being treated chemically and then hydrogenated, which changes the very nature of it. In this form, it is to be avoided.
So, where does one get good lard today? Well, it is not impossible to find, but may require a little research and investigation. Look in your market’s refrigerated cases, maybe meat or dairy, because good lard requires refrigeration. Or, you can do as I am right now – you can render your own lard, just as they did on the farm of old. It’s not really difficult, kind of like cooking bacon, and saving the fat – but on a larger scale. The biggest negative is that it is a long, slow process – I started yesterday, continued the process in a 225 degree oven overnight, and I finished it on top of the stove today.
Here are some pics of the process:
Now I’m done, and l have five pounds of fresh, beautiful lard for wonderful pastry, biscuits, and a whole bevy of frying and baking projects with fantastic promise. And besides, somewhere in the recesses of my psyche, I harbor this only half imagined suspicion that one day medical science will finally discover that lard – yes, lowly lard – is the answer to another of mankind’s most vexing problems, like Cancer or AIDS. Hey! Why not … stranger things, …
The pig, a truly magnificent creature!
A few links for assistance with rendering lard: