Saturday, August 3, 2013

Lard--Good for You and Your Family!

Used to be, pretty much everyone used lard for their baking needs. Many families lived in rural areas, and keeping a hog or two wasn't out of the question. Besides the hams, bacon, roasts, and chops, farm women rendered their lard supply from the pork fat at butchering time.

When I was raising my sons in the country, we kept hogs. Our first foray into raising our own pork was less than stellar because we fed them store bought feed with the end result that the meat was too lean and dry. But then we got a new neighbor--a retired man from Oklahoma who, as a kid, helped his family to raise hogs. He taught us how to feed our hogs mash, and our next batch of pork was fabulous! The meat was marbled and very tasty, and the color was richer. At butchering time, I decided to render the lard so I'd have a supply to use in the kitchen and for making soap.

Now a bit of pork fat facts: You don't want to use fat from the entire animal. The very best fat (that renders down to white and odorless) comes from around the kidneys and is called leaf lard. The next best area to harvest pork fat is along the back and shoulders of the animal. This is known as back fat or fatback. Leaf lard is what you hope to have for pie crusts and other pastries, biscuits, and doughnuts. Fatback can be used for baking as well, but it really shines when used for frying and sautéing. You could use the belly fat, but why would you want to? The belly (along with the marbled fat) is what gets made into bacon, which to my way of thinking, is a much better use.

If you want to render your own lard, it's not difficult, but you will probably get better at "reading" the rendering once you've done it a few times. Here's what you do:

Using a heavy pot (stainless or well seasoned cast iron), first place about 1/4 cup of water into the bottom of the pot. (This isn't absolutely necessary, but it will help the fat to not burn on the bottom of the pot before it begins melting.) Next, add cut up or ground pork fat. Turn your heat to fairly low and, stirring regularly, melt the fat. Once the fat begins to melt, bits and pieces of "stuff" will start to show. These are called cracklings. Don't overcook the fat. If you are using water, the hot fat will tend to spit and sputter so be careful not to get burned. But the water will gradually evaporate. Once the fat is melted, pour the liquid through a fine sieve that you've lined with a coffee filter or several layers of cheesecloth so as to catch the bits of cracklings. Put the melted lard into sterilized jars (wide-mouth canning jars work great), cover, and let them sit on your counter until they've congealed. When the lard is liquid, it will be light yellow in color, but will harden white. Store your lard in the fridge or freezer so it will last longer before going bad, although it will be fine in your pantry for probably several weeks (at least) if you don't have fridge space.

By the way, you can toast the cracklings in the oven, sprinkle on a wee bit of salt, and use them to top casseroles or add to salads or vegetables. Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about loving to eat the cracklings when Ma and Pa rendered lard and for good reason . They are tasty!

But I no longer raise hogs and I don't have a line on a local hog farmer willing to give up his/her fat, so I bought lard this week:
I'll grant you that store-bought hydrogenated lard has little in common with homemade naturally rendered lard, but I was feeling nostalgic and used it.
I made biscuits (see recipe below):


 They were wonderful! Very light and flaky. If you've never eaten a biscuit made with lard, you are in for a treat. Here's the recipe:

Light and Airy Lard Biscuits

2 cups flour
4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
3 T. lard
3/4 cup milk
In a medium mixing bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Cut in the lard with a fork until the mixture resembles coarse crumbles. Make a well in the middle and add the milk all at once. Mix with the fork until a soft dough forms. Then use one of your hands to gently knead the dough right in the bowl, about 10-15 times. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll to 1/2-inch thick. Cut with a biscuit or cookie cutter and place the biscuits on a greased baking sheet.
Bake in a preheated 450-degree oven for 12 minutes.
While the biscuits were baking I whipped up a batch of sausage gravy:

Give lard a try. I think you'll agree that your baked goods will taste better.


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