Thank the Lard!

lardsmall.JPGLook what I got from the farmer down the road: gorgeous, creamy leaf lard!

What’s that? Did you whisper “Ew, lard!”?
Take a deep breath, it will be OK. The weird, illicit shiver Americans get when they hear someone say “lard” is rather new. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the use of “lard” as an insult dates only from the 1940s.

See, chances are your great-grandmother cooked with lard. Likely your grandmother did too. (There’s a reason older people remember “grandma’s pie” and “grandma’s fried chicken” so fondly.) They probably only switched to poisonous hydrogenated vegetable shortening in the fifties or sixties, when “experts” started to warn about the dangers of saturated fats, and Procter & Gamble picked up on it in their Crisco* advertising. (“It’s all vegetable. It’s digestible!”)

Funny thing is, according to the USDA, lard contains more monounsaturated fatty acids (think olive oil) than saturated ones. Here’s the fatty acid breakdown for one tablespoon of lard: 1.4g polyunsaturated; 5.8g monounsaturated; 5g saturated. (For reference, a tablespoon of butter: 0.4g polyunsaturated; 3g monounsaturated; 7.3g saturated.) So even if you buy the “saturated fat is the devil” theory (and I don’t), lard is not unhealthy.

So how did we get to the point where the word “lard” must be said with a whisper and a giggle? It’s really rather strange. People sigh about indulging in “too much” butter. But if you suggest using butter in cooking, no one looks at you in horror. The word “butter” doesn’t evoke gasps or blushes.

Whatever the issue, I think it’s time we got over it. Lard is a wonderful cooking fat. There’s nothing in the world that can equal a leaf lard pie crust for flakiness.

Unfortunately, you can’t buy real lard in the grocery store. Grocery store lard is partially hydrogenated to give it a uniform texture and a longer shelf life. (It’s really just Crisco made from industrial pig fat instead of industrial soy and cottonseed oils.)

There are a couple of places online that sell pure rendered lard from happy (read: well-treated on small farms) pigs. Mother Linda’s is one, though she doesn’t always have enough to supply all her customers. And there’s at least one supplier on LocalHarvest that will ship.

It’s much easier to get lard from a local pig farmer or butcher in fresh, unrendered form. This means you need to melt it down yourself. But that’s not so hard. It’s really rather fun.

If you want to use your lard to make pie crusts, try to get leaf lard (the soft, creamy fat from around the pig’s kidneys). It has a unique crystalline structure that makes incredibly flaky pastry. Fatback is a harder fat from (you guessed it) along the back of the pig. It’s old time Appalachian food—the classic addition to a pot of greens. (Farmers sometimes also sell mixed fat from other parts of the pig, but the quality isn’t as good.)

To render lard, just chop it up the best you can (smaller pieces will render faster) and put it in a heavy pot with a bit of water on the bottom. Put the pot on low heat. Stir as often as you can remember. It will take hours to render. You can speed the process up a little by squishing the whole bit with a potato masher once it’s started to melt. Don’t be tempted to turn the heat up. It will make the lard taste greasy and fried.

When the unmelted bits start to sink, strain off the nice, clear lard. This is the stuff for pie crusts. If it looks like there’s still a lot of fat on what’s left, put it back on the heat to render some more. This second batch will be stronger tasting than the first, but still useful for things like cornbread and greens—and frying, of course.

Strain your rendered lard through cheesecloth into clean jars. You can store the extra in the freezer.

Happy baking!

*Yes, I know there’s “zero trans-fat per serving” Crisco now. Turns out that may be even more poisonous than the original. Are you surprised?

21 Comments »

  1. darcey said,

    November 16, 2007 @ 9:57 am

    Did you see my post on Agutuk this summer? Basically lard ice cream! Soooo good!

  2. Jenny said,

    November 16, 2007 @ 12:20 pm

    I was hoping to render some lard this summer, but never got around to it. It lends such an essential flavor and texture to pastries–and so much better for you than its industrial counterparts.

  3. crabappleherbs said,

    November 16, 2007 @ 12:49 pm

    Darcey — yes, I remember the post. It’s quite an idea, maybe I’ll be brave enough to try it someday.

    Jenny — depending on where you are, you can probably still get some fresh leaf lard. Fall is pig-harvest season, and many farmers aren’t finished until the end of November.

  4. The Ethicurean: Chew the right thing. » Blog Archive » Digest - Blogs: Let’s scrap the Farm Bill, winter marketing, the golden age of apples said,

    November 17, 2007 @ 7:12 am

    [...] Thank the Lard!: In praise and defense of pork fat. (The Herbwife’s Kitchen) [...]

  5. Persephone said,

    November 17, 2007 @ 3:18 pm

    It’s so refreshing to hear someone ELSE saying the same thing about the complete irrational-ness of the horror of lard. I’m not a fan, because we try to keep kosher in this house, but yeah, lard is no scarier than butter as far as fat is concerned. Try convincing anyone of that though. *rolleyes*

  6. crabappleherbs said,

    November 17, 2007 @ 3:59 pm

    Hi Persephone.

    Thanks for the comment. Isn’t it mysterious and fascinating how people’s attitudes toward food develop? Lard is such a peculiar case.

    As for kashrut, I’m about to do a post on schmaltz, which is terribly kosher of course.

    I did have a few thoughts of my distant kosher-keeping ancestors rolling over in their graves as I wrote this post. But the thing is, for the last few generations at least, my Jewish ancestors have been solidly Southern. For my great-grandmother, bacon was an essential food group. Ah, the American (fat) melting pot…

  7. Kristena Dreamseeds said,

    November 17, 2007 @ 5:48 pm

    Lard is wonderful stuff. Really southern cooking is a delicious way of using every part of an animal in so many ways. I was jsut talking with a man today that loves pig intestines and belly. Odd to think of, yet I am sure I have had it in some Soul food cooking we were blessed to partake of in North Florida.

  8. Rebecca Clayton said,

    November 18, 2007 @ 10:05 am

    I’ve never made a small batch of lard–we always had cauldron full to process, and it was a job best handled outdoors if possible.

    When you make a small batch, do you get “cracklins”–the little crispy things that float to the top? They are a rich and tasty treat.

    Thanks for visiting my blog, and letting me know about your Web presence. We’re curious where you lived in Lobelia, and who your “folks” are. Any relation to “Cappy”, who used to work at Denmar Hospital?

  9. crabappleherbs said,

    November 19, 2007 @ 10:52 am

    Hi Rebecca.

    Yes, you do get cracklins if you make lard at home — I just like to pour off some of the mild stuff before it gets to that point. The lard can taste a bit “fried” once it gets to the cracklins stage.

    I’m wishing I had a cauldron myself to render in… I’ve been doing it in batches in my little dutch oven, and that’s a bit tedious.

    Oh, and you’re right on about my “folks.” I sent you an email…

  10. El said,

    November 19, 2007 @ 4:48 pm

    Hello Herbwife,

    How very timely. I am picking up 3 pounds of leaf lard on Wednesday, and knew I had to render it, but…here we go!

    As a vegetarian of some 17 years, my recent fall from flesh-free grace is still taking some adjustment on my part. However, I knew the benefits of lard, and look forward to using it in some piecrusts for savory pies this holiday season. (The reason for my “fall” is just an adjustment: some farmers are actually humanely raising their animals. This wasn’t the case, or at least I didn’t have access to non-CAFO meat 17, or even 4, years ago. That, and we’re eating close to home.)

    I can’t quite remember how I found you, but I did, about 2 months back. It was interesting, this discovery: Hmm. An herbalist. And then I read your approach, and it’s not woo-woo; you are very grounded, just as herbalists have traditionally been. SO I got to wondering, does this woman know Sally Fallon, or Nina Planck, and, well, you do! I am glad to have found you, and hope to continue to learn more.

  11. crabappleherbs said,

    November 19, 2007 @ 6:01 pm

    Hi El!

    It happens I was raised a vegetarian, myself (strict Kloss-ism in the family on my stepfather’s side). In my mid twenties I came to the body-level conclusion that I needed to eat flesh. I had very much gotten over all the other puritanical aspects of the Jethro Kloss philosophy (the body is bad and it must be punished), but I had a hard time starting to eat meat. It was a texture problem. When I finally did it, I found it really grounding and humbling. I still don’t eat sketchy industrial meat, but I find that good, local, “happy” meat is really important for me to feel healthy. (I need to write a blogpost on this, but I have a hard time getting my mind around what I want to say.)

    As far as “woo woo” goes, I am rather allergic to that in my life and herbal practice. I know and respect plenty of herbalists who use new age spiritual language, but it’s just not something I relate to myself.

  12. Henriette said,

    November 21, 2007 @ 1:40 pm

    I’ll be getting a kg or two of reindeer fat next week (or so) … I’ll render it of course, but it’s underskin fat, not as nice as leaf lard. Still, it’s normal-fed animal fat :-)

  13. crabappleherbs said,

    November 21, 2007 @ 4:47 pm

    Oh, wow, Henriette. What does reindeer fat taste like?

  14. Henriette said,

    November 29, 2007 @ 2:55 pm

    Very mild, a bit gritty, and hardens up very nicely. Cool stuff! I got a large bag’o’bones as well, woot!

  15. michelle said,

    May 13, 2008 @ 12:16 pm

    cool, glad to find this. we just bought half a pig from some friends, and I never knew I liked pork! I have a bunch of back fat that I am going to render- it really is a divine fat for cooking and baking. Just learned that recently too- I used to say- “ew, lard”

  16. crabappleherbs said,

    May 15, 2008 @ 12:18 pm

    It’s interesting how our attitudes can change when we get to know a food, isn’t it? Have fun with that fatback!

  17. John said,

    July 12, 2008 @ 8:35 am

    Sounds as though Leaf lard is the only healthy way to go…

  18. Lissa said,

    July 15, 2010 @ 3:58 pm

    I WISH I could find rendered leaf lard around here. I don’t have the space to render it myself, but I am a firm believer that lard is far better than any kind of shortening they sell in grocery stores. I think it’s funny that when I called around to all the butchers and grocery stores here, people were obviously shocked and sounded offended when I asked if they carry lard. “No!” was the resounding answer I got. There is only ONE place in the entire Puget Sound area that sells unrendered lard and that’s 45 mins away in Tacoma. Shocking, really. You would think with as many people are into local, responsible eating up here, they would know the truth about lard.

  19. Faery said,

    April 1, 2011 @ 4:04 pm

    THAK YOU THANK YOU so much. now, I understand why my granny’s hash was so, so delicious and I did not find “the” ingredient. I made a bread using lard and I think it is loaded with flavor and it is moist and soft.

  20. chris said,

    December 8, 2011 @ 9:44 am

    I am glad I found this post, I am not a personal fan of pork as an adult, loved it as a kid! however I am in agreement with your position on animal fats! When I was raising my babies I got ahold of a book on nutrition by Adele Davis, it was a library reject and have held my position ever since. So here i was taking Nutrition classes in the mid-eighty’s and early ninety’s and arguing with my teachers the whole time! That was back in the day when people were insisting on raising children on skim milk and margarine!!!! mine got whole milk ( as fresh as I could find it, raw milk was hard to come by) and butter, never tried lard but used bacon fats and such in my meat dishes. I have been making my chicken and beef stocks the way you have suggested and loving it! I see you know of Sally Fallon and her wonderful book Nourishing Traditions! I also have access to great milk and whole cream here so I make my own creme fraiche, cream cheese, and whipping cream. great stuff. Though I am no expert I have used herbs for many years for many ailments so I find your sight invaluable for learning more. thanks again!

  21. Dorthy said,

    April 30, 2012 @ 7:52 pm

    We render our lard using a large electric roaster. It works great, but is an all day process. Today’s project isn’t quite finished, but when we do finish tonight, we’ll end up with 13 quarts of beautiful lard. (We have access to fat, because we raise hogs.)

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