It has been another typical weekend at Wise Acres - we had a visit from Nanna, cut down trees, piled logs, burned brush, pounded fence posts and rendered lard... whoa there - rendered lard?
A theme that's making its rounds lately (at least for us), is that the healthiest food was what our grandparents ate, including only unprocessed fats: butter, olive oil and lard.
We've being slowly moving back to butter (and getting organic as much as possible - its so pricey!) but hadn't moved away from shortening for baking, etc. However, our research indicated that the store-bought lard wasn't any better than shortening (see Wikipedia references below).
Last weekend one half of our favourite hog farmers was spending a day rendering, so inevitably we asked about buying some fat for ourselves. (I saw "we", but I think Joanne considered this project exclusively mine!) Gigi, when I picked up the 10+ pounds of "kidney fat" (what I see in Wikipedia is also called "leaf lard"), gave me some straightforward instructions:
- cut or grind the fat to smaller chunks
- place them into in 1/4 inch of water, in a heavy steel or iron pot
- start heat high, but lower it way down once it's warm
- as clear liquid appears, filter it through a sieve and cheesecloth into glass containers
- refrigerate and freeze as necessary
This picture shows the lard at different stages of solidification, from oil-like to it's snow-white lard-as-we-know-it-ness.
Rather than store the lard in mason jars as many appear to do, I chose to use larger pans, and I plan to cut the blocks into 1-lb blocks (or close) and freeze what we don't immediately need.
Nanna made her world-famous Chicken Plait tonight, and fried the chicken and mushrooms in the fresh lard. Yummy.
Some interesting snippets from Wikipedia about lard:
- Cooking fat obtained from cattle or sheep is known as suet or tallow.
- Toward the late 20th century, lard began to be regarded as less healthy than vegetable oilsolive and sunflower oil) because of its high saturated fatty acid and cholesterol content. However, despite its reputation, lard has less saturated fat, more unsaturated fat, and less cholesterol than an equal amount of butter by weight. Unlike many margarines and vegetable shortenings, unhydrogenated lard contains no trans fat. Despite its similar chemical constituency and lower saturated fat content than butter, lard typically incites much consternation and disapproval from many people in the English-speaking world.
- Lard can be obtained from any part of the pig as long as there is a high concentration of fatty tissue. The highest grade of lard, known as leaf lard, is obtained from the "flare" fat deposit surrounding the kidneys and inside the loin.
- Lard may be rendered by either of two processes, wet rendering or dry rendering. In wet rendering, pig fat is boiled in water or steamed at a high temperature and the lard, which is insoluble in water, is skimmed off of the surface of the mixture, or it is separated in an industrial centrifuge. In dry rendering, the fat is exposed to high heat in a pan or oven without the presence of water (a process similar to frying bacon). The two processes yield somewhat differing products. Wet-rendered lard has a more neutral flavor, a lighter color, and a high smoke point. Dry-rendered lard is somewhat more browned in color and flavor and has relatively lower smoke point.
- Industrially-produced lard, including much of the lard sold in supermarkets, is rendered from a mixture of high and low quality fat sources from throughout the pig. It is typically hydrogenated (which produces trans fats as a by-product), and often treated with bleaching and deodorizing agents, emulsifiers, and antioxidants, such as BHT. Such treatment makes lard shelf stable. (Untreated lard must be refrigerated or frozen to prevent rancidity.)