For most of my life, when I heard the word “lard,” it usually conjured images of greasy cardboard-sided cans with labels looking like they hadn’t changed since first designed in the 1950s.
It was an ingredient that my grandmother might have sworn by, as a non-negotiable ingredient in her pie crust.
But to use it today? Of course not; it’s the stuff of bad Mexican restaurants and dirty kitchens, a Most-Wanted criminal in the realm of coronary distress.
Over the past few years, however, my opinion of fats has changed fairly drastically. While I used to reach only for olive and canola oils, occasionally baking with butter but using Earth Balance as a “butter-flavored spread,” I now readily use butter (only the real stuff, preferably from grass-fed cows) and other animal fats with more abandon, believing that if the fats come from animals who foraged, ate grass, and overall lived species-appropriate lives on well-tended farms, their fats are actually good for us. In short, I had become much more comfortable with animal fats, namely the dairy and poultry varieties.
But what about pork? I kept reading things about lard, but had no idea where to get it, no category for using it. They don’t sell it at Trader Joe’s, and I didn’t just want any lard, I wanted clean lard from pigs that led a happy life (the all-important essential fatty acid balance of animal fats is heavily dependent on what the animals ate when they were alive).
So there I was, in a state of lard-acquiring limbo, when it was mentioned in conversation with our egg farmer at the Indy Winter Farmer’s Market. As I paid for my eggs and nitrate-free bacon, Mandy said that lard would make the Best Pie Crust Ever. And that was really all I needed to know.
Fast-forward through the holidays, and last Saturday at the Market I found myself walking away with 3 pounds of leaf lard (high-quality fat that surrounds the kidneys), ready to bring home and render. Mandy pointed me to the directions on their website for setting to this work.
If at first confused about why I needed to render lard from… lard, it became clear when I opened the package. I was conveniently forgetting that fat, on an animal, is grisly and somewhat sinuous. I was to chop up the fat into 1/2-inch pieces, and while I know my chef’s knife is due for a good sharpening, it took a surprising amount of elbow grease (pun absolutely intended). I was reminded of the kitchen-induced carpal tunnel I flirted with the day I tried to make mayonnaise with a whisk; my right arm needed a good shaking out every 1/2 pound or so.
To get the creamy, clean fat to use for that Pie Crust, I would need to cook the chopped lard so that the fat was liquefied and the cracklings could be strained out. This I accomplished in our crock pot over the course of about five hours. After straining out the cracklings I was left with a golden-hued liquid which I poured into canning jars and left out to cool overnight.
Then I went to bed in a house that smelled like a french-fry-factory (the downside of rendering lard in the winter when you can’t open your windows). This morning, my lard had cooled into the creamy white stuff that The Best Pie Crusts are made of. One jar will go into the freezer where it will keep for up to a year, and the other jar will keep for a couple months in the refrigerator.
How many pies can I make in 2 months? An untold number of frozen sour cherries and blueberries from last summer will help determine a reasonable answer to that question. Check back for the highlight reel.
This post is part of Tuesday Twister at GNOWFGLINS.