How To Make Lard

finished jars of lard

In the not too distant past, pigs were raised with an eye to their fat.  For the pioneers, butter and lard were the only reliable sources of fat–they didn’t have fancy presses or chemical processes to extract oils from seeds or nuts, and olive trees don’t grow well in North America. So each household had a pig or two which they deliberately fattened not only for the meat, but also to render the fat and carefully use it all winter long. Certain breeds were known for their fat-producing qualities, such as Berkshires or Old Spot.

leaf fat

A hog produces two kinds of fat:  back fat and leaf fat.  In a package, the thick square-cut strips are the backfat, and the weird shaped folded fat is the leaf fat from around the kidneys, which can be pulled out by hand.  Leaf lard is said to be the best fat for pies.  While cutting up the leaf lard, I noticed it is full of conback fatnective tissue, which I diced along with the other fat.  My butcher says she doesn’t notice much difference between the fats, that the back fat is no more “porky” than the leaf, but in my first experiment making lard, I kept them apart just to see.  She was right: I didn’t see or smell any difference.

I find making lard is much faster and easier than the other “use all the bits” processes such as sausages or headcheese. Equipment is simple:

  • a crockpot with temperature settings
  • a ladle
  • several small glass jars (jelly or salmon jar size)
  • rubber bands
  • paper towels
  • Several layers of newspaper on the counter also aid in cleanup.

It’s a project that doesn’t take constant attention: Start in the morning and melt slowly over the course of the day.

cubed lardI diced the fat into little 1/2″ chunks, dumped it all into the crock pot, added 1/4 cup water, set it to Low and put on the lid.  For the rest of the day I cycled between Low and Warm.  Every website reiterates Don’t Burn the Fat! so I kept things low and slow.

The better websites also said to skim the fat as you go–don’t wait for it all to melt.

One thing:  making lard makes everything greasy.  Greasy greasy greasy!  You try to be careful, but the hot grease will drip and spill.  Your hands get greasy.  The spoons are greasy.  The stove gets greasy.  Your elbows and nose get greasy.  I used up almost an entire roll of paper towels, which usually lasts me a month.  Keep wiping with paper towels and don’t let all that grease go down into your drainpipes, or you’ll have to pour vats of boiling water down them to melt everything.

filter the melted fatAfter trying several different filtering systems, I’ve settled on the simple paper towel / jar method.  I never use any size bigger than a pint jar, and like the half-pint jelly jar best.  I freeze my lard–home canners don’t work at all–and I prefer to take out the smallest quantity at a time.

While the fat is heating up, get your jars ready.  Place the paper towel over the mouth of the jar, make a deep hollow, and secure with a rubber band.  The hollow should extend at least one-fourth into the jar.

looking through the melted fatWhen enough fat has melted so you can see liquid, use the ladle to start skimming out the fat, and pouring slowly through the filters. Continue this through the day, being especially careful toward the end not to burn the remaining cracklings. When the liquid fat is almost gone, you will hear the cracklings start to sizzle. Reduce temperature to Warm, and stir often toward the end.  I usually prop the crockpot about 1 inch on one side, shove the cracklings toward the high end, let the last fat flow toward the bottom and spoon it out with a smaller tool.

I ladle into two or three jars with each scoop because the fat doesn’t drip through the paper very quickly.  When the level reaches the paper, transfer to another jar, and top up the first jar with melted fat from other vessels.  Pop on a lid, wipe down with a paper towel.  At this point you could wash the jar in hot soapy water.  Set aside to harden, and eventually put into the freezer.

lard in jars, cooledOne pig side makes about eight pints of lard, but your mileage may vary.  I raise my pigs to between 95-115 pound sides–the higher weights have more fat on the carcass.  Sometimes a butcher leaves a large layer of fat on a roast–sometimes I cut that off and save it, and make more lard later.  Unlike earlier in my life, I never throw away fat anymore–one way or another it gets used.  I no longer buy vegetable oil.  The only fats in my cupboard are olive oil, peanut oil (a dollop raises the smoke point of all oils), lard, butter, and rendered chicken fat (there’s nothing like potatoes fried in chicken fat).

Island Shire has pork sides available, with extra fat for lard.  Click here to learn more.

Lard MakingCracklings

Ever since I read Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder, I have wondered what “cracklin’s” are and why on earth people go on and on about them, rhapsodizing about how good they are and what a luxury they were and how they fought over them as kids.  Why in the book would Ma say “they are too rich for little girls”? Why anyone would choose to eat the leftover bits of whatever-it-is when the fat is gone?  Isn’t that disgusting?  The whole idea of fat in particular, and then THAT part?  Very redneck.

Cracklings are variously described as browned or crunchy. In the crockpot toward the end of the day I noticed that things were turning color, even though the melted fat looked perfectly clear.  I thought I probably had cracklin’s.

So, let’s be a redneck.

Initially, no taste.  I chewed a bit.  Huh.  Not really crunchy, but more like a crackle between my teeth.  Huh.  An apt name, indeed.  No taste… wait….wait…. Oh good heavens, what is THAT?  The cracklin’s had finally spread throughout my entire mouth, and then the flavor hit.  Oh wow.  Very subtle, like faint bacon, but with a richness that is even more satisfying.  There’s no salt in this.  It’s just pure flavor.  Except it’s almost like not a flavor.

I wondered if this in the umami that I’ve read about and was never sure if I’d experienced–umami, supposedly the hard-to-define fifth taste.

I found myself returning to the crockpot, again and again, to taste cracklin’s.  Weirdly addictive.  Maybe kids hate to eat fat because they haven’t yet developed a umami taste, and to them fat is just a waste of time and chewing.

I’m looking now into ways of turning cracklings into something like bacon bits, that can be sprinkled on baked potatoes or put into salads.  Let me know if you have a good recipe for that, so that they don’t clump together.

As of January 2016, I have a few sides of pork available, if you’re interested in pampered, pastured pork, that will make you clean healthy lard.

 

Pretty Darn Good Liver Recipe

These days, you don’t hear so much about moms making kids eat liver.  Moms probably figure that they can hand the kids a Vitamin A pill, and that takes care of the whining.

But Husband found some pork liver in our freezer, and determined to make use of all of the pig parts, he found this recipe, which originated in the Philippines, where we spent five years.

And I took seconds.  And then thirds.

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Liver Steak Recipe
Ingredients
1 lb Liver (pig’s or cow’s liver are best)
2 medium sized onions, sliced thinly crosswise
1 piece lemon (or 3-4 pieces calamansi)
4 tbsp soy sauce
3 tbsp garlic. minced (optional)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
4 tbsp cooking oil
Cooking Procedure
Marinate the liver in lemon juice, soy sauce, salt, and ground black pepper for a minimum of 1 hour.
Pour the cooking oil in a pan and apply heat.
Put-in the garlic and fry until color turns golden brown. Set aside.
On the same pan with the remaining cooking oil, fry the both sides of the liver (do not over cook ) then set aside.
Put the onions in the pan where the liver was fried and cook until texture becomes soft.
Add the marinade and simmer for 5 to 7 minutes or until sauce becomes thick.
Pour the sauce with onions over the fried liver and garnish with fried garlic.
Serve hot. Share and enjoy!
Number of servings (yield): 4

Thanksgiving Pumpkin Table Arrangement

Pumpkin ArrangementWhen I talk about free-ranging vegetables, the squashes and pumpkins are particularly what I have in mind.  The entire lower field is completely covered in vines and leaves, and I’m very happy with the crop this year.

In the very last FarmShare of the season, I loaded the buckets with lots of different Cucurbita:  Winter Luxury pumpkins, warty older Crookneck squash, Buttercup squash, Pumpkin ArrangementJack-Be-Nimble mini-pumpkins, and Baby Boos.  The crookneck is a summer squash, usually eaten when it’s much smaller; older, it’s a delightfully ugly and interesting gourd.

One of my CSA members kindly emailed her arrangement to me, and I’m dazzled.  I love how it’s contained in the tray, with those extra flowers strategically placed.  I had been using small pine boughs, but I like this even better.

Pumpkin Arrangement

Pumpkin Arrangement

 

 

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Free Range Broilers

Broilers Free RangingPeople express a fair amount of surprise when I mention that I free-range my broiler birds. Most folks who pasture the meat chickens still keep them confined to a moveable bottomless pen called a ‘chicken tractor.’ But I found that after five weeks of age, eagles don’t bother them anymore, and they stay pretty close to their hut, because it offers reliable shade and water.

Broilers Free Ranging on Driveway

The meaties start feeling peckish around 7 pm, and begin wandering even farther afield than usual. If they see Husband or I near the house, a bit of a stampede ensues.  It’s the waddling-est stampede you’ve ever seen, and it always makes me laugh.

Broilers Pied Piper  And if I’ve got the bucket, they really follow me around.  They’ve been eating clover and bugs since their breakfast meal, but they do indeed like their pellet dinner.

Many farmers use feeders inside the chicken tractor, but I find that throwing the feed out in a line on a tarp works very nicely. There’s room for everyone, and the pellets don’t get lost in the grass or dirty. The chickens start to associate the snapping out of the tarp with food.

Broilers Prepping Feeding Tarp I really enjoy these birds, and even sometimes sit with them in a chair and drink a cider while they eat.

Evening Feeding Broilers

 

 

Having them pastured right between my different fields also makes it easy to take care of weeding or watering in those places while I wait for them to finish.

Broilers Evening MealThis batch of birds was a very lively bunch, spending lots of time in between the rows of the potato field, taking dirt baths, and eating clover.

They dressed out between 6 pounds and 8 lbs 3 oz.  A really nice healthy batch.

 

 

 

Lamb and Chard Casserole

This recipe comes from the book The Supper of the Lamb by Robert Farrar Capon, who spends the entire book explaining, in detail, how to cook and serve a single large leg of lamb.  You wouldn’t think that could be so interesting. His chapter on how to cut up an onion is truly inspirational.

This recipe uses the “deliberate leftovers” from the braised lamb he describes on the previous page.  I’ve successfully used the recipe with pork or beef.

LAMB AND SPINACH (or CHARD) CASSEROLE

  • 1 pound or so of cooked lamb, cut into bite-size slices
  • 2 pounds fresh spinach (or chard) or 3-4 packages frozen, cooked and chopped (don’t oversalt)
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 4 Tbsp. mayonnaise
  • 4 Tbsp. grated parmesan or cheddar cheese
  • 1 few drops Sherry
  • salt and pepper to taste

Add all ingredients to the hot, drained spinach / chard, correct the seasoning, place in a casserole, cover, and heat thoroughly in a moderate oven.  Serve with plenty of bread and butter.  (from page 134).

 

Garlic Scape Hummus Recipe

Hardneck garlic is known for trying to set seed in late June, so it throws up a curly seedhead called a ‘scape.’ Farmers snap these off so that the energy goes into the bulb, but those scapes can be used in cooking for lightly garlic-ed dishes such as stirfry, butters, or pesto.

But my favourite is hummus, partly because it is so easy to make.  My neighbour has a wonderful recipe which doesn’t require measuring tahini, so the mess is minimized.  Just throw everything into the food processor and viola !

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup garlic scapes (just eyeball it)
  • 1/4 cup sesame seeds (or tahini if you prefer)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 18-20 oz can of chickpeas, drained (otherwise known as garbanzo beans)
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • salt to taste

Throw scapes into food processor and chop.  Then dump in remaining ingredients and process until smooth.  If the hummus is a bit dry, add a tablespoon of water or add’l oil.

Enjoy with pita or crackers !

 

Kale Salad Recipe

Every time I take this salad to a cookout or a picnic, I get rave reviews.

Kale, apple and bacon salad recipe

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 2 red apples, cut into long slices
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 8 ounces kale, washed and torn into bite-sized pieces
  • 6 slices bacon, crumbled
  • 1/3 cup toasted walnuts
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoon finely chopped shallots (I usually use onions)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons black pepper
  • 1 cup olive oil

Directions:

  1. Add cut apples to a small bowl with lemon juice. Toss to coat apples in the juice. This will help keep them from turning brown.
  2. In a large salad bowl, add kale, apples, bacon and walnuts.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, maple syrup, mustard, shallots, salt and pepper. Slowly drizzle in olive oil while whisking to create a smooth and creamy dressing.
  4. Drizzle dressing over salad and toss to combine. Store any remaining dressing in the refrigerator.

Protection Racket

Bald EagleAs I was tilling soil in the West Point Forty, I happened to spy a raven winging toward the chicken coop. Suspicious behaviour indeed–I’ve observed those thieving birds flying overhead with large brown eggs locked in their beaks.  Who’d have thought they could do that?  I prepared to jump off the tractor and go defend my girls’ hard-laid efforts.

Then I noticed that the raven was flying in and out of a fir near the chicken run.  He never lighted on a branch, but just kept soaring in and out of the foliage, cawing the whole time.  Odd behaviour!   And then a bald eagle burst from inside the tree and flew off, harried for at least a kilometer by this intrepid raven.

My perspective on the ravens completely changed.  Continue reading

25¢ Discount for Pint Jars

No quarts or jelly jars!I’m always on the lookout for pint-sized canning jars.  My salsa recipe calls for this size exclusively, and I make a lot of salsa!

I love the idea of re-using jars.  It’s so much better than recycling.  Rather than throwing empty jars into the CVRD glass bins, re-use saves the energy needed to melt the glass and reshape it into new vessels.  As long as there are no chips in the edge, or cracks in the body of the jar, it’s good to go!

Quart jars are not useful for me, as most of the canning I do requires the small pint or half-liter.  So instead of pitching that canning jar into recycle, take it to my farmstand at Island Shire and exchange it for 25 cents off your next dozen eggs.  Just leave the jar near the coin box and I’ll find it.

pint jars various brandsWide-mouth or regular mouth PINT jars are fine. Continue reading

Don’t Let Nettles Scare You

Nettle LasagneEat nettles?!? Are you kidding?

Low in calories, a blanched cup has 36% of Vitamin A and 43% of calcium daily requirements. And, cooked, they taste (and feel) great!  Wow!

But nettles are tricky.  You can’t touch them to wash or process them.  Nettle’s sting is designed to keep you away from their nutritious goodness. You must treat them as though they are boiling hot.  But the reward for your carefulness is most definitely worthwhile !

Wear gloves, then with scissors, cut the tenderest top leaves off–the very top, plus about 4 more leaves down the stem. I also include some of the stem, especially if I plan to chop the leaves up.  Continue reading