Give Lard A Chance
I love lard. I love everything about lard. It is my sacred secret for everything from perfect pie to insanely soft skin. Someone once told me that my love of lard is “unnatural.” Au contraire, my love of lard is 100% natural.
I am all about being natural. (Unless it’s unattractive or smelly, like body hair, but mostly, all about natural.) (Or Tootsie Rolls, a life without the delicious goodness of Tootsie Rolls would be awful.) Part of that is getting rid of any food in my home that involved mechanical or chemical processing. In terms of fats, that means it has to have been squeezed or rendered to capture the natural fats – like olive oil, grape seed oil, coconut oil, butter, and lard. Not run through a ton of chemicals and machines to turn into oil, like safflower, canola, margarine etc…. I ask myself, “could Ma Ingalls have eaten this?” If not, you’re not likely to find it in my home.
Fat makes sense to me instinctively. “Besides,” I reckoned in my fat-loving brain, “people have always eaten fat, why would we stop now?” I did a lot of research about traditional diets of people around the world who eat plenty of whole natural fats. I found a lot of stuff, and spent days in a research rabbit hole. It became increasingly clear to me that we need more fat, less crap, and to get old-fashioned about eating.
A lot of what I found was written in an incendiary and condescending tone that was a bit wing-nut in manner, but it still made sense to me. So I followed links looking for source-material, and was generally validated. I went on a quest to get more fat. Avocados, nuts, fish, butter, olive oil and the like were easy. But lard was hard.
The lard you find in grocery stores is no more natural than margarine. Clearly, I was going to have to render my own. “What would Ma Ingalls do?” Well, she’d have the strapping hot Pa Ingalls kill her a pig and bring her the fat, but I don’t have a strapping hot Pa Ingalls. I do have Bob the Butcher, and Bob got me 20 pounds of pure pig fat from a farm less than 100 miles from my home. And with that, I rendered lard.
Rendering lard is the process of getting the pure fat away from any of the meaty bits that are not fat. The fat will melt away, and the solids that are left behind will get strained away, and you will be left with pure, white, soft delicious goodness.
HOW TO RENDER LARD
- Get some pig fat from a local butcher. Ideally, from a free-roaming happy pig with no weird antibiotics and chemicals in it.
- Using either scissors or a very sharp knife, cut it into small chunks. Roughly dice sized. I actually run mine through the meat-grinder attachment on my Kitchen Aid mixer.
- Put all your fat chunks into a stockpot. Add 2 inches (or so) of water. Err on the side of too much water.
- Turn up the heat until the water is boiling, which also means the fat is rendering. Once it comes to a boil, turn it all the way down to a very low simmer.
- At this point, you can either leave it on the lowest setting to simmer for 24 hours or so. If, like me, you are a bit squeamish about a pot of fat simmering on an open flame in your house while you’re away, you can put it in the oven. I put the lid on and let it hang out in my 170-dgeree oven for at least 24 hours.
- After 24 hours or so, you will notice that it is almost all liquid, with very few solid parts. It’s time to strain and chill.
- Get a nice big bowl, that will fit in your fridge, and put a few inches of clean, room temperature, water in it.
- Put a mesh strainer over the top of the bowl. Put several layers of cheesecloth on top of the mesh strainer. You want the cheese-cloth pieces to be big enough that they drape down to the counter and you will be able to gather up the ends, with all the solid fats in them, to squeeze out all the fat.
- Using a ladle, begin scooping out the rendered lard and pour it through the cheesecloth and strainer into the bowl filled with water. Obviously, the goal is to get the liquid lard into the bowl while capturing all the schmuckus in the cheesecloth.
- Once everything has been transferred, you want to scoop up the ends of the cheesecloth and lift it up over the strainer, with all the solid bits trapped. Twist and squeeze a bit to get the remaining fat out. It’s like milking a cow, and your hands will be insanely soft.
- Once that’s all done, I generally take a whisk and mix the water and fat together in the bowl. It will separate of its own accord, and the water will suck out any remaining schmuckus.
- Put it in the fridge overnight.
In the morning, the lard will be a thick white layer on top. Take a knife of any sort, and cut it in half. Shimmie the knife around until you can just lift the slab of lard out of the bowl. You will find a bunch of jello-like liquid under the lard, some of which will cling to the bottom of your lard slab. Scrape the gunk off your lard slab, and put the clean lard in a saucepan to melt it down again.
12. Once it is all melted, you can carefully pour it into mason jars and let it cool in the fridge. I generally strain it through super fine cheesecloth again, as I pour it into jars. There’s no solid matter to deal with, so it’s no big deal.
Once it’s solid, it’s ready to use.
But how will you use it? First off, use it to make the best pie-crust and biscuits on the planet.
LARD PIE CRUST
Basically, take whatever pie crust recipe makes you happy, and use half butter, half lard. (I also add a little sugar, but don’t tell anyone.) I think it helps to understand the basic chemistry of pie crust, and you’ll know why lard is the way to go.
Most people want a light and flaky crust. You get that by having little air pockets between layers of flour, which get nice and crunchy. In order for that to happen, you need two things: 1) Steam and 2) a solid fat for the flour to hold on to, like a mold, while it cooks. The longer the mold stays in place, the more secure the fluffy layers will be. Fat is that mold. The little bit of water that you put into the crust provides the steam. By mixing it AS LITTLE AS POSSIBLE, you keep little globs of fat, and do not let the glutens in the flour develop to become bread-like.
So, the higher the melting point of the fat, the longer it will hold its shape and support the flaky structure. Lard has a really high melting point. Wherever flour is wrapped around lard while it’s baking, there will be a nice flaky air pocket.
Keep everything as cold as possible. Mix everything little as possible.
(For one double-crust pie. You can halve or double as you need. It’s the ratio that matters. 2 cups flour, 1 cup fat, as much water as needed to hold it together.)
- 2 parts flour
- ½ part butter (VERY COLD)
- ½ part lard (VERY COLD)
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- ¼ cup ice water (give or take.)
- Mix the dry ingredients together.
- Cut the butter into small chunks.
- Add chunks of butter into flour mix. Scoop lard in small scoops into flour mix Toss with a fork to cover. Cut the fat into the flour until it is a grainy, the texture of small gritty cornmeal.
- Loosely mold into two balls, and put in the fridge for at least an hour. (Or days, if you want.)
- Flour the counter and roll out your crusts. Try to handle the dough as little as possible.
Bake your pie….. Gather accolades.
BUTTERMILK BISCUITS WITH LARD
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoons sugar
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 4 tablespoons butter, cubed
- 4 tablespoons lard
- 3/4 cup buttermilk (or plain milk)
- 1 egg (optional, but I swear by it)
- In a large bowl combine dry ingredients together.
- Cut butter and lard into mixture until it begins to look like cornmeal.
- Make a well, add the egg and the buttermilk.
- Knead it with your fingers until it holds together. DO NOT OVER MIX, you want it to be rough.
- Form the biscuits. Fancy people will roll them out and use biscuit cutters to make them perfect. I am not fancy, I grab a blob and smoosh it with my hand until it is about 1 inch thick and roughly the right size.
SOAP WITH LARD
Making soap was another big step for me. I was tired of the plastic bottles from body wash, skeptical about ingredients that I couldn’t pronounce, and wanted a more natural way. After all, your skin is your largest organ, do you want to fill it with chemicals? Yup, nothing goes on my body that I wouldn’t put IN my body (since anything you put on your skin IS going in your body.)
Turns out, making soap is super easy. And cool. Here’s a simple soap recipe using lard (which is what people used for centuries.) It is lifted directly from Miller’s Homemade Soaps, which has totally dependable recipes, and they do the science part.
I’m going to assume that you know how to make soap already, but if not, I’ll give you very simple instructions and links to more details that you MUST read, so that you understand it. This article in Treehugger is a great primer, and was the first that I used. The recipe is great (but doesn’t use lard,) and the explanation is easy.
RECIPE – BY WEIGHT, NOT VOLUME
- 45 oz. lard
- 20 oz. olive oil
- 20 oz. coconut oil
- 12 oz. lye crystals
- 32 oz. cold water (I actually use coffee.)
- Add lye to water. NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND. Use a glass / pyrex bowl for the liquid, add lye a little bit at a time and stir with a wooden spoon that you will never use again for anything other than mixing lye for soap. I use a plastic fork, which will melt and deform, and then toss it.
- Melt all the fats together.
- Add the lye mixture to the fat and keep mixing with a handheld mixer, sporadically, until it’s ready for the molds.
This is easy. Take a shower or bath. Towel off, lightly, you want to be moist. Apply lard. Yes, I’m serious.
The whole point of ANY thick moisturizer is to create a barrier that keeps the moisture that is in your skin, IN your skin so it doesn’t evaporate out, especially in the winter. It could be anything, natural or unnatural. So I choose natural.
Yes, I put it on my face. And when I started, religiously, covering myself after bathing, I got softer, my pores looked smaller, everything was better. (I also use grape seed oil and shea butter, both of which work really well, and are totally natural.)
I am insanely soft. And well fed.
I highly recommend you do your own research about adding whole, natural fats back into your diet. At the very least, start eliminating any food that has to be chemically or mechanically processed. Show me the tree that grows tofu corndogs, and I’ll eat one. Until that day, it aint going in my naturally awesome body any sooner than Petroleum byproducts are going on it.