i’m thinking it was maybe a year ago that we fully jumped onto the real food bandwagon. considering my upbringing, however, it wasn’t much of a stretch. i was taught to cook from a very early age, and taught that cooking meant “from scratch”. i was very young the first time i was given the enjoyable task of planning a meal, making a grocery list, buying the ingredients, and then cooking the meal under the supervision of my mom. i remember the entree: cube steaks with hashbrown “haystacks” piled on top. the recipe called for the frozen kind, but my mother showed me instead how to peel and grate the potatoes to make our own hashbrowns. she also passed on to me her fabulous one bowl from scratch brownie recipe and i was horrified when someone, after sampling them, asked me what sort of mix i had used.
when i got married and began to establish my own home, much of my time was and still is spent in the kitchen crafting three meals a day from scratch. it is time i enjoy and look forward to. cooking is my therapy. it is a way for me to unwind and enjoy myself. three years ago we started a kitchen garden and have worked every growing season to get it to produce more efficiently in hopes of being able to raise the majority of our produce. and, last year about this time we were introduced to the book nourishing traditions. that encouraged us to kick things up just a notch: we began purchasing raw milk and cream in order to make our own butter, we toyed with the idea of raising chickens (which we have currently vetoed), we experimented with chicken livers (which went into the trash whereupon we promptly ordered a pizza). we also learned about the cautions of using vegetable oil and began to consider using lard instead. a brief internet search confirmed that the best way to get lard made from organic pig fat was to render it ourselves.
fortunately i had already established a relationship with the local co-op that provides the majority of our (locally produced) meat and some of our (locally grown) produce. i asked if they had a source for fat and a few weeks later, i was provided with two eight pound bags of what appeared to my uneducated eye to be pig belly fat. initially, i was a bit overwhelmed: most of the methods and tutorials that i had researched recommended using 1-2 ½ # and here i had about sixteen pounds total that were already frozen and couldn’t really be divided. i also do not at this time have a deep freeze so all of this was going into my tiny freezer on top of my fridge. i took it anyway, rearranged my snug little freezer to accommodate, and circled may 19 on the calendar as lard day.
i wasn’t sure what to expect and i kept reminding myself that this was a new skill and that i shouldn’t expect perfection on the first try; thereby losing patience and giving up too soon (one of my worst faults). having thawed out one bag of the fat the night before, the first task was to cut out any blood spots, any extra meat, and cut it into ½” pieces.
this was where i began to feel a bit squeamish, sort of like my potential food was giving me way too much information; we were just too up close and personal. it reminded me of the time i harvested my first batch of lettuce from the yard, bringing it in to the sink roots and all, then having to confront the dirt in the basin afterward. it was too much like the mud stew i used to make while playing outside as a kid. not as pristine as selecting it from the grocery aisle at the store.
fat cubed, it was then transferred to the stock pot with about ½ cup of water.
i was sooo glad that i had done enough research to learn that the water is not added in proportion to the amount of fat: it is simply there to keep the fat from burning while the pot heats. two cups of water to eight pounds of fat would have been a royal mess. also, at this time i contemplated working in smaller amounts so that i could experiment as i went. at the last minute however, i changed my mind and plunked all eight pounds, chopped and cubed, into my stock pot. i mean, how long can it take for this to melt down? i figured i’d be pouring it into jars mid-afternoon, then i’d make us some cracklin cornbread and beet greens.
um,that much fat takes a long time to render.
a very, very long time.
we’re talking all day folks, as in: we ordered pizza for dinner. we’re talking: 11pm and i was nearly in a fetal position crying in the corner of my kitchen. i had created a frankenstein. i wanted very much to go to bed and i still had chunks happily floating around on top. we hadn’t even come to the bit yet about the craklins coming to the top and then sinking to the bottom. the lesson learned here was to either work in small batches, or grind the fat (instead of cubing) as another tutorial suggested, and/or render it in the crock pot. rather than letting it continue to cook while we either stayed with it all night, or took turns to get up and stir it we decided to pour off what we had and see what happened.
it worked. while i didn’t get any craklins i did get 2 ½ quarts of lard (1/2 quart not pictured because it didn’t look tidy for the pictures). it didn’t cool to a snowy white like crisco and for that i am disappointed.
i don’t know if that is due to the kind of fat used, the quality of the fat, or if i allowed it to get too hot. it also has a bit of a “pork chop” taste; very faint, but it is there. another disappointment as i had hoped to be able to use this for baking pies like my grandma did. this may work for a meat pie, but i’m not sure it will fly for raspberry or lemon meringue. again, this may be my technique. fortunately, i will have plenty of opportunities to work on technique as there are another eight pounds still in the freezer when i feel i am emotionally ready for a second try.