Vacation is relative when you farm.  We have enjoyed several vacations this month, all in the name of work.  This past weekend our destination was Pennsylvania.  I was reminded of my early college days in upstate New York and how beautiful the eastern mountains are.  The Mother Earth News Fair at Seven Springs Resort was our excuse this time.  We did two short presentations on lard and sausage and a longer one on processing a homestead hog.

Lard is a fabulous and unfairly villainized food.  The company that makes Crisco had a good thing going at the turn of the century making vegetable fat for candles and soap.  Then Thomas Edison came along and upset their business plan with his electric lights.  About the same time the industrial food complex started canning milk and making margarine and science was the hot thing, so people came to believe that manufactured food was better for them than nature’s food. [“Forbidden Food”]  [The Rise and Fall of Crisco]

Science is slowly but surely discovering that real fats, lightly processed, are required for good health.  The body can use the components of lard, butter, cold expellor pressed olive oil, and coconut oil to lubricate, nourish, and clean its systems. [7 Reasons to eat more fat,, “Six Facts You need to know” ]   It does not store proper fats used in a good diet on artery walls or in the liver.  Plus, saturated fats are required for the body to utilize calcium and vitamins A, D, E, and K.  The good news bottom line is that you can eat lard and live to tell about it!

Lard rendering in a double boiler.

Lard rendering in a double boiler.

Rendering lard is a fairly easy process.  There are a few principles that will make you successful:

1)      Small pieces/large surface area.  I either slice the lard into chips about an 1/8 inch thick or grind it with the largest plate.

2)      Surround heat.  You do not want to scorch the fat, and an even heat around the lard keeps it working more efficiently.  A wok works well, or a double boiler for stove top rendering.  A wok gives you more surface area to release water from, but requires more babysitting to maintain temperature.  A double boiler has less surface area, but guarantees you won’t go over the ideal temperature.  Another method that works to use a cake pan or similar baking dish in the oven.  Some folks use their crockpot.

3)      Ideal temperature: 225 degrees.  Less than that and you’ll be there a lot longer.  More than that and the protein will infuse into the fat and you’ll have meaty smelling and tasting lard.

4)      The idea is to separate the fat, protein and water that comprise lard.  As it renders, you’ll see bubbles rise to the surface.  That is the water releasing and rising to evaporate off.  The more you stir the lard gently with a non-metallic spoon the faster that process works.  The other thing you’ll notice is that the lard pieces will shrink till they are no longer opaque and will sink to the bottom.  When the lard no longer releases water and the protein is on the bottom of the pan you have successfully separated the fat into its component parts and have useable lard.

Here is a link to a detailed instruction in the method I use, as taught by the same instructor I learned from:  “Proper lard.

You can join us for a class on processing hogs from start to finish, stem to stern at the end of this month and the first weekend in November.  Learn more at Anyone Can Farm: Homestead Hog Harvest.