This post is going out early as everybody in town is sick and I am feeling a bit under the weather too.
Our pigs were butchered this weekend and I got a big sack of fat to render. I had not done this before so I want to share what I learned. First, I had always associated rendered fat (lard) with Crisco. Nothing could be further from the truth. Shortening is one of those not-really-food items full of trans fats and chemicals. There is a reason it will last forever. Actual lard is full of vitamin D and has no trans fats. Lard makes the best pie crusts and is the thing to use for frying food as the smoking temperature is quite high. Fats are one of the foods that can be hard to come by in a crisis and you need quite a bit of it. Oils go rancid quickly so you can’t store huge amounts but lard freezes well so I am delighted to have a big batch of it.
There are two ways to render lard. It can be done on a stove top or in the oven. I did mine mostly on the stove top. I can tell you one thing for sure. This is one of those chores better done outside. It is also one of the few times I wished for paper towels. I don’t use them but cleaning up greasy messes leaves you with greasy rags and I would have used them if they had been here.
The first part of rendering is to cut the fat up in small chunks. It comes in long strips and you can’t melt it like that. I used kitchen shears. Some people add a bit of water to the bottom of the pot but I didn’t bother. Now melt the fat over medium heat. This will take at least an hour. You will need to stir from time to time but wear a pot holder mitten and don’t lean over the pot as the fat pops and spits and a burn is likely. Keep the kids elsewhere too. I kept two pans going at once and kept one pot in the oven with the last of the fat. As the fat melts you will find bits of fried meat called chitlins left in the pan. Lift these out and save them. I put mine in pint-sized mason jars. Chitlins are lovely additions to cornbread. I put some in a pan I was frying mushrooms in today and they tasted terrific but they are really rich. A little goes a long way. When the fat has melted, strain it through cheese cloth into a container. I used quart mason jars but I learned from a friend that I could have used loaf pans and had a solid block of lard. I wish I had done that as it would have frozen a lot better and taken up less room. My first batch of lard looked a bit dark. I didn’t let the lard melt as long for the next batch and it was a lot lighter. I did put a raw potato in each pot of lard after the chitlins were removed and let it fry for a few minutes. That is supposed to leave you with very white lard. I forgot with one of the pots and could not see much of a difference. The whole thing, from beginning to cleaning up, took three hours. My friend, Heather, will need to render her fat soon. It is not a job to do with a two- year-old and a newborn. I hope she will let me give her a hand.
20 pounds of fat provided me with 6 quarts of lard and 20 pints of chitlins. I am pleased to have used something that is often thrown out. I am looking forward to making a pie crust with the lard. My son and his family came over today. I prepared a feast for us. We had pork chops with applesauce, a delicata squash casserole, oven roasted potatoes, home-made rolls, dilly beans and a big pot of mushrooms and onions sauted with chitlins. We served cider with the meal and we all ate until we were stuffed. I didn’t bother with dessert. It was such a fabulous meal and all of it came from our little patch of land with exception of the wheat and spices. Nathan paid me a lovely compliment. He said that if he lived here he would put on fifty pounds. He would probably not have to worry about it. We work hard to put this much food on the table and we burn off a lot of calories.