Lard is pig fat and its use in cooking dates back hundreds and hundreds of years.
When rendered with care, lard contains 54 percent less saturated fat than an equal amount of butter by weight. In addition, unlike many margarines and some vegetable shortenings, pure, unprocessed lard contains no trans fat. For these reasons, among others, chefs, dieticians and "enlightened" health-care professionals have revisited the usefulness of 100 percent natural lard in many time-honored recipes.
Finding pure lard, that is lard that has not been "hydrogenated," can be difficult, so unless you want to render lard yourself (see recipe below), in which case you will need a supply of quality pig fat, your next plan should be to seek pure lard that has already been rendered. Although "leaf" lard, made from the soft fat around the pig's kidneys and loin is touted as the "best," pure rendered lard supplier, Jim Fiedler, owner of Fiedler Family Farms, in Indiana, tells me that his regular lard is "just as good" for a number of cooking applications. (Fiedler carries and ships both -- $2.50 a pound for regular lard and $5.00 a pound for leaf lard, plus shipping; reach Jim by email at JFiedler@psci.net).
Obtaining lard like Jim's is well worth the effort, too, as pure lard often was the "secret ingredient" in many of our ancestors' treasured recipes, especially in things baked, such as pies, pastries and fluffy, sky-high biscuits.
Should you not have heirloom recipes containing lard from your own family, the folks at GRIT magazine (www.grit.com/lard-home.aspxwww.grit.com), a bi-monthly magazine celebrating country lifestyles of all kinds, do. The magazine's 150 sweet and savory recipes, garnered from more than 100 years of magazines, are contained in Andrews McMeel Publishing's newly released "Lard: The Lost Art of Cooking with your Grandmother's Secret Ingredient." To have a peek inside this book, where you will find more recipes and additional resources for obtaining rendered lard (www.lardcookbook.com), visit the Amazon.com website at www.amazon.com/Lard-Cooking-Grandmothers-Secret-Ingredient/dp/1449409741.
I realize it's been difficult keeping up with the flip-flop stream of information that comes from researchers regarding what's OK for us to eat and what's not, but as far as natural lard goes, it appears it's time for the vilification of one of grandma's favorite ingredients to stop -- pure and simple.
Recipes courtesy "Lard: The Lost Art of Cooking with your Grandmother's Secret Ingredient," from the editors of Grit Magazine (www.grit.com/lard-home.aspx); Andrews McMeel Publishing (www.andrewsmcmeel.com).
Sue Ade is a syndicated food writer with broad experience and interest in the culinary arts. She resides in the Lowcountry of South Carolina.
Grandma’s Homemade Biscuits
These biscuits are as authentic as they come, from a time when lard from the family’s hog and milk from the backyard cow were common fare. The dough can be rolled and cut with a biscuit cutter or dropped from a wooden spoon. Make these for a big family supper, as biscuits are best when eaten fresh from the oven.
1/3 cup, plus 1 tablespoon lard and coarsely chopped, plus more greasing the pan
2 1/2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour, divided
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon salted butter (optional)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a baking sheet with lard and set aside. Place 2 cups of flour, the baking powder and the salt in a large mixing bowl; whisk together. Using a pastry blender, work the lard into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs. Add the milk and stir. On a sheet of wax paper, sprinkle the remaining cup of flour. Turn the dough mixture onto the wax paper and knead for 5 minutes. Roll out the dough to a 1-inch thickness and cut with a biscuit cutter; alternatively, drop the dough using a large spoon and pat down onto the prepared baking sheet, spaced 1-inch apart. For color, brush the biscuits with melted butter, if desired. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown. Makes 1 dozen.
Sky High Biscuits
1/2 cup lard, cold and coarsely chopped, plus more for greasing pan
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water (105 to 115 degrees)
2 1/2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup plain yogurt
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Grease a baking sheet with lard and set aside. In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in warm water. Let stand until foamy,* 5 to 10 minutes. In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, cream of tartar and baking soda. Using a pastry blender, or two knives, cut the lard into the flour mixture until coarse crumbs form. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture; add the yogurt and yeast all at once. Toss with a fork until the dry ingredients are moistened. Do not overmix. On a floured surface, roll the dough to a 3/4-inch thickness using a floured rolling pin.
Cut the biscuits using a floured 2 1/2 -inch round biscuit cutter. Gather the trimmings and repeat. Place the biscuits 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until puffed and golden. Leave the biscuits on the baking sheet and cool for 5 minutes on a wire rack. Serve warm. Makes 1 dozen.
*Kitchen Ade Note: Be sure your yeast is still good and develops a milky kind of foam on top of the water before using. It your yeast does not foam, it’s likely dead, and you’ll need to get fresh yeast before proceeding with the recipe.
How to render lard
You’ll be delighted with the texture and flavor (or lack of pork flavor) that real lard — not the hydrogenated kind sold on supermarket shelves — provides.
Preheat oven to 225 degrees.
Fill a large roasting pan with the chopped fat. Roast slowly for 30 minutes to 1 hour until the fat has melted and you have protein particles and connective tissue floating on top.
Skim off the solid particles and set them aside for the chickens.
Pour the liquid fat through a mesh colander lined with a double layer of cheesecloth. Store in a glass canning jar in the refrigerator or freezer.
It will keep for months.
— Karen Keb