Rendering Lard, the Regency Crisco

While researching Cooking with Jane Austen and Friends, I found many recipes that called for lard or suet (the beef alternative). It was often not immediately clear whether or not the authors were talking about straight, diced lard (like the kind used for adding fat and flavor to drier cuts of meat, as in "larding your roast") or rendered lard, however a trip the local living history museum helped put my questions to rest. A basic rule of thumb when looking at period recipes, if it goes into the food (larding your meat, dicing it for mincemeat, etc.) you are talking about lard straight off the meat, often with tiny bits of meat still attached. If you are using it for frying or in pie crust, basically anywhere you might substitute modern Crisco or solid shortening, use rendered lard.

800px-HomelardAccording to Wikipedia, "Lard is pig fat in both its rendered and unrendered forms. Lard was commonly used in many cuisines as a cooking fat or shortening, or as a spread similar to butter. Its use in contemporary cuisine has diminished; however, many contemporary cooks and bakers favor it over other fats for select uses. The culinary qualities of lard vary somewhat depending on the part of the pig from which the fat was taken and how the lard was processed.

Lard is one of the few edible oils with a relatively high smoke point, attributable to its high saturated fatty acids content. Pure lard is especially useful for cooking since it produces little smoke when heated and has a distinct taste when combined with other foods. Many chefs and bakers deem lard a superior cooking fat over shortening because of lard's range of applications and taste. By the late 20th century, lard had begun to be considered less healthy than vegetable oils (such as olive and sunflower oil) because of its high saturated fatty acid and cholesterol content. However, despite its reputation, lard has less saturated fat, more unsaturated fat, and less cholesterol than an equal amount of butter by weight. Unlike many margarines and vegetable shortenings, unhydrogenated lard contains no trans fat. As the demand for lard grows in the high end restaurant industry, small farmers have begun to specialize in heritage hog breeds with higher body fat contents than the leaner, modern hog. Breeds such as the Mangalitsa hog of Hungary or Large Black of Great Britain are experiencing an enormous resurgence to the point that breeders are unable to keep up with demand." The Tamworth Pig was developed by Sir Robert Peel in 1812. The Tamworth Pig was developed by Sir Robert Peel Rendered lard or tallow was also, and still is, used to make soap. The rendering process, when carried out over an open fire or pot on the stove can be time consuming and even smelly. A friend of mine recently gave me an excellent alternative, however, when she suggested using a crockpot. Read below for her instructions. Purchase your lard from your local meat market (grocery store or specialty store) or save the (uncooked) fat from your own pork dinners, in the freezer, until you are ready to render. And just in case you are unsure how to use your newly acquired, rendered lard, here is a recipe from Hannah Glasse's Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy:
To make little Pasties. TAKE the kidney of a loin of veal cut very fine, with as much of the fat, the yolks of two hard eggs, seasoned with a little salt, and half a small nutmeg. Mix them well together, then roll it well in a puff paste crust; make three of it, and fry them nicely in hog's-lard or butter. They make a pretty little dish for change. You may put in some carrots, and a little sugar and spice, with the juice of an orange, and sometimes apples, first boiled and sweetened, with a little juice of lemon, or any fruit you please. Hannah Glasse, The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, 1784
To Render Lard in your Crockpot:
  1. Thaw frozen pork fat.
  2. Grind or chop into smaller pieces if necessary.
  3. Place in crock pot on low until partly melted and watery; there's no need to add extra water.  This will take a couple of hours.
  4. Turn crock pot to high.
  5. As fat melts, with a ladle dip clear melted fat out of crock pot and strain into jars.  I usually put a canning funnel over the jar then a double layer of cheesecloth over the funnel to strain the fat.  Return uncooked pieces of fat to pot.  Break up remaining lumps of fat in the pot periodically.  Do this procedure every couple of hours throughout the day.
  6. As chunks in fat begin to brown, lift them out with a slotted spoon.  Salt and enjoy; these are your cracklins.  Think:  “bowlful of bacon…mmmmm.”
  7. When jars are full, cover, no need for sealing lids, although they may create a vacuum on their own.
  8. Store jars of lard in the freezer for long term storage, up to a year; or refrigerator for more immediate use.  Lard is countertop stable for a limited time, like butter, no need to toss if you forget and leave it out overnight or even for a couple of days.
  9. Lard tends to be softer than butter, so use a little less in recipes than butter, Crisco, or even coconut oil.  Loaded in vitamins A and D  (but only IF the lard comes from pastured pigs...If pigs are barn raised, they don't get the high levels of D from the sun, just like humans.)

Laura Boyle is fascinated by all aspects of Jane Austen’s life. She is the proprietor of Austenation: Regency Accessories, creating custom hats, bonnets, reticules and more for customers around the globe. Cooking with Jane Austen and Friends is her first book. Her greatest joy is the time she is able to spend in her home with her family.

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