Lard has been getting such a bad name in these more modern, health conscious times. Of course, I don’t want to make light of the seriousness of heart disease but it still doesn’t change my opinion that lard is the king of all cooking fats.
The region of Pennsylvania I grew up in was dominated by dairy farms. You would have the occasional beef farm but they were few and far between. If you raised any beef for meet, it was typically for yourself and family. Pigs on the other hand were a single purpose animal, they are raised with butchering in mind. Of course this single purpose animal provided a multitude of products; roasts, hams, bacon, scrapple and lard.
The butchering process breaks down the various parts of the animal into usable parts. The leaner meat is cut away, some of those parts are cured, as with the hams and bacon. The scraps and liver are ground and cooked with corn meal to make scrapple. All the fat that’s been trimmed away in this process is collected to make lard.
The fat is placed in a large cast iron kettle with a little water in the bottom. The water helps to keep the fat from burning while the rendering process starts. It was my step-brother and my job to keep the fire going steady and to keep stirring things so it wouldn’t burn or brown. This process would take many hours and we would take turns throughout the day.
Eventually the fat would render out most of the lard and you’d be left with the hard solids falling to the bottom. This was then poured into a cheesecloth lined lard press to strain the solids from the liquid. The press made sure that every drop of lard was extracted. What was left over was a cake of crunchy ‘cracklin’s’, which made a great treat in the weeks after.
The liquid would be strained into 5 gallon containers and stored in a cool place to use throughout the year.