Rendering Lard

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.

014The 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.

7Eventually 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.


A different take on ‘Throwback Thursday’ or Growing up a Homesteader

I’ve decided to throw my hat into the ring of the who ‘Throwback Thursday’ fad on Facebook but wanted to give my contribution a bit of a twist. Instead of sharing embarrassing photos of me from the 70’s and 80’s, I would instead share what it was like to grow up as a homesteader in a rural part of north-central Pennsylvania.

My mom with one of our Araucana roosters
My mom with one of our Araucana roosters

I of course use the term ‘homesteader’ a bit loosely, since we weren’t entirely self sufficient and many of our activities were tied to my step-father’s parent’s working dairy farm.  Never the less, we raised and butchered pigs, kept dairy goats, and had a constant supply of fresh eggs from our chickens.

I’ve helped render lard in a large cast iron pot over an open fire. We’ve heated our house entirely with kerosene for a few years before switching wood pallets from the local factory, burning them in a stove made out of steel drums. I ran a trap line, albeit unsuccessfully, to try and make money on fur pelts. Of course I’ve milked goats, cleaned stalls, bailed hay, canned vegetables, and built fences as well.

So my plan will be to select a topic for each week and go a little in-depth  as to how we did things and what it was like to spend the 80’s on an isolated 10 acre plot in the middle of what still seems like nowhere.

Our 10 acres, sandwiched between state game lands and dairy farms
Our 10 acres, sandwiched between state game lands and dairy farms

Next week: Pig butchering and rendering lard.