Monthly Archives: January 2011

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The Forgotten Craft of Rendering Lard

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When I first heard the term “render lard”, I can’t tell you how many visions of difficulty swelled up in my head. I imagined a long, labor-intensive process that would leave me frustrated and my kitchen a mess, stinking of pork. What was surprising to learn is that none of those things happened.

I didn’t grow up loving the kitchen or having an appreciation for cooking, so I spent a good part of my adult life fearing the idea of preparing food.  It wasn’t my fault, I was as much a product of our society as anyone else, having purchased and eaten convenience foods a good portion of my years. As a result, I believed that cooking was something I’d never be able to do.

What’s even more astonishing to me is that cooking is really much more enjoyable than I ever imagined, and although it takes some planning, thought, and preparation, it it especially satisfying when I have a family (and friends who like food) to prepare meals and nourishing foods for on a regular basis.

Lard is a substance, I find, when mentioning to most people, they are shocked that I would talk about it in the same sentence as “healthy”.  And yet lard is older, by far, than any of the so-called “healthy” fats we are recommended to cook with in modern cookbooks and recipes.

Despite the gasps and mouth-covering motions of some who might read this, I wanted to share my experience in delving into creating this exceptionally nutritious (yes, nutritious) and versatile food. If I were to follow the advice of today’s health experts, I’d use canola oil, margarine, shortening, or some other artificial fat that has only been around since the time just after the Industrial Revolution – which is about 120 years or so. Not only is it unhealthy and disease-inducing due to its distinct lack of nutrients from  industrial processing, but its flavor is severely lacking.

Lard in history around the world

Since the advent of convenient but industrially-produced shortening, margarine, and vegetable oils over 10 decades ago, lard has remained in the doghouse with those who consider themselves to be “health experts”. All this time, health communities have lauded health benefits of fake fats to consumers while criminalizing the use of lard or beef fat for any purpose. Funny that, since people used it all over the world for myriad purposes – cooking, soap, and candle-making, across history and to the credit of people’s survival and health. If you read back over any thorough and accurate history of medicine in this country, you’ll find that heart disease was pretty rare until the 1920s – just a few years after the appearance of artificial fats on the consumer market.

Regardless of its unseemly reputation, lard is a gorgeous food. There are so many uses for it, it’s hard to know where to begin. All across the Old World In European countries like Britain, Italy, France, Hungary, Romania, Germany, Poland, The Czech Republic, and Scandinavian countries, people used lard in everyday cooking from desserts to casseroles to pate, in the preservation of pickles and vegetables, in doughs, to being spread on bread with paprika.

Lard was used especially in places where dairy products were scarce.  In Japan and China it has been used mixed in with rice and soy sauce. Just like in European and Asian countries, lard has also been historically used for generations on the North American continent in the U.S., Canadian provinces and territories, and in Mexico in seasonal dishes, to season meats and vegetables, stews, one-pot meals, in beans and rice. Similar uses have been employed in South America, Africa, New Zealand, and Australia as a foundational staple for all types of cooking.

Health benefits of lard

Lard from hogs on pasture is a rich source of Vitamin D, something the majority of the population is sorely lacking in. Many people don’t know that as well as containing healthy saturated fat and cholesterol – which our bodies need to maintain skin, brain, and immune health, it’s also a good way to get monounsaturated fats which are known for their cardiovascular benefits and also found in healthy foods such as red meat, whole milk, olive oil, avocados, and nuts.

Lard on the prairie

Ma Ingalls always used lard or suet (tallow from beef) to make hash-browned or fried potatoes, pancakes, crackers, doughnuts, vegetables, fried chicken, and to bake pie crusts.  She would prepare the food in big iron pots on the wood cookstove using lard or drippings, or use in her baking for the oven. She knew that aside from its versatility, this useful substance was loaded with essential nutrients that would keep her family healthy.

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From The Little House Cookbook:

“Pigs are still family farm favorites because they demand so little and and offer so much. ‘Everything is useful’, goes the saying, ‘but the squeal’.”

“Pork, ham, spareribs, bacon, salt pork, headcheese, and lard – these are all gifts from the pig. How they tasted and appeared in Laura’s youth we can only imagine, for all the swine now considered traditional American breeds have been developed since that time. That they were different from ours we can be sure, by contrasting the home-cured and commercially cured bacons of today or the hams of corn-fed hogs with those of peanut fed-hogs. One certainty is that our pigs are leaner than their forebears.”

Where can I find lard?

Pig fat is cheap or sometimes free, and if you know where to look, easy to come by. But please, however, don’t buy lard you find in the grocery store. These foods are actually artificially produced and hydrogenated to improve shelf life, and aren’t much better for you than the artificial fats we talked about before (also many of which are hydrogenated, rancid, full of GMOs, or both).

So where do you find healthy fat from hogs on pasture? Why, from your local farmer, of course.  Be sure to ask your farmer how he or she raises the hogs – they should have access to pasture where they can eat roots, leaves, vegetation from trees (including some fruit, nuts, or vegetables) and if supplemented with feed it should be organic or sustainable feed that doesn’t include soy or corn. Farmers who feed their pigs leftover yogurt and soured milk are doing their pigs a great service as well – which makes the meat and the fat gloriously healthy to consume because of beneficial bacteria obtained from healthy, raw milk.

How to render pork fat into lard:

This is much easier to do if the fat is still frozen, but will take longer to render. But the time spent rendering is that which you will have to spend little effort doing anything other than checking the progress of the lard.

We put our pork fat chunks in the crockpot because it can then reduce down for hours and it won’t have to be monitored as it would on the stove. If you decide to use a heavy stockpot on your stovetop, the process will take less time.

Lard – a great convenience food

Rendering lard is incredibly easy.  In this post, I have provided instructions for rendering lard both on the stovetop and in a crockpot. I find the crockpot method to be even more convenient than the stove method. Besides bone broth, I find rendering lard in a crockpot to be one of the easiest convenience foods in existence (how’s that for bucking the ideology of fast-food!).

If you have a bag of pork fat, the only other thing you’ll need is a 1/2 cup to 1 cup of filtered water to get going.

Equipment you’ll need:

  • Large stockpot
  • Fine mesh sieve and/or cheesecloth
  • Wide-mouth jars for storing lard (Mason) – for one bag of pork fat (1 – 2 pounds), you’ll need anywhere from 2 -3 quart sized jars, approximately 1 jar per pound.

Directions for rendering lard on the stovetop:

  1. Trim pork fat with a sharp knife to remove any meat or red areas.
  2. Cut the trimmed fat into cubes anywhere from 1/2 inch to 1 inch in size.
  3. Place the fat and filtered water in the stock-pot on your stove. Turn heat up to medium heat and bring to a simmer while stirring from time to time.
  4. After the fat has simmered for 45 minutes to about one hour, you will notice the water has evaporated and the fat has started melting. You will see bits of fat floating to the top – cracklings.
  5. Keep stirring occasionally. Soon all the fat pieces or cracklings will sink to the bottom of the pot. At this point, take the pot off from the heat.
  6. You will want a fine mesh sieve for pouring the lard through into wide-mouthed glass jars used for jarring. You can also use real cotton cheesecloth layered on top of the sieve when pouring from pot to jar. If desired, save cracklings to eat or use for other cooking purposes. (Laura and Mary Ingalls used to love the cracklings; Ma would save out for them from her rendered lard. It was a special treat!). Just add salt and then store in your refrigerator until ready for use.
  7. Use care when pouring the melted fat (which is a transparent, golden-brown) into jars, and wipe any spills up right away to prevent caking of the lard after hardening.  Cover jars immediately. The heat from the lard will suck out all the oxygen and “seal” your jars for storage.
  8. Allow the lard to cool. You’ll know when it’s finished because the appearance will turn from golden-brown into an opaque, creamy white-looking substance.
  9. Store unopened jars of lard in the cupboard, and opened ones in the refrigeration to prevent mold from developing in the jar.

You can use your lard in desserts like pastries and pies or for cooking scrambling eggs, cooking meats, stews, soups, casseroles, or for sauteing vegetables. The sky’s the limit for this wonderful food!

Directions for rendering lard with a crockpot:

  1. Put cubed pork fat with water in the crockpot and turn the heat up on “High” for the shortest time. Our crockpot setting has 4 or 6 hours for “High” time.  If the fat you are using is frozen, set it on the longer cooking time.
  2. Keep a watch on the fat you are melting in the crockpot – it can take longer – perhaps 4-6 hours or more – but may be ready sooner than that. It all depends on how high the heat is on your appliance and how much fat you are rendering at once.
  3. After the high heat has switched automatically over to low heat, check the fat for signs of browning and floating to the top.
  4. When all the fat particles have completely browned, they will sink to the bottom, just as if you used the pot on the stove.
  5. Follow the directions above for pouring, draining, and storing your lard.

We got about 8 sizeable bags of pork fat for free from our farmer after buying part of a side of pork last fall. Each bag we rendered made anywhere from 3 to 5 jars of lard, and was 3 1/2 to 4 pounds in weight. I ended up giving some away to different people, but all told, after rendering, we have about 6 jars of it sitting in our cupboard and one in the refrigerator that we’re currently using. And we still have 2 bags of fat in the freezer.

Keep in mind, the yield of lard you will get out of your rendering experience will depend on the following:

  • Amount of lard used (pounds)
  • Cooking time
  • Altitude

Want more information on nutrient-dense, traditional foods?
9 reasons to make bone broth
11 healthy and nutrient-dense foods at-a-glance
The importance of dietary fats

This post is part of The Healthy Home Economist’s Monday Mania Carnival.

Green Living Guest Posts Healthy Living Toxin Alert!

On Microwaves and Cooking Convenience

www.mypicshares.com

Do you use a microwave in your kitchen? People have used these devices since the 1970s, and they have become a  hallmark of convenience in modern life. But the truth is, as with many modern advents to make our lives easier, we are paying a high price with our health for using these types of devices.

Research has shown microwave ovens to incur serious damage to food during the heating process – from tearing molecules in food apart, causing some nutrients to become inert, to altering the composition to make a healthy substance carcinogenic. There are also issues with plastic containers leeching into the food and exposure to radiation coming from the microwave during the cooking process.

According to Powerwatch, a non-profit independent organization with a central role in the microwave radiation debate:

“Even when the microwave oven is working correctly, the microwave levels within the kitchen are likely to be significantly higher than those from any nearby cellular phone base-stations. Remember also that microwaves will travel through walls if the microwave oven is against an inside wall.”

The actual safety of current regulations about radiation leakage from microwave use is unknown because microwave emissions can change over time, even during “normal” use.

From a recent study conducted at Trent University by Dr. Magda Havas, the effects 2.4 GHz radiation (which is the frequency of radiation emitted by Wifi routers and microwave ovens) on the heart was examined. The results showed “unequivocal evidence” that microwave frequency radiation affects the heart at non-thermal levels that are well below federal safety guidelines.

From Dr. Havas:

“This is the first study that documents immediate and dramatic changes in both heart rate and heart rate variability caused by an approved device that generates microwaves at levels well below (0.3 percent) federal guidelines in both Canada and the United States.”

In this guest post from Isabella York, she discusses 5 immediate dangers to cooking your food in a microwave oven and discusses the tried-and-true traditional ways to prepare and cook food which people have used for thousands of years, and the health benefits of each method. Thank you, Isabella, for this great information on how microwaving affects the nutrient content of our food!

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Microwave truths

Admittedly, convenience is something we value. In a high speed world of instant communication and 2-minute meals, we sometimes forget that convenience has its price. When it comes to convenient food, that price is our health. What affects our health is not always the food we eat, but more often how it’s prepared. We boil, bake, fry, and microwave our food, and nutrients are always altered in some way -some for better and some for worse. Microwaving is a top choice of those who are hungry and feel they don’t have the time to use traditional cooking methods.

While boiling and frying can somehow deplete the nutrients originally found in food, I’ve found out through research that microwaving does the worst damage to cuisine. The whole concept of microwaving degrades food from the inside and this ruins any attempt at nutrition, no matter if your vegetables were organic or from a can.

Below are five ways that microwaving causes harm. Read on to revisit traditional cooking and preparation methods and understanding how they affect our food.

  1. Milk is greatly affected, breast milk in particular. After a few minutes in the microwave, the immunity characteristics provided by breast milk are completely destroyed. Some studies found that heating up milk and cereal in the microwave creates carcinogens in the protein hydroselate compounds in milk. Some of the amino acids in milk are also converted into cancer-causing agents.
  2. Certain microwaveable foods have packaging that is designed to ‘crisp’ the top of the food to simulate an oven-cooked dish. In the high temperatures of a microwave, PVC leeches from the packaging and into the food, especially food with a high surface-fat content. Plastic wrap is often used to cover food heated in the microwave, but it transfers 10,000 units of carcinogens into food that we ingest. To prevent doing this, cook food only when ready to eat and use the stove when heating leftovers.
  3. Microwave technology causes food molecules to break down; this is the same technology used to alter genetic makeup. Meaning, the food we microwave is irrevocably changed. Electrons are disabled by the cooking process causing them to produce not carbon dioxide and water, but hydrogen peroxide and carbon monoxide – chemicals used to clean wounds and found in car exhaust, respectively.
  4. Defrosting food in the microwave produces a chemical known to have toxic effects on the human body. Even a brief exposure to microwaves of vegetables caused this change, found to have nitrogen after a few seconds of heating in the oven. Defrost the natural way, by removing frozen food early from the freezer, or steaming it in boiling water.
  5. Root vegetables after heated in the microwave are chemically altered and found to release free radicals, substances that are known to cause cancer in humans. Root vegetables like yams and sweet potatoes are generally known to be healthier than most, but are depleted of nutrients after a stint in the microwave.

Hail, hail, tradition!

Here are six traditional methods of preparing and cooking food. Some people relate to one or two methods more than others; the idea here is to provide information and inspire.

  • Raw
  • The Weston A. Price foundation advocates raw food, even parts of raw eggs, as they promote production of glutathione, a substance that detoxifies the cells and is called a “master antioxidant”.  People who ingest raw (uncooked, unpasteurized) milk, fruits, and vegetables get a boost of glutathione in their cells. This ingestion of raw food is better done with protein and amino acids, as these help in the absorption of the glutathione into the system. Heating these items, especially milk, can deplete the nutrients (in the case of milk, whey protein) to 87% less than in its raw state.

  • Blanching
  • Boiling has long been advocated as the low-fat alternative to frying food. But this process makes food lose flavor and nutrients when cooked at too high a temperature, or for too long.  An alternative to boiling is called blanching. It keeps the nutrients and taste of vegetables while making them more palatable. To blanch bring water to a boiling point and drop the vegetables in for several seconds, then remove them. You can also soften the boiling process by: 1. Use less water than it takes to cover the food; 2. Heat the water first before dropping the food in; 3. Introduce spices and herbs into the boiling water to make it a broth; 4. Boil food in less time than usual, enough to kill bacteria.

  • Baking and Roasting
  • This is the method of cookery using heat by convection to cook the food from the outside in. This is an alternative to frying, and can retain food flavor and nutrients better than boiling and frying. Vegetables and meat products benefit from baking, as they retain nutrients while eliminating bad bacteria in the food. Roasting enhances the flavor of vegetables, making them a bit crisp, and retains their nutrients much in the same way that baking does. Roasted root vegetables are known to have cancer-fighting nutrients, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research.

  • Frying
  • Many folks view frying as a kiss of death for the arteries, but there are health benefits if you fry with healthy oils and fats such as butter, tallow, lard, coconut, and palm oil. Butter and coconut oils are useful for heat up to 350 degrees F., and tallow, lard, and palm oil are better for higher heat cooking (up to 450 degrees F.). The sweetness of coconut oil gives an authentic taste to healthy Asian dishes, and adds great flavor to oatmeal.

  • Slow Cookers
  • In my opinion, a slow cooker is truly the most convenient method of cooking. Slow cookers cook the food at a low temperature all day. I chop the vegetables and the meat, put in the broth, and then begin my day. The kids come home from sports practice at 5 p.m., screaming in hunger. By then, dinner is ready and I feel that I didn’t do a thing. The ceramic or porcelain pot doesn’t leach toxins into food, but the downside is that some vegetable nutrients are lost because of hours of cooking. If you’re looking for convenience without putting toxins into your food or destroying valuable nutrients (such as with microwaves), then a slow cooker is a great choice.

  • Lacto-fermentation
  • An article at The Nourishing Gourmet advocates lacto-fermentation to process food. Article author Kimi Harris puts it succinctly: “Lacto-fermentation happens when the starches and sugars in vegetables and fruit convert to lactic acid by a friendly lactic-acid producing bacteria.” This process increases vitamin content, and many people find its tangy flavor appealing, such as sauerkraut.

What about leftovers? Reheating food.

Leftovers are generally reheated. According to the nutrition data table at by Self Magazine, while the mineral content of vegetables remains unchanged, the vitamin content loss during reheating varies. It ranges from 5% (riboflavin and niacin) to 50% (vitamin C). Even more loss occurs in the microwave. But reheating on the stove is easy – simply add a bit of water or oil to your food to produce steam and retain moisture within the food. This process will take a few minutes longer than it would in a microwave, but what’s a few minutes when the benefits are so evident?

Microwaving is convenient, but that seems to be the only good thing about it.

Creating a nutritious meal using traditional methods is simple: Doing a chicken roast is quick and requires minimal supervision. While the chicken, vegetables, and potatoes are cooking in the oven, you can wash the dishes, do your tax returns, or spend some time with family. Traditional methods are convenient in unique ways.

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Isabella York is a mother dedicated to living organically and sustainably without giving up her life in the process. Along with raising her son, she works for Balsam Hill, a purveyor of Artificial Christmas Trees and Christmas Trees.

For more information on the dangers of microwave ovens, read:

Why Did The Russians Ban An Appliance Found in 90% of American Homes? from Dr. Mercola.