Christmas is over for another year. One of my favorite Christmas activities is Christmas baking but I didn’t do as much this year as I usually would. What slowed me down this year was the cost of ingredients, specifically the cost of butter.
According to my mother, there is just no substitute for using real butter. One bite of her Christmas shortcake will convince you of the truth behind that statement. However, at my grocery store, a pound of butter can cost well over $6.00 a pound I don’t think that the price will be falling anytime soon.
Time to come up with some creative solutions.
In some recipes, shortening can be used in place of butter. Shortening can take the form of vegetable shortening or it can be good, old-fashioned lard. Lard is said to be the secret behind the perfect pie crust.
I will leave you to make your own decisions regarding the health benefits (or lack thereof) of lard. Opinion had swayed over the last few years. For us, it works. We use lard for both cooking and baking because I am lucky to have a source for extremely inexpensive pork fat. The butcher at work saves the fat he trims off the pork for me. During hunting season, some of the pork fat is sold to hunters so they can make their own sausages. The rest of the year, this valuable resource goes into the garbage. Crazy but true. Working together with my butcher means that not only do I get a inexpensive fat, but we keep this valuable resource out of the waste stream.
Traditionally, the leaf lard or the white creamy fat around the kidney and loins of a pig is used in baking because it is said to have a less “piggy” smell and taste. I have been using what I can get my hands on and once rendered down I can’t say that I have noticed a porcine note to my baked goods. Your mileage, of course, may vary.
Once I get my bundle of lovely fat home, I chill it so that it will be easier to cut. If I don’t have the time to deal with it, I freeze it till I can get to it.
The secret behind rendering fat is a low, constant source of heat. Too much heat, and the fat will burn. The crockpot is the perfect tool for rendering lard.
I use my crockpot following the directions I found at the following websites:
I find that rendering pig fat down into lard takes a long time. My crockpot does most of the work but even so, I like to be home when rendering because I don’t think it is wise to leave hot fat unattended. Crockpots are pretty safe, and I might be paranoid, but you never know what could happen.
- Knife and cutting board
- Slow cooker
- Cheese cloth or a square of cotton fabric such as cotton muslin. I used a square from an old (clean) cotton sheet. If you use cotton, be prepared to throw it out after straining the fat. It can be very difficult to wash all the fat out and before long, any fat remaining in the fabric will go rancid and start to stink!
- A ladle
- A container that will hold the colander and the liquid fat
- Wide mouth containers for storage. Once the lard solidifies, you want to be able to get your hand in the container to scoop it out. I use plastic mayonnaise and peanut butter jars (controversial I know) because I store my excess lard in the freezer until I am ready to use it. I have had nothing but bad luck when I freeze glass jars.
Cut up the fat. The smaller the better. I find that chilling the fat makes the process much easier.
Put the fat into the crockpot with a little bit of water. The water helps keep the fat from sticking to the bottom of the crock.
I turn my crockpot to low and then let it work.
In about an hour or two, you will see clear melted fat rising to the top.
Using a ladle, scoop the melted lard and strain using a colander lined with cheese cloth or muslin
Stir the liquid lard as it cools. When it is cool enough, pour into jars. When it is completely cool, it should be a creamy white colour. Sometimes I end up with a little bit of sediment on the bottom of the jar. Don’t worry if this happens to you. Its bits of collagen that has separated from the lard. Apparently, it is edible, but I have never tried it. Label and store. I keep a jar for immediate use in the fridge and any excess I keep in the freezer.
I started this post with talk of Christmas baking and I feel that I should finish it the same way. In my world, Christmas has a hot, gingery flavor. One way to share the sweet spiciness of Christmas is to make gingersnaps. Fortunately, these gingersnap cookies are welcome any time of year so there is no need to save them for Christmas.
- ¾ cup of lard
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 egg
- ¼ cup fancy molasses
- 2 ¼ cup all purpose flour
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ginger
- ¼ teaspoon finely ground black pepper
- A little bit of white sugar, maybe about ½ cup
- Cream together sugar and lard.
- Add egg and molasse. Mix well.
- In a separate bowl, add all the dry ingredients EXCEPT for the white sugar. Using a fork or a whisk, mix the dry ingredients well.
- Gradually add the dry ingredients to the creamed brown sugar and lard.
- Roll the dough into 1 inch balls.
- Put the white sugar into a small plastic bag such as a small ziplock bag or a clean used bread bag. Put the dough balls in the bag and give it a shake to coat the balls.
- Once they are coated, place the dough balls on a lightly greased cookie sheet and bake at 350°F for 12 minutes.
Store in an airtight container.