I still remember the lard we used during my high school cooking class — big cases of off-white clumpy fat that looked and smelled unappetizing but turned our pie dough and biscuits into luscious tasting triumphs. So I couldn’t resist a cookbook with lard in the first word of its title. And it didn’t disappoint.
“Lard: The Lost Art of Cooking With Your Grandmother’s Secret Ingredient” (Andrew McMeel) offers 150 sweet and savory recipes, beautiful photos and fond anecdotes from cooks nationwide about an ingredient once frowned upon and now (doesn’t this always happen) purported as healthy in some ways as it contains only 54 percent of the saturated fat found in butter and is free of trans fats when rendered with care.
And, of course, as I found out long ago in junior year cooking class, lard is the secret to turning out such marvels as southern fried chicken, green tomato pie and intriguingly the much more sophisticated Beef Wellington.
The recipes were culled from the archives of Grit, a bi-monthly magazine that’s a paean to rural traditional and values featuring articles like “Modern Day Barn Raising” and “Beyond Iceberg: Heirloom Lettuce Varieties.”
Founded 130 years ago, the names of the recipes found in the cookbook — Sand Hill Plum Dumplings, corn pone, World War II Cake with Basic Buttercream Frosting and Hot Cross Buns — read like a time capsule. And though lard figures into everyone, it often plays a small part, maybe just a tablespoon like that used in Old Fashioned Green Beans.
“Lard makes awesome fried chicken,” says Hank Will, Grit’s editor-in-chief who holds a doctorate in lipid chemistry and molecular biology from the University of Chicago and was a college professor for 16 years before quitting to farm full time. “If you look at lard, it’s very similar to butter. What we did is vilify it.”
Will, who still farms part time, renders his own lard from the pigs he raises. He doesn’t spread it on a piece of bread for lunch like his grandfather did back in North Dakota, but he and his wife use it for baking and cooking.
He blames lard’s demise on the industrial food industry. And indeed, reading about the development of Crisco, the first hydrogenated — the process of turning liquids into solids — shortening shows how advertising and testimonials helped convince a nation that hydrogenated shortening was good and lard was bad. Common wisdom became that unsaturated fats or trans fats of hydrogenated vegetable oils were better than saturated fats found in butter and lard.
Though scientific studies indicated even back in the late 1950s that trans fats weren’t all that good and might be the reason for an increase in coronary heart disease, it took 30 more years for it to finally be established.
And so by returning to lard, Will believes we’re not only returning to a traditional “real food” that improves the taste of what we eat but also is better for us.
But even a lardophile like Will doesn’t recommend gobbling up a lot of lard. It is a fat after all, but like butter healthier than trans-fat.
“Butter and lard are both animal fats — lard from pigs and butter is mostly from cows,” says Corinne Powell, former extension educator Consumer and Family Sciences at the Purdue Cooperative Extension Service Lake County. “If you read the labels you’ll see a lot of hydrogenated fats in baked goods because it lengthens their shelf life.”
According to Powell, many companies put labels on the front of their products saying no trans fats but that doesn’t mean there’s no fat in it and therefore, it’s important to read the list of ingredients.
“Fat is a good source of energy and it provides satiety,” she says, “which is that feeling of being full.”
Alas, we can’t just run out and buy a container of lard at the local grocery store.
“Most lard at the grocery store is hydrogenated,” says Will. “But artisan meat producers and farmers markets should have lard that hasn’t been hydrogenated.”
And though Powell notes that all fats, including lard, have a lot of calories she has tasted its goodness too.
“Lard is usually considered to be the best to use for pie crusts — it has a good flavor and makes flaky pie crusts,” she says. “I’ve judged pie crusts at fairs and the best usually have lard.”
Old-Fashioned Green Beans
- 1 tablespoon lard
- 12 slices bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed
- 1-1/2 cups water
- 2 pounds fresh green beans, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
DIRECTIONS: In a large skillet, melt the lard over medium heat. Add the bacon and fry, stirring frequently, 5 to 7 minutes, until browned. Add the sugar and water; stir and mix well. Bring the mixture to a boil. Add the beans and reduce the heat to low. Cover and simmer for 50 to 60 minutes, until the beans are soft and all the liquid has been absorbed. Serve immediately.
- 1 (6.5-ounce) can crabmeat, drained
- ½ cup bread crumbs
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon chopped green onion (white and green parts)
- Salt and black pepper
- Lard, for frying
DIRECTIONS: In a large bowl, place the crabmeat, bread crumbs, egg, Worcestershire sauce, and onion. Season with salt and pepper; mix well. Shape into 4 equal-sized patties. (If more moisture is needed to form patties, add a dash of melted lard.) In a large skillet, heat the lard over medium-high heat. Fry the patties 3 to 4 minutes on each side, until golden brown. Drain on paper towels and serve immediately.
Makes 4 servings.
Strawberry Soda Pop Cake
- 3/4 cup lard, softened, plus more for greasing the pans
- 3 cups all-purpose unbleached flour, plus more for dusting the pans
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 (7-ounce) bottle strawberry soda pop
- 1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
- 5 egg whites, stiffly beaten
- 2 tablespoons lard, softened
- Pinch of salt
- 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
- 1 (12-ounce) bottle or can strawberry soda pop
DIRECTIONS: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously grease two 9-inch cake pans with lard; dust lightly with flour and set aside. In a large bowl, cream together the lard and granulated sugar with an electric mixer on low speed. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Alternately add the flour mixture and the strawberry pop to the creamed mixture, beating well after each addition. Stir in the nuts; fold in the egg whites. Distribute the batter evenly between the cake pans and bake 30 to 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then turn out onto wire racks to cool completely. To prepare the frosting, combine the lard, salt, confectioners’ sugar, and just enough strawberry pop to moisten the mixture; blend well until smooth and creamy. To frost the cake, place one cake layer on a cake stand and frost, using an offset spatula. Position the second layer atop the first and repeat.
Makes 8 to 10 servings.
- 3 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1-¼ cups lard, cold and coarsely chopped
- 1 egg
- 5-½ tablespoons water
- 1 teaspoon vinegar
DIRECTIONS: In a large bowl, combine the flour and salt. Using a pastry blender, cut in the lard until the mixture is very fine. In a separate bowl, beat together the egg, water, and vinegar. Make a small well in the flour mixture and add the liquid; mix just until the dough comes together in a ball. Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces and flatten into disks; wrap individually in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before rolling. To make a double-crust pie with a solid top crust, roll out 2 disks of dough about 1 inch larger than the pie plate. Fit one crust into the bottom of the pie plate. Fill the pie with the desired filling; slightly moisten the edge of the bottom crust. Take the second crust, fold it in half, gently place it over the pie filling, and unfold, centering it on the pie plate; press the edges into the bottom crust to seal. Trim the excess dough to leave and overhang of about ¾ inch. Crimp or flute the edges with your fingers. To allow steam to escape, gently prick the top crust with a fork several times or slash vents with a sharp knife.
Makes 4 single or 2 (9-inch) double crusts.
Grandma’s Homemade Biscuits
- 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon lard, cold and coarsely chopped, plus more for greasing the pan
- 2-½ cups all-purpose unbleached flour
- 3 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup milk
- 1 tablespoon salted butter, melted (optional)
DIRECTIONS: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease a baking sheet with lard and set aside. Place 2 cups of flour, the baking powder, and the salt in a large mixing bowl; whisk together. Using a pastry blender, work the lard into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs. Add the milk and stir. On a sheet of wax paper, sprinkle the remaining ½ cup of flour. Turn the dough mixture onto the wax paper and knead for 5 minutes. Roll out the dough to a 1-inch thickness and cut with a biscuit cutter; alternatively, drop the dough using a large spoon and pat down onto the prepared baking sheet spaced 1 inch apart. For color, brush the biscuits with melted butter, if desired. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown.
Makes 1 dozen.
Henrietta’s Spicy Fried Chicken
- 1 to 2 teaspoons black pepper
- ½ teaspoon poultry seasoning
- ½ teaspoon paprika
- ½ teaspoon cayenne
- ¼ teaspoon dry mustard
- 1 (2-½ to 3-½ pound) frying chicken, cut up into 8 pieces
- ¼ cup all-purpose unbleached flour
- 2-¼ teaspoons garlic salt
- ¼ to ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon celery salt
- Lard, for frying
DIRECTIONS: In a large bowl, combine the black pepper, poultry seasoning, paprika, cayenne, and dry mustard. Dredge the chicken pieces in the spices. In a paper or plastic bag, combine the flour, garlic salt, salt, and celery salt; shake to mix. Add the chicken, a few pieces at a time, and shake to coat. Heat the lard to 340 degrees and 2 inches deep in an electric skillet or on medium heat in a large cast-iron skillet. Add the chicken pieces and fry for 30 minutes, turning every 10 minutes. Increase the heat to 355ºF for an electric skillet or medium-high for a regular skillet. Fry for an additional 5 minutes or until the meat is no longer pink at the bone. Remove the chicken from the fat and drain on paper towels.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
SOURCE: “Lard: The Lost Art of Cooking With Your Grandmother’s Secret Ingredient”