Over the years, we have learned that with every season comes the harvesting of home grown farm products. Living near several large groups of Amish, one begins to really appreciate the 'old' way of living. One thing we have learned is that it isn't really the 'old' way of living as much as it is a smart way of living. Now mind you, I'm not ready to get rid of electricity or running water, but I enjoy knowing how to live without them if necessary.
This latest adventure of 'diving in' to the culture consisted of having a pig processed by some of our Amish friends for us. I have to say that our family does not eat a lot of pork. In fact, I can probably count on only two hands how often we eat a little bacon in one year, but the thought of buying it in the store.....well I just won't do it. We have went years without buying pork period.
A few years ago, I was delighted to be invited it one of Amish communities Bishop's home because he was excited to teach me how to make his bread. It was mainly a rough cup of this, a handful of that and a few spoons of lard. Of course I wrote all of this down and had to really make some adjustments into measurements I knew how to work with. The best thing was, he sent me home with a coffee can full of lard they had from that fall's pigs they had butchered. We had bought his bread for months because it was incredibly delicious and know I had the secret ingredient! For the next few years, I asked every Amish friend we have, to buy lard from them. I learned quickly that they do not turn loose of it easily. So this last fall, I began to ask around about having a pig butchered for our own purposes. Now we have a freezer full of THE best bacon we have ever had, and several glorious jars of pig lard for bread making.
Pig lard doesn't begin by looking very glorious though. As you can see, it looks pretty disgusting.
We have a few large pan trays that we got second hand through a commercial kitchen store. I think they are used in buffet lines, but work great for all kinds of things in the kitchen.
Pig lard shrinks as it melts but there has to be room for the liquid so don't use something that will cause the liquid lard to run over. Remember you will be moving the pan in and out of the oven with hot liquid in it, so move slowly and again, make sure your pan is big enough. I speak from experience! The first time I put way too much in the pan. These pics are from my second rendering.
You'll want to set your oven on 275° and set your tray in the center of the oven. Once it begins to melt, you'll want to decide how much melting you are comfortable with removing your tray from the oven with the liquid in it.
Halfway is where I am comfortable with removing my tray. At this point, you can use a dish towel that you have designated for this purpose or a cheesecloth to strain your liquid lard.
See how pretty and golden it is in the bowl and almost clear in the jar? Remember this is hot grease, but not hot like when you think of hot frying grease. Do not let it scare you away. Keeping the temp low really helps with the danger level. It is not hot enough to ignite in your oven.
Carefully ladle off the liquid from your tray into your strainer.
Using a metal canning funnel, I carefully ladle it into large mouth canning jars. The lard will not expand when cool, you can fill up the jars fairly full.
The first time you ladle of the lard, it will look like liquid gold and cool into a pure white lard. As you can see in the pic below, its cooling from the bottom up.
After you ladle off all of the liquid you can the first time, put your tray back into the oven so it will continue to melt. It works best if your lard has been ground up because the 'cracklins' break apart easy. Cracklins are what is leftover as your lard melts off. They are great to use in corn bread and all sorts of things, adding lots of flavor! Cracklins look almost just like cooked sausage.
After your lard melts some more, take your tray back out of the oven and ladle it off again. This time it will be a bit cloudier and will cool into a more golden looking lard. Your pure white lard from your first strain is best used in baking. The lard rendered after that is wonderful for cooking with. See the pic below, the jar in front is from the second strain.
One last thing. We keep one jar of lard in the fridge and freeze the rest of the jars to keep the lard from spoiling. It does have a shelf life, but we don't go through it fast enough sometimes so we have learned to freeze the extra instead.
Believe me, if you have never rendered lard before, it is an extremely easy thing to do and extremely rewarding! The health benefits are great too, especially compared to any processed oil or shortening in the stores and the taste is incredible!