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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Everything Old Is New Again -- Lard, Rediscovered

By Valerie Battle Kienzle

What’s true of fashion trends often is true of food trends – wait long enough and what was once popular will be popular again.  Such is the case with lard.

By definition, lard is hog fat -- waste pig tissue that has been rendered or processed into more useful products for human consumption.  Sounds disgusting, but that’s what it is.  And it’s been used in food preparation for centuries.

Both of my grandmothers were Depression-era farm wives.  Their families raised hogs and each year slaughtered a few in the cool days of fall.  Cuts of meat from the hogs were preserved or prepared and provided a source of protein for their families in the months ahead.

In addition to providing hams, ribs, roasts, sausage and bacon, the butchering of hogs resulted in a lot of leftover fat and waste tissues.  These leftovers were boiled in huge pots of water over an open fire.  The rendered fat floated to the top of the pot, was skimmed from the water surface and saved as lard.  The lard was then used in the preparation of a variety of other foods, much like many of us today use shortening, oils, butter or margarine.

Large coffee cans filled with lard were regular fixtures near both grandmas’ stoves.  It’s a good thing I didn’t know exactly what that creamy substance was until I was much older.  I was a picky eater, and chances are I wouldn’t have touched much of anything they prepared if I’d paid attention to how often they dipped into those cans.

Grandma Bettye was known throughout her rural community as an outstanding cook.  Preparing large mid-day meals for her family and farm hands was a daily activity.  People still talk about her light, flaky pie crusts.  Her secret ingredient?  Lard.

Grandma Cleo served heaping bowls of vegetables grown in her own garden.  They were seasoned in such a way that others often found difficult to duplicate.  Her secret?  A big scoop of lard.  

Lard composition is mainly fats known as triglycerides.  High triglyceride levels are considered a health risk.  That, along with concerns in recent decades about high cholesterol levels and other dietary concerns, led to a switch from lard to vegetable-based oils in cooking.  Suddenly lard was viewed as unhealthy.

However, in recent years American consumers have become concerned about the health aspects of the trans fats found in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.  Hydrogenation is a process where an unsaturated oil such as corn oil has hydrogen added to it to cause the creation of hydrogenated fats.  The fats become more solid at room temperature.  Then a few experts recognized that unhydrogenated lard has no trans fat.  It also has less cholesterol and saturated fat than an equal portion of butter.

In addition, a few noted chefs publically acknowledged the positive properties of lard in food preparation (sound familiar?).  This led to increased usage and popularity of lard with food aficionados, or foodies, throughout the world.  And now the use of lard in food preparation is again accepted and applauded.  The New York Times, Food & Wine magazine, Gourmet magazine and The Washington Examiner recently published stories praising the use of lard.  In addition, the editors of Grit magazine and Ogden Publications, Inc., have released a book about lard called, Lard: The Lost Art of Cooking with Your Grandmother’s Secret Ingredient.

The December issue of Southern Living magazine features an article about the art of frying foods.  It states that the secret of successful frying is selecting the right oil, which includes some vegetable oils and, you guessed it, LARD.

Obtaining lard today is much easier than it was in Grandma’s day.  Lard is available for purchase in most groceries in blocks or in cans.  It can be found alongside cooking oils.

So the grandmas were right!  This product, which isn’t at all appetizing when you think about its composition, is the latest trend in the food industry.  Who knew???

1 comment:

  1. Grandma knew. Grandma's always know.
    Although, I don't remember mine using lard. That said she was a firm believer in real coffee with sugar and she lived to be 94.