Cooking with Lard, a dying craft, or something old is something new?

...and on the eighth day God created the horse in perfect image, to romp, graze, gallop, play and make manure wherever it darn well pleases, in divine grace.

One time my father told me he saw a guy up on Spring Street back in the 1940's out on his front porch, cooking something on a stick over a small grate. Upon a closer look, it turned out that the man was browning a large piece of animal fat, and holding a large, thick slice of rough bread in the other hand.

As the man turned the fat over the fire, he would slip the bread under the fat, to collect the drippings. When the fat was suitably browned, the man placed it within the bread and ate it as a meal.

Dad also told me about his Uncle Augie’s smoke house and how the family would slaughter animals to use for food.

The blood from a goose or a hog would be caught in a large basin and used in meat puddings and soups. Even the feet were used, nothing went to waste.

My grandmother used lard for baking and cooking, and she knew that fat is what adds the flavor to the meal; I’m sure many-a-Schmalzbrot were consumed as my father was growing up.

That was Pittsburgh around 1942, and my father’s family had come over from Germany circa 1906, after signing in at Ellis Island.

Long regarded as a “poverty food,” lard has an important place in European and American food culture and history. It has always been a mainstay in the kitchen, especially in countries where pork was a heavy commodity in the diet.

Lard is a by-product of the hog after slaughter and it adds a distinct flavor to foods, but it doesn’t generate a lot of smoke when used in frying.

The culinary quality of lard varies, depending on which part of the hog the fat was taken from and also how the lard was processed.

Lard contains no transfats, and this has sparked a renewed interest in the pork by-product from “foodies” and restaurant chefs alike.

Vegetable shortening is similar in appearance and color to lard.

Since shortening has partially hydrogenated vegetable oil in it, lard is actually better for the diet. The modern-day distortions of home-cooking ingredients may be far worse for us nutritionally than we know.

Animals raised in large, industrial complexes and pumped full of antibiotics, and cooking ingredients that use polymethylethylglypropol and other unpronounceable items can make us want to become real-life Grizzly Adams’s and live off the land.

Everyone yearns for their grandmother’s traditional home cooking. The authentic, made-from-scratch recipes, made with ingredients straight off the farmstead, make us wonder how McDonald’s even stays in business.

We can head to farmer’s markets and roadside stands for fresh eggs, corn and other vegetables, but it seems like only the Amish are churning butter nowadays.

Local butcher shops have grass-fed beef and hogs for sale.

As people seek cleaner foods, demand for these types of staples is growing. Hogs raised on free-range grass pastures, free of antibiotics, are becoming more and more appealing, as their by-products can boast of being organic.

Lard cooking is an American heritage and everyone has to admit, we are eating for good flavor, not because it’s necessarily good for us.

The demand for lard is seeing a resurgence, both in private homes and in restaurants.

Farmers of hogs are fine-tuning their operations, focusing in on “heritage hogs,” or old breeds that have a higher body fat content.

The “Large Black” hog out of Great Britain, and the “Mangalitsa” hog out of Hungary are two such heritage hogs.

Breeders of these types of hogs cannot keep up with the demand, such is the new-found popularity of lard.

A good lard pie crust or some lard- fried fish, flaky and crunchy, is hard to beat.

Lard can be used in a wide variety of applications in the kitchen, such as frying chicken, or making Mince pies or Christmas pudding.

Traditional English Christmas pudding made with lard is served at the family’s Christmas dinner, and it originates from medieval times.

It is also known as Plum pudding, but there are no plums. The late middle-ages referred to raisins as “plums,” and this is the name that has stuck.

The pudding is made up of a variety of dried fruits and held together by thick lard or suet, along with eggs. Molasses or “dark treacle,” a sugar syrup is added, but this can be light syrup, also.

Spices such as cloves, ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon are added, along with others.

Brandy or other alcohol can be added to the mix, even dark beer or stout.

Traditional puddings were mixed and boiled in a pudding bag or cloth, and hung on a hook.

It is then aged anywhere from four weeks to several months, sometimes a year. The alcohol content keeps it from spoiling.

The round solidifies into a shape that looks like a basketball cut in half as it hangs in the pudding bag.

The pudding is served whole, heated on a platter, with a sprig of Holly or Skimmia, another type of evergreen.

Toppings include plain cream, custard, hard sauce, rum or brandy butter, ice cream, lemon cream, or sweet bech mel/white sauce. Fine-grained or confectioner’s sugar can be sprinkled on top.

“Lardy Cake” is an English bread made with a lot of lard.

In Poland, lard is served as an appetizer, mixed with fruit and spread over thick slices of bread.

German “Schmaltz” is actually rendered pork fat spread over bread or used in frying, literally.

The word “Schmalz” is also used, without the “t.”

“Schweinschmalz,” translates to hog= schwein and schmalz= fat.

“Schmalzbrot,” is the thick bread smeared with lard and this is served in German restaurants or pubs, even now.

Also served is “Griebenschmalz,” or German lard topped with crispy pork skins on rye bread, with a side of pickled gherkins. Apples and onion chunks can be added to this.

However, in English, the word “Schmalz” is actually used to identify kosher beef, duck or goose fat.

You can try lard cooking for yourself, but a word of advice: when you measure lard, it must be very, very exact; no more, no less than what the recipe calls for. A 1/4 cup means just that. (Very important).

A tasty, home-made dinner of lard-fried chicken or fish, with flaky lard biscuits and lard-churned butter sounds wonderful.

Add a side of lard sweet potato-pineapple casserole topped with maple syrup and pecans, topped off at the end with a lard crust apple pie and a cup of earth-friendly, social-justice- initiative coffee, and it sounds like a meal that would do Fred Harvey and the Harvey Girls right proud.

Don’t know who Fred Harvey was? Then you are one sorry something-or-other.

That’s all for now, folks, I have a train to catch.

Leaving you with dreams of days gone by and the wonderful smells of our grandmothers’ cooking, to the immortal words of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, “Happy Trails to You.”

References: Mother Earth Magazine/True Grit, Wikipedia,