Oh Lard, its Pi Day

It being 3/14 today, there is lots of twitter (@fabfoodfanatic) on the internet about PI Day. So, in honor of this special occasion, which only comes around once a year, I thought that I would tell you my political views about pie crust.

I make it with lard, the old fashioned way.

WHAT’S THAT YOU SAID? I said lard!

No, I don’t buy that stuff in the store – feh! never. I make said lard by rendering pure pork back fat in my kitchen. This is very easy to do. Pork back fat is the solid, snowy white fat that comes off of the back of the pig.

I get that fat whenever I buy a mess of pig, which I do every now and then. I am lucky enough to be part of a group of fellow food fanatics who, like me, only want to eat locally grown and processed, organic, small farm/pasture raised, no chemical or drugs administered, pig. Just like the lamb I talked about in a previous post you get all sorts of interesting things when you buy your food this way. Though, I have to admit, I know to ask for the back fat because I had read about so many delicious things you can do with it! If you don’t have a hankering to buy a pig, you can ask your friendly butcher (hopefully an organic, pasture raised supplier of meat, that is) to get you some.

So, back on the topic of PIE and lard, there are a couple of ways to do it, both pretty simple. The back fat may come to you with or without the pig skin. This is fantastic stuff in its own right but, because you want to keep your lard as pure white as newly fallen snow, you don’t want to leave it on for the rendering. So just take a big ol’ very sharp french knife  and scrape that fat off of the skin. Save the skin for some craklins or other goodies. The first way is to chop up the fat in relatively equal sized small chunks (1 inch dice is good) and the second way is to run the fat through a meat grinder using the large die. Which every you choose, put the fat in a nice sturdy pot. A cast iron dutch oven is good, if you have it, but anything will do so long as you regulate your heat carefully.

For a couple of pounds of back fat – which is the least you want to bother with – put two cups of water in there with it. Heat the fat and water up to just below boiling and then lower the flame until it is barely simmering. You want to watch to make sure the heat is not too high because you must keep the protein and other stuff, which will separate out from the fat, from turning brown. This will discolor your final product and, most important, will make it so your lard tastes just a little too porky. (Porky tasting lard is only good for savory stuff, but not good for sweets like pie.) As the water simmers, the good fat will melt and the water will evaporate. When you have a pot full of just melted fat, with just a small amount of leftover solid matter, you are done. This might take 4-8 hours, so make sure you are available to keep an eye on it. Strain it off into a container that won’t melt so you can store it when it cools down. I use mason jars.

You can freeze your lard and it will keep indefinitely. In the fridge, it will keep up to a year. I also use it to fry eggs, chops, potatoes and so forth. A little bit goes a long way, as my mother used to say.

If you want to know how to make a pie crust with lard, make it like you usually do (from scratch, silly) but just substitute 1/2 to all of the butter you normally use with the lard. Add a teaspoon of white vinegar to your water, too. The more Lard you use, the softer your dough so you have to chill the dough well before you roll it out. It is worth it.

Happy Pi day.

Edit: This morning I received an email from Steve Atkinson who left a comment here too. He reminded me of something that I think is important to pass on to you. Specifically what he said is that “free-range pork lard is the food with the largest amount of Vit. D after cod liver oil—important during the winter months.” Thanks again Steve! You can find more great information on what Steve does by clicking on his name above.


Filed under Cooking, Lard, Pie, Pork

10 responses to “Oh Lard, its Pi Day

  1. Merridith,
    I’ve been enjoying the information you come up with for your blog, good, in depth food knowledge.

    I’ve been home-rendering lard for a while and have found leaf lard (fat from around the kidneys and intestines) to be better for pastry than backfat. Leaf lard has less membranes in it resulting in a milder tasting product; it also melts at a higher temperature than lard from backfat, about 10 degrees difference.

    I have begun rendering my lard in a double boiler. It eliminates the step of separating the lard from the water.

    By the way, your new signature quote on the stlbites forum is terrific.

    • Thanks Steve, I am thrilled and honored that you are reading me! I agree that leaf lard would be preferable (at least this is what I have read). It is reputed to be far purer and less “porky” in its aroma. Though I have asked for it, I have found it impossible to get the leaf lard. Maybe I have just not gone to the right supplier? 🙂

  2. Kathy

    My grandmother made pie crust dough using lard, and it is still what I prefer to use. I know there’s a ratio for a good crust, but I use her exact, simple recipe per single crust: one cup flour, 1/3 cup lard, about 3/4 teaspoon salt, and enough ice water to bind it all. Sometimes I chill it before I roll it out, and that’s it. I have always used this for sweet pies, too.

    I get my lard from local guys at the farmers’ market, and each batch tastes a little different.

    • Thanks Kathy, I’ll try this one next time around. Grandmothers are great sources for this kind of info – they learned their skills before we were all made phobic about animal fat. I will also add that a way to “fix” the porky flavor (being a lover of the salt/sweet combo) is to add some sugar to your crust mixture.

  3. Kathy

    You know, M, I rarely (if ever) add sugar to my crust. I think that growing up with this recipe has made it the standard in my book — I’m sure you know how that goes!

    I was a 4-H kid for 10 years, and I took food projects every year. My pie crust took me all the way to state competition one year, and that crust earned me a purple Superior-rating ribbon. I still love to make pies.

  4. that’s the only way i know how to make pie crust.. the chef i studied under in culinary school taught us that is the ONLY way to make pie crust – and i agree!

    i have a really funny story that i’ll share with you over dinner involving Chef, pies and “society ladies”!

  5. I can find all kinds of “recommendations” to use free-range lard, but no one can tell me where to buy the stuff. I would like to try it–buy it online–but where?

    Thank you for your help.

    • Hello Joie. Thanks for reading my blog. For lard, I would try your local farmers’ market. Often times the ones who sell pork will have either already made lard or, better yet, they will have fat so you can make your own. Ask for “leaf fat” or “leaf lard” which refers to fat that comes from the insides of the pig around the kidneys. It is the most solid and pure fat on the pig. I make my own lard from regular back fat, which I get whenever I purchase a hunk of pig. Render up 2-3 pounds of fat and you will end up with 1 1/2 – 2 pounds of lard. Refrigerated or frozen, the stuff keeps a good long time. By the way, I don’t know what you mean by “free range” lard, other than that it comes from a pasture raised pig. That should be easy to find – again, buy from a local farmer and ask the farmer questions about how the pig was raised. I hope this is helpful.

  6. Hmm it seems like your blog ate my first comment
    (it was super long) so I guess I’ll just sum
    it up what I wrote and say, I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog.
    I too am an aspiring blog blogger but I’m still new to everything.
    Do you have any tips and hints for rookie blog writers?
    I’d definitely appreciate it.

    • Thanks Caroline. Maybe the site is having some problems as there is another person mentioning an issue. I will look into it. I have been out of blogging for several years though, so I am not a good one for tips and hints. I have often thought about getting back in to it but my health has been an issue. Sorry. I would point you to the WordPress site itself where you can find much advice. Good luck.

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