Fat of the Land

The first time I decided I was going to render lard was a few years ago. As per my usual chaotic fashion, I overcommitted and purchased 20lbs of back fat. I simmered it for two days in multiple crockpots and then I got the “shivs.” My friend Shayna taught me the word “shivs.” I’ve yet to meet another word to describe the feeling so accurately. It’s an internal shudder that often occurs when you’ve had too much of one thing.

I guess back fat of a pig wasn’t the place to start. It has a meatier odour that overwhelmed my senses for a full 48 hours, causing reactions such as the “shivs.” While the lard I did get from melting it down was useful, I didn’t want to do it again. Back fat is best cured, smoked and eaten in savoury settings, especially delicious with some crusty sourdough bread, fresh veg or tart fermented pickles. I’ve learned a few things since then.

Leaf lard is from the internal fat of a pig. This once highly sought after fat has been used in cooking and baking for a long time. Shortening is what most people use now when they want to replicate a traditionally lard based recipe, such as biscuits or pastry. Shortening is hydrogenated oil, mostly palm oil and can be found quite easily. Lard has lost popularity and is harder to find which is why I’ve taken matters into my own hands. This time, I used leaf fat, not back fat, from a farmer who prioritizes happy pigs, a healthy planet and good food.

People often have questions about the nutrition factors in food, especially surrounding the controversial ingredient of fat. There are a million and one studies proving whatever diet you choose to believe is the best one. I am not a trained nutritionist and tend to avoid speaking about the subject if I can. For me, eating real food, that can be sourced with the lowest impact on the planet is my first step. From there I follow nutritionists that I’ve chosen to listen to and have found a way of eating that makes me feel good for my body and my lifestyle. Lard that is sourced from healthy happy pigs feels like a good option to add to my list of locally sourced fats and cooking oils.

So far, my future is looking rather delicious and “shiv” free. Pastry making, deep frying, cooking my eggs, and pretty much anything else you want a mild cooking oil for will be the primary use for my rendered lard. Some people also use it make soap in a traditional method. If you want to get on the lard train, talk to your local butcher or your favourite farmer. I’m sure they will hook you up with the under-appreciated and sadly, often thrown out fat.

Steps to Rendering Lard:

  1. Chop or grind leaf fat into small pieces. 
  2. Simmer on low in a crock pot/roasting pan in oven/shallow pan on stove
  3. Depending on the size of container, this can take anywhere from one hour to all day
  4. Strain out crispy bits of fat as soon as they start to brown, you don’t want them to brown any further or your lard will have stronger flavour
  5. Strain lard through a fine mesh sieve, cheesecloth or something similar
  6. Put in a container and let cool. 
  7. Keep in fridge for a few months or stick in freezer to keep longer
  8. Melt in pan for cooking or use firm and cold for pastry

Feelin’ Fruity

Where does your fruit come from? “Local” fruit is a tricky question in Ontario (ON). Many of our soft tree fruits can only thrive in very specific regions of ON making sourcing fruit challenging. The season is short, and all the creatures of the natural world love fruit as much as us humans, making pest management a serious task. Harvesting fruit is also very tedious labour requiring speed and delicacy, often done by migrant workers.  
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If you are looking to source organic fruit, the options are even fewer. According to OMAFRA due to specific programming, many growers have been able to reduce their pesticide use dramatically. You may encounter fruit growers who say they are “transitioning” to Organic, meaning that they are adopting or taken on certain practices in order to reduce their need for chemical assistance, however it is still difficult to find certified organic fruit in ON. When talking to your farmer, know that there are certified organic “sprays” that can be used to mitigate pest and disease pressure, so asking if something is “spray free” does not necessarily make sense from an agriculture viewpoint. Asking a grower about their farm and growing practices in general will allow for more open conversation.  
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Farmers’ Markets that prioritize local vendors often run into the challenge of not being able to have fruit at the markets. Fruit vendors do not want to travel to markets far outside of their growing region. In order for markets to be able to sell seasonal ON fruit, many make the exception (if they do not normally allow reselling) to permit their vendors to resell tree fruit that they have picked up from fruit growing regions.
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Seasonal fruit is so highly coveted that grocery stores, both large and small scale, make the effort to source ON fruit during the growing seasons.  As with all produce for sale, it must be labelled, showing where the fruit has been grown. 
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Roadside stands throughout ON will also pop up during growing seasons. Stands may be a collection of farms and their products. All items at these stands must be labelled with their origin.

My freezer has been filling up quickly this season and I’m feeling grateful for the abundance of goodness that will feed me throughout the winter months. Apples, pears and grapes are now in season and next on my list of goodies to indulge on!