Rendering Lard

As a finale to our hog butchering we rendered lard today.

If you’ve never rendered lard it’s the process of cooking pig fat until it liquefies. Then you strain it and chill it, and you end up with the very essence of piggy goodness for frying or for anything you use cooking oil [1]. Popcorn, popped in lard, is sublime.

You start by cutting all the fat from the pig into cubes. The smaller the cubes, the faster it renders. But on the other hand, the smaller you cut the cubes, the longer it takes to finish butchering. We [2] were weary on our feet by the time we cut up two hogs, so the fat cubes were about 2 inches on a side.

Once you have a bunch of pig fat you build a fire under your butchering kettle. The kettle is cast iron and about 3 feet in diameter [3]. You can move it by yourself, but once it’s over the fire and too hot to touch, it’s a two man lift.

You throw your pork fat cubes into the kettle and start stirring so they don’t burn.

Stage 1
Stage 1

See how beautifully clean that kettle is [3.5]!

You stoke the fire and keep the fat at a slow simmer, and in an hour or so the fat is browning nicely.

Stage 2
Stage 2

We had pieces that were mostly meat, and at this point we were pulling those out and salting and eating them. The most ridiculously delicious thing you can imagine [5].

Once you’ve rendered all the lard (you can tell you’re done by pressing a chunk of fat against the side of the kettle, if white fat squishes out, you’re not done) put the fat chunks in your lard press [6] and squeeze all the lard out. Then tip your fat chunks, which are now cracklin’s, into a bowl, salt them, and eat!

Cracklin's
Cracklin’s

But that’s just a bonus. The main point is to gather lard. We strained the lard through cheesecloth and ended up with about 2 gallons of lard. Once you strain it and chill it, it’s a lovely white color.

Lard
Lard

It’s disturbing to raise your own meat. You take care of your animals, you make sure they’re well fed, have clean water, and have a dry and warm place to sleep. And then you kill and eat them. But meat doesn’t come wrapped in plastic in a grocery store. Using every last bit of pork, even to rendering the lard, respects that for us to eat, something had to die.

1. We all know animal fats are a sure route to a heart attack, and the only guarantee of a long and healthy life is to use margarine. Well, no, not margarine as we recently learned. Trans fats, from which margarine is made, are death itself. The only guarantee of a long and healthy life is to not consume trans fats. Whatever you do, don’t eat margarine, or lard. Only use Crisco which consists of a blend of soybean oil, fully hydrogenated palm oil, and partially hydrogenated palm and soybean oils. Then you will live long and prosper.

2. As usual, when I say “we” I mean “me.”

3. If you think about it for a moment, you might think, “How often do you use a butchering kettle? And where do you store it between times?” The answers to that are “Almost never.” and “In the barn.” So getting the kettle ready meant that we[4] wire brushed it for half an hour and scrubbed it with fat and salt and rinsed and scrubbed and rinsed and scrubbed.

3.5 You did read footnote 3, didn’t you?

4. In this case “we” does not mean “me.” It’s not my filthy kettle. Tom did all that.

5. If eating this is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

6. You do have a lard press, don’t you?

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Calling Icarus

I went to scan a photo tonight. Slapped it on the scanner and pressed ‘Scan’ on my desktop computer…

And got a warning message “No scanner found”. Huh?

I looked at the scanner. It was powered on. I looked at the cables. They were plugged in.

Well, stuff happens. I cycled power on the scanner and tried again…

And got a warning message “No scanner found”. Huh?

Well, pshaw. I cycled power on the desktop, logged in as me, and…

The desktop locked up, ignored all keyboard and mouse inputs.

Rrrrrr, I mashed the power button on the desktop until it shut down. I waited a bit and powered the desktop on again.

I logged in as me, held my breath, and pressed ‘Scan’…

And lo and behold it worked.

The moral of this story is if you really believe Google or Tesla or Ford is going to bring you a driverless car in the foreseeable future, just remember, these are the same people who can’t make a scanner reliably talk to a desktop computer.

Icarus, call your office.

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Sauerkraut

It’s been so long since I’ve posted [1].

Summer is in full swing so it’s time to preserve summer’s bounty for the coming winter.

As I tend to do, I got carried away the Columbia City Farmer’s Market last week and came home with 2 huge cabbages.

Cabbages
Cabbages

The answer to the question, “What to do with 2 huge cabbages?” is obvious: Sauerkraut!

Take that cabbage and slice it thin.

Slice Cabbages
Sliced Cabbages

And sprinkle it with salt and pack it into a crock.

Packed Cabbages
Packed Cabbages

And then let it rot. I put it in our mudroom. Debbie was in there the other day and said “Something’s died back here.” “That’s just the sauerkraut,” I told her.

The sauerkraut will rot for about a month and then I’ll can or freeze it. A mudroom that reeks of death for a month is a small price to pay for a winter of Rueben sandwiches and choucroute garnie and pork and sauerkraut on New Year’s Day [2].

1. The reasons for that are many and sundry and will be divulged in good time. Or maybe not.

2. Which brings you good luck for the rest of the year.

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The Queen and Corgis

Queen Elizabeth, famous for her corgis, had a photograph taken of them for her 90th birthday.

Queen's Corgis
Queen’s Corgis

It’s not my 90th birthday, but I thought a picture of our corgi was in order.

Chuck and Debbie's Corgi
Chuck and Debbie’s Corgi

I’m hoping the Queen sees this and wants to come to visit. I’m also hoping that Annie Leibovitz, who took the pictures of the Queen, sees this and wants to hire me to take pictures for her.

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Makin’ Bacon

We went to Albright’s grocery in Corunna last Sunday. If you’ve never been to Albright’s you’re missing out. They have the most amazing meat counter you’ve ever seen, and prices are incredibly low.

We came home with an armload of goodies, one of which was a boneless pork loin roast. I’d stumbled across Michael Ruhlman’s recipe for Canadian bacon recently and I’d been hankering to try it.

I pretty much followed Ruhlman’s recipe step by step. When it comes to cured meat, I like to have a trusted source and to listen to them.

First was brining the pork for 3 days in sugar, salt, lemon, spices, and the oh so essential sodium nitrate.

Brining
Brining

After 3 days I removed the pork from brine and let it dry in the refrigerator. After drying I hot smoked it for about 4 hours at 225 degrees.

Smoking
Smoking

Now I’m a purist when it comes to smoking. I like to smoke over a wood fire with blends of hardwoods I’ve cut myself. But it was howling wind and blowing snow on Thursday when I needed to smoke the Canadian bacon and I wasn’t up to building a fire and babysitting it in those conditions. Instead I got out the electric smoker that I inherited from my Dad’s good friend Sam Taulbee.

The electric smoker is so easy to use. You just set it and it holds the cooking temperature exactly there. All you have to do is throw a few wood chips in every now and then.

Smoked
Smoked

The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and it’s hard to argue with results like these.

Sliced
Sliced

Tasting something like this makes you realize how weird, unnatural, and chemical-y commercial Canadian bacon is. It was easily one of the best things I’ve ever eaten, let alone prepared.

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Keeping it Green

It’s February, months since harvest, months to go until planting. Nothing to do [1] except sit by the fire and think. I’ve been re-reading Wendell Berry’s “Our Only Earth” and I was struck by the following passage enough to get out of my chair [2] and write it down.

The predominant agricultural science of the universities, the corporations, and the government is still almost unanimously promoting industrial agriculture despite the by now overwhelming evidence of its failure: soil erosion, salinization, aquifer depletion, nutrient depletion, dependence on on fossil fuels and toxic chemicals, pollution of streams and rivers, loss of genetic and ecological diversity, destruction of rural communities and the cultures of husbandry.

In the farming community we’ve been nearly united against something called the “Waters Of The United States” (WOTUS), a plan by the EPA to define what waterways may be regulated. We’re enraged by ‘government overreach’, we assert that no one knows better than the farmer how to protect the waters of the United States.

All the time ignoring algae blooms in Lake Erie caused, at least in large part, by runoff from farm fields. Ignore that Grand Lake St. Marys in Ohio was unfit even to touch, because of farm runoff.

Sign  posted on Grand Lake St. Marys
Sign posted on Grand Lake St. Marys

Ignore that there is a huge dead zone at the mouth of the Mississippi, caused by farm runoff. Ignore that the drinking water in Des Moines is unfit to drink almost half of the year because of nitrogen from farmer’s fields ending up in the river.

Just what I’m thinking about on a February night.

1. That’s a slight exaggeration.

2. And that takes a heap o’ motivation to get me out of my chair, I tell you what.

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Keeping it Clean

I’m not a “greenie,” [1] but I was watching a cooking show tonight, one of my favorites, American’s Test Kitchen. They were making a curry and roasting peppers in the oven. To do that they lined a baking sheet with foil.

I like the idea of keeping the baking sheets clean. We scrub and scrub and scrub ours and they’re still blackened and pitted. It’d sure be nice to have pristine baking sheets that look like new. Maybe I should line my pans.

But if I line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, I’ve not only spent money on the foil, but the foil then has to be thrown away. I can’t recycle it with food baked on it. An irreplaceable natural resource headed for the landfill, all because I wanted a baking pan to look pretty.

I love my pans, I really do. And I wish they looked perfect. But does it really matter how shiny they are?

I don’t think so.

1.

green·ie
ˈɡrēnē/
noun informal derogatory
a person who campaigns for protection of the environment.

Ok, yes, I am.

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There’s more than one way to peel an egg.

We’ve had laying hens for years. Eggs from your own chickens are the best thing in the world. They’re fresh and rich, the yolks are creamy yellow and the whites are thick.

But the one bad thing about fresh eggs is they’re nearly impossible to peel when you hard boil them. We’ve tried every trick under the sun, all guaranteed to produce easy to peel eggs, and every one has failed. We always ended up spending minutes per egg, prying the shells off in tiny pieces and taking chunks of white with them.

Until yesterday that is. We finally found a method that worked. We hard-boiled 3 eggs, very fresh eggs, gathered this weekend. And they peeled like a dream, large chunks of shell coming off at once leaving the whites smooth and intact behind. Amazing.

Here’s the technique, from Cooks Illustrated.

Bring 1 inch of water to a rolling boil in a pan. If you have a pan with a steamer, put the eggs in the steamer and put the steamer in the pan. Otherwise lower the eggs carefully into the boiling water. Cover the pan, turn the heat to medium-low, and set a timer for 13 minutes.

After 13 minutes put the eggs in an ice bath for 15 minutes to stop the cooking. After 15 minutes you can peel the eggs, or put them in the refrigerator to peel later.

According to Cooks Illustrated the method works because starting the eggs in hot water or steam causes the membrane separating the white from the shell to draw away from the shell, making them easy to peel.

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Donuts

Watching the Cook’s Country TV show on PBS tonight and they’re featuring homemade donuts.

And I’m remembering making donuts with my Grandma. She’d set up a card table in her kitchen, cover it with newspaper, and away my brother, sister, and I would go. The donuts were the biscuits that come in a paper tube. We’d punch the center out, fry the biscuits in hot oil, and then douse them with powdered sugar, granulated sugar and cinnamon, or even dabs of jelly.

Lord, can you imagine the mess?

50 years gone by now, it’s a beautiful memory and legacy.

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Thanksgiving 2015

We had Thanksgiving with Debbie’s family on Thursday and with mine on Friday.

The young’uns in our families are the millennial generation [1]. We’ve watched them grow from infants to the young adults they are today.

My generation loves to bash the millennials. The opinions run from the millennials are the worst generation ever and the world is doomed to the millennials are the worst generation ever but the world may survive their awfulness.

I don’t get it. I look at these kids, and they’re all right [2]. They’re smart. They’re more than smart; they’re bright, they sparkle with intelligence. They’re ambitious and hard-working. They’re tolerant and kind. Now I’m not looking through the world with rose-tinted glasses. They can be dumber than a bag of hammers and you just shake your head at the wonderment of it.

But these are good kids, and it’s been a pleasure to share in their lives.

We’re handing off the world to good hands.

1. Millennials are those born roughly between the early 1980’s and the early 2000’s.

2. Or “the kids are alright” as my g-g-g-generation would say.

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