For a couple of recent decades, lard was a four-letter word. Belittled by cardiologists, avoided by dieters, and rare in recipes, cooking with lard was banished from the kitchen. No more. A new book, Lard, the Lost Art of Cooking with Your Grandmother’s Secret Ingredient, rectifies all slights. Lard is back in the larder, and yes, the words share roots, going back to the Greek word laros, meaning “pleasing to the taste.”
Lard, the book, contains 150 time-tested recipes compiled by the editors of Grit magazine from over 130 years of correspondence with readers of Grit and Capper’s. These venerable publications have always had a distinct rural emphasis, a waste-not, want-not sensibility, and a “natural is healthy” ethos. Recipes like World War II Honey Cookies, Zookies (cookies made with zucchini), Homemade Potato Chips, Homemade Tortillas, and Homemade Noodles are practical and enticing.
This book spreads lard across all categories, including the best pie crusts famously made with lard. Bluegrass Hush Puppies, Black Walnut Cake, Homemade Potato Chips, Fried Cauliflower Omelet, Southern Fried Chicken, Rhubarb Dumplings and at least four different kinds of biscuits are just a few of the reasons you’ll open this book again and again.
Lard heats to a very high temperature without burning, so foods fried in lard cook faster without taking on much grease. Hot fat makes baked goods moist, and adds heartiness to savory dishes. Fried green tomatoes without lard are just another vegetable.
Sprinkled throughout this cookbook are first person memories and tempting reasons to give lard a try. “The best pie crusts were made with lard, and it was used for frying and cooking,” says Lucille Wohler, Clay Center, Kansas. “Food was delicious when lard was used. Eventually a time came when butchering wasn’t done at home; the animals were taken to the slaughtering plant. Then the time came when we were all told lard wasn’t healthy.”
The reasons why lard fell from favor are convoluted and not totally deserved. According to Lard’s introduction, consuming some fat helps you feel full and satisfied. Lard doesn’t contribute to elevated serum triglyceride levels. It has less saturated fat than butter (40 percent vs. 54 percent), and its total fat is 45 percent monounsaturated. “Numerous studies now point the finger of guilt at processed trans fats for contributing to cancer and heart disease more than virtually any naturally occurring healthful fats,” writes by Oscar H. Will III, editor in chief of Grit and Cappers in the book’s introduction.
Unfortunately, most of the lard now available in the grocery store has been processed, deodorized and bleached, and is far from the real, healthier thing. The solution? Find a hog farmer raising heritage breeds on pasture. They’ll either sell you pure lard, or sell you the hog fat so you can prepare your own, following the first recipe in this book, “How To Render Lard.” Chop or grind up the fat, roast it in a low oven, strain it, then freeze or refrigerate. It keeps for months.