Tuesday, July 31, 2012

When Life Gives You Pig Fat. . .

Okay, so life probably doesn't give most people pig fat.  Not like it does me.  I'm very lucky that way; when Mother-in-Law has a hog butchered, she has the fat saved so I can make lard out of it.

I've been doing this for close to ten years now, when I realized that all that valuable fat was just being thrown out.  I researched how to render lard, discovered that rendering is ridiculously easy to do, and have requested the fat be saved for me every year since.

Perhaps you know someone who raises a pig for meat.  Or someone who purchases one from the 4-H auction at their local county fair.  Or maybe you are thinking of raising a pig or two yourself some day. 

Well, if you can get your hands on some nice fresh pig fat, you can make it into lard.  Which is about the best thing in the world to make pie crusts out of.  It is also a natural fat, not a hydrogenated one.  So, a good fat.

How did I get blessed with an abundance of pig fat just now?  Someone Mother-in-Law knows just had four or five pigs butchered out at the end of last week.  She graciously asked if they were going to keep the fat, and when the answer was no, she asked if she might have it for her daughter-in-law.  Who would be me.  I'm fairly sure I'm known as her crazy daughter-in-law, but hey, if it gets me free pig fat--a huge box of it--who am I to complain?

When life gives me pig fat, I make lard!  And boy, did I make lard! Took me about eight hours of my Monday, but it was well worth it.  I probably have enough lard to last a couple of years.

First I had to rinse it, because it came to me in a large box lined with butcher paper, and I wasn't sure if it had been washed off once it had left the pigs.  So I put it, about a quarter of the box at a time, into my largest colander and rinsed it well in my kitchen sink.

Then I took several hunks of it at a time, placed them on a cutting board next to the stove, and proceeded to dice the lard into chunks not bigger than about one inch.  They melt a whole lot faster and better in small pieces.

These small pieces were placed into my 8 quart pot, which I had put just a little bit--1/4"?? I didn't measure--of water in to keep the first pieces of lard from scorching and sticking to the bottom of the pot as they melted.

I turned the burner on medium heat, and let the contents of the pot heat while I diced some more fat.  When the initial pieces began to melt, I stirred them around, and added more.

As the fat heats, it melts somewhat.  When rendering it into lard, all you have to do is keep stirring, dicing, adding, stirring, dicing, adding. . .  Very very simple.  Eventually, you will have lots of liquid fat, and some brown puffy things called cracklings.  Some people eat the cracklings but I don't care for stuff that fatty/greasy.

At this point, I had used the first colander-ful of fat.  Which was about a quarter of the box, remember.  So I decided it was time to drain off the rendered fat and get it into the canner.  In the past I have used freezer containers, but with this huge amount of fat, I didn't want to take up that much freezer space.  I decided I would try canning it.

I used a ladle to dip out most of the liquid,

and poured it through a mesh strainer, into a smaller pot.

Then I remembered that I needed to line the strainer with something to help catch the little bitty browned pieces so that they wouldn't end up in my lard.  I pulled a piece of muslin out of the drawer--I keep unbleached muslin around for straining things like when I'm making syrup or lard--and lined the strainer with that before dumping in the rest of the pot of cracklings/fat.

From there, I let the liquid fat cool a little bit, then ladled it into clean warm canning jars.  These jars I did not soak in hot water before filling, as you don't want water in your lard (the water that the pot started with boils off during the rendering process).  I was pleasantly surprised to find that despite my hesitation at using room temp (about 80 degrees in my kitchen by this point) jars, the hot oil (over 200 degrees according to my candy/deep fry thermometer) did not cause any jars to break.  Maybe because they were all old and very thick canning jars versus new ones?  Some of the ones I used were the old square-body style pints; forget where I got them, probably either my grandmother or perhaps DH's grandmother. Or maybe it was because I had a towel under the jars instead of just having them on the counter.  Or maybe it was because I poured the first ladle of oil into each jar slowly, giving the jar time to adapt to the temperature rather than just dumping in boiling oil quickly.  Whatever the reason was, no jars broke anyway.

My first batch (the quarter-box) filled 7 jars.  I went with 1/4" head space on them, because that is what I thought I remembered reading somewhere about canning lard.  They processed 10 minutes in a boiling water bath canner.  Because the lard is molten when you take the jars out of the canner, they are an amber color. 

Repeating the steps from the beginning again--take 1/4 of box, rinse, dice, start w/a little water in pot, heat, melt, stir, dice, add, stir, strain, put in jars, process in canner--I worked my way through the entire box of pig fat in about eight hours.  In the end, I had 25 pints of lard.

In the above picture, you can see how the first jars, the cooler ones by the end of the day, had started to whiten as the lard turned into a solid.

This morning, this is what all the jars looked like:

Close up of just one jar, so you can better see what the final product looks like.

Everything got used; all the fat was rendered. The liquid fat was canned and became lard.  The cracklings leftover I did not throw out. Instead, I put them in freezer bags and those went into the freezer.  We use them to supplement Old Dog's food in the winter time, since he is an outdoor dog (all our animals live outdoors, due to DS2's animal allergies) and can use extra fat in his diet during the cold weather months.

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