Last week when I wrote about butter, commenter Sarah B mentioned lard (among other cooking fats) which got me to thinking a bit. Growing up, we always had a tub of lard somewhere in the kitchen. My father would often fry the chicken in the lard plus my mother would use it for some of her baking.

Beale's Open Kettle Rendered Pure LardA few years ago, I was talking with one of my cousins from my Mom’s side of the family and we were talking cookbooks. I had mentioned a church cookbook that one of my cousin’s from Dad’s side of the family had put together that was jokingly called “the family cookbook” as so many of the recipes came from her mother, sisters, nieces, and other cousins. That led Mary to tell me she had an extra of a cookbook that her side of the family had called the “family cookbook” for the same reason. It had been compiled by our great-aunt for her church parish. She sent me the extra copy and I remember feeling my arteries harden as I looked through this cookbook when it arrived. It had been compiled in 1960 and most every recipe called for some amount of lard.

Due to basic health consciousness, lard has fallen out of favor for cooking over the last few decades yet you can find some interesting articles extolling lard from the last few years. For example, this article from the HuffPo just a couple of months ago offers 10 Reasons You Should Be Cooking with Lard. This article from Food and Wine magazine published in December 2005, is titled Lard: The New Health Food. At the same time, there’s this article from NPR a couple of years ago titled Who Killed Lard?

I remember when I was ten years old the day after Thanksgiving when we went out to my uncle’s place for the “hog killin’.” I was considered too young to actually watch the hogs being killed but later in the morning, I was put to work stirring the lard as it was rendered in a cast iron kettle over an open flame. This Google search gives a number of fairly easy ‘recipes’ for rendering much smaller quantities of lard.

As I mentioned at the start, my father would often use lard for his fried chicken although in later years, he switched over to Crisco. But even then, he kept the tub of lard around. And of course, there was a can on the stove for used lard (as well as used Crisco and bacon grease). All of these were strained and re-used multiple times before finally being disposed of.

Is lard healthy or unhealthy? I don’t know. What I do know is that lard was one of the not-so-secret ingredients our parents, grandparents, and so on used to make that wonderfully crisp fried chicken or those oh so flaky biscuits, pie crusts, and dinner rolls. It was also economical and allowed folks to use more of the hog than just the meat itself.

Picture from Steve Snodgrass licensed under Creative Commons