Cooking with Lard

I had never cooked with lard before. It just seemed gross to me. Plus, as a saturated fat it was on the list of things I didn’t need to add to my already saturated diet.

However, my elderly, ill mother specifically requested that I make one of her favorite summer meals: pasties (Cornish meat pie)…with lard. How could I deny her? In fact, she told my sister she wouldn’t even come over and eat them UNLESS I made them with lard.

So I went in search of lard. I emailed my favorite meat website (heritagefoodsusa.com) to see if they sold it. They did, but wouldn’t have any available till later in the week. Plus, they have what’s called “leaf lard,” which basically means it’s fat fresh from the pig. When I got it, I would have to “render” it by cooking it down to its liquid form. And there wasn’t enough time for that.

So then I went to Dietrich’s Meats, a famous butcher in these parts. They had plenty of lard—in 1-pound, 2-pound, 5-pound, or 5-gallon containers! They don’t feed their pigs antibiotics or hormones, and they raise them locally, so I bought some. (I also bought some ground beef, and watched in horror as the lady dug her bare hands into the ground beef, then without washing her hands touched my buffalo Lebanon baloney order, and then handled my cash, since they don’t take credit. I just kept looking at her and thinking, well, she’s still alive after all these years, so I guess I’ll live if I eat this stuff.)

So my mother and I made the dough with lard. It was so soft! We filled the dough with ground beef, potatoes, onions, salt and pepper, and…butter! My sisters came, and all my daughters were there. I ran out of white flour, so I made a few extras with King Arthur’s “White Whole Wheat Flour,” which is really good (and of course everything was organic).

Suffice it to say, the lard made the pasties absolutely, positively delicious—and so much better than any dough I had ever made before. It was savory, crispy, and yummiful! My mother was happy. I sent her home with some leftovers. My sister’s boyfriend remarked that the lard even made whole wheat taste good.

I think lard is due for a comeback. There must be some health benefit to it. Of course, only in moderation—maybe once a summer. And maybe I’ll use it to make my pie dough this holiday season. But today is a beautiful summer day, and I’m not going to think about that yet!

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37 Responses to Cooking with Lard

  1. Laura Allen June 26, 2009 at 7:18 am #

    Many of the folks on my mother’s side of the family are farmers who ate lard every day of their lives, and there have been many centenarians among them. I have watched my grandmother make homemade sausage and livermush (a very regional Southern delicacy, available only in about a 50 mile radius of where I live) outside in a big black cauldron, and she lived to be 94.

  2. Amanda June 26, 2009 at 8:52 am #

    Lard is the magic in every great crust.

  3. Harry M. June 26, 2009 at 9:32 am #

    So often, the things we “know” are actually beliefs and beliefs can be true or false. With food and health, the body is very resiliant and tough. We don’t really need to fuss over every morsel we eat because the body regulates itself. And “statistics” which tells us so much about what we “know” about food and health is itself a great liar that tells us anything we want to hear. My grandmother ate lard and pork fat every day and lived to be 105. My brother the vegan lived to be 65. Not fair? Maybe the food had nothing at all to do with their health, happiness, or life expectancy.

    Harry M

  4. Pat Farrenkopf June 26, 2009 at 9:36 am #

    Please refer to Know Your Fats: The Complete Primer for Understanding the Nutrition of Fats, Oils & Cholesterol by Mary G. Enig, PhD. Another good resource is http://www.westonaprice.org. Lard is a nutrient-rich traditional fat that has nourished healthy population groups for thousands of years.

  5. Joyce June 26, 2009 at 9:51 am #

    We grew up on a farm in Kansas and my Mom made awesome pies and used lard most of the time to make it. I remember when Crisco came out and said it was a light, digestible fat and preferable to lard and then all these years later, we find that it was loaded with transfats.

    My paternal grandmother lived to almost 94, my Dad just turned 89 and I am sure that over the years they ate quite a bit of lard when making their food. Key is clean, hormone free fats like this, and in moderation.

    I occasionally make pies and think I will go back to using lard. We don’t use it that often and it does make superior crusts.
    Thanks for the article.

  6. Lori June 26, 2009 at 10:19 am #

    My folks are from the Iron Range here in MN and pasties with that glorious lard-enhanced crust were a staple in the iron miners’ lunchboxes! My mom has always made them that same way so of course that’s the way I make them too… Actually I make all my pie crusts with lard. There is no lard-less pie crust recipe that even comes close!!! Thanks for the great story!

  7. Jo June 26, 2009 at 10:30 am #

    I was hoping for the pasty and dough recipe. I have several pasty recipes, but I’m still looking for that perfect one. I had a delicious pasty in Wisconsin once but, of course, was unable to get the recipe.

  8. Bonnie June 26, 2009 at 10:38 am #

    Where can you get good lard or at least the best lard? Does it need to come from an organic store?

  9. Andrea June 26, 2009 at 10:52 am #

    I think the key to longevity with any eating lifestyle is activity. Most people who eat lard in their recipes and live long are hard-laboring people, such as farmers. The problem is that when an average American sitting at their desk all day and in front of the TV all night eats lard, clogging of the arteries ensues. My mom is experiencing this now and just got through heart surgery. She eats an unrestricted diet of fried foods and saturated fats and has NO physical activity. Obesity and laziness will kill her, not necessarily just the food.

  10. Jean Nick June 26, 2009 at 10:58 am #

    Many of the nasty pesticides and other toxins out there in the environment accumulate in fat so it is important to buy organic lard if you can find it. Failing that, look for lard from pigs not fed hormones or anitbiotics. If you can find lard from a farm that also raises its pigs on pasture that is even better as the balance of omega fatty acids will be far more healthful than that in lard from pigs fed eclusively grain and cooped up in small pens where they can’t get much exercise.

  11. Kattya June 26, 2009 at 11:07 am #

    In Mexico, where I come from, lard is big part of everyday diet and it goes back centuries in the mexican cuisine. It’s used to fry quesadillas, sopes, huaraches, chalupas, and pretty much anything that involves the use of corn dough. It’s also the other better half in tamales. Now that I live in Florida, and after becoming a vegeatarian I always ask in mexican style restaurants what do they use. I think most of them use vegetable oil these days, except when making tamales (all tamal recipes call for lard except the “tamal canario” which is made with butter and has a completely different flavor).
    I’m visiting my family in Mexico for the winter holidays and I’m pretty sure I’ll have to suck it up and deal with the fact that I’ll have some lard in my food, or else I’ll starve.

  12. Trudy June 26, 2009 at 2:13 pm #

    Kattya: I spent 25 years teaching and living in the Mexican-American culture in Tucson, AZ…Although I was a vegetarian for 15 year, I can’t think of anything better than Mexican pastries, rolls and beans made with lard. The Mexican cooking of the ladies at my school is still something I dream about!!! My ancestors all used lard and lived a very long time. One of my favorite treats was bread dipped in the drippings from frying meat…usually in lard!!!!

  13. Shelbi June 26, 2009 at 3:32 pm #

    I knew Dietrich’s would have it :)

  14. Christine June 26, 2009 at 5:18 pm #

    I agree with the Weston A. Price Foundation’s literature and research about lard and how nutritious it has been for hundreds of years. Bring on the LARD!

  15. dina June 26, 2009 at 6:34 pm #

    I’ve been planning (slowly, I admit it!) to try some things with lard. We lived in Appalachia for a time, and honestly, the stuff those ladies who cooked with lard brought as gifts – amazing!

    After so many years of hearing it’s so bad for you – and then to actually do some research on it and find it’s not – UGH! Amazing what we’re “fed” in terms of information, isn’t it?!

  16. Karen June 26, 2009 at 11:15 pm #

    I’m adding another, lard-loving grandmother from the Lehigh Valley, who lived to 95, to your collection here. She made the world’s greatest pie crusts using lard and cooked anything and everything that required frying in it- refused to use anything but. She ingested the stuff regularly!

  17. Chris June 27, 2009 at 12:34 pm #

    Everything in moderation. There’s room for a little bit of even so called “unhealthy” foods in a healthy diet. I agree that it’s probably the amount of activity you do that makes the real difference. Besides, saturated fat is saturated fat. There are people who cringe at the thought of cooking with lard but think nothing of spreading butter on bread and vegetables or frying up bacon for breakfast. Personally, it never occurred to me to cook with lard. It has nothing to do with perceiving it as unhealthy. It just was never a part of my culture growing up. But, I cook with butter frequently, so why not lard?

  18. Rebecca June 28, 2009 at 1:36 am #

    So nice to hear, what I’ve always believed. I grew up in WVa, and lard was a staple food, and rendering was such a part, I still remember the smell (not a pleasant one) especially when the women would all gather for the day, to make soap (lye soap), it was a lenghty process outside over a big wood fire (too smelly to do indoors I guess) such a different time, but so much tradition…a family affair

  19. cw June 28, 2009 at 10:53 am #

    Fat is a condensed energy source. If I remember my health course it has 9 calories ( no matter the org source- plant or animal) per gram, as carbs and proteins have -I believe – 4. Alcohol, the only other source of energy has 7- again that is if I am remembering correctly. According to information I have received and read, most cholesterol we find in our system is not from diet but from what your body produces…those with high cholesterol is usually something within ones own body. Hydrolyzed fats are supposed to be the worse offenders and those are usually plant based. I use butter- not margarine. I would rather put something in my body that is real, over something ‘manufactured’. the point is not to consume a lot of ‘empty calories” Make them count- in nutrition and also, in my opinion, taste. I cannot attest to additional nutritional value of lard vs. shortening- though it has long been noted for the most flavorful pie crusts and even the best cookies, but I do know to get the most nutrition (excluding calories) out of plants minimizing the age after harvest and amount you cook them to be key.
    A personal note I think we have seriously & adversely effected our health to such a big extent by eliminating things from our diets and our lives.(without much real thought in many cases) Though I am not taking chemical toxins. Eliminating exposure to germs has made our immune system even more fragile just as over exposure to anti biotic has made them bacteria more resistant. That is why I grow organic what I can.

  20. Jean June 28, 2009 at 11:04 pm #

    Would someone like to share a pie crust recipe with me? A long time ago I used lard for pie crust but I got away from it and used Crisco. Now that they changed Crisco I do not care for the texture at all. I think lard sound good to me.

    Thank you

  21. DJ in PA July 2, 2009 at 7:47 pm #

    There was a fantastic article on fruit pies and a truly foolproof lard based pie pastry recipe–with detailed explanations and directions– in the July 2007 edition of Bon Appetit magazine. I am not sure if it is okay to post a copyrighted recipe online here but if you go to your local library and ask for that magazine from their back stacks you can most likely check the magazine out and take it home to read it. Or you might find it online at the B/A website. They had recipes for several different kinds of fruit pies in addition to the basic crust recipe. Our favorite was the peach pie with vanilla and cardamom. Bon Appetit and Happy Baking!

  22. Donna from Delaware July 3, 2009 at 7:22 am #

    I agree with CW. We have done much harm to ourselves by eliminating certain things from our diet, also trying to clean everything to the point of sterilization has made us all the more prone to germs and viruses than ever before. Everything in moderation. If we continue to listen to everything the scientist and medical community have to say about our food and what is in it, we probably would stop eating! I for one also grew up with a grandmother who used lard and butter to cook with. Pie crusts, bread, cookies and certain pastries were unbelievably tasty. I’ve never used lard and don’t know how, but I plan to learn to use it in moderation in the future, and only when necessary. I want to get the taste of home back again. Guten Appetit!

  23. Donna from Delaware July 3, 2009 at 7:29 am #

    Hey Maria, I agree that that was disgusting what the lady at the butcher shop did with your food, but maybe that’s the case in point. Maybe those germs on her bare hands from touching everything and putting them in your and other’s food is not so bad for you after all. Seems you’re still breathing! As long as they keep it refrigerated and you cook it well, maybe you have nothing to really worry about! (Hopefully)

  24. Erin, Bethlehem, PA July 21, 2009 at 8:29 pm #

    I had dinner at Mario Batali’s Del Posto restaurant in NYC last week. Everything was great, however my FAVORITE thing was the Lardo, which is their cured, rendered, whipped pork fat that accompanied their crusty, yeasty bread basket. Amazing, amazing flavor and texture. I’m glad the restaurant’s too pricey to go often, b/c I could become addicted to this heavenly substance!

  25. Canadian Pie Baker August 7, 2009 at 11:30 pm #

    I made a pie with Crisco once and I have to say, lard pie crusts are so much better tasting! And flakier too. Don’t feel bad about using lard. It is much better than using hydrogenated shortening such as Crisco. A lot of people are now discovering this and are now going back to good ol’ lard. In Canada, we have Tenderflake which is a brand of lard found in every grocery store. Do a google search on it and you will find people singing the praises over Tenderflake. I have been using this for years, even for fruit pies. I would not dream of ever using shortening again!

  26. NewStart August 18, 2009 at 9:02 pm #

    Actually Lard is mostly monounsaturated.

  27. Donna in Delaware August 21, 2009 at 6:43 pm #

    I seem to remember Tenderflake as a child growing up in Virginia. Definitely rings a bell. I’ll ask my mother about it.

  28. Bev September 10, 2009 at 6:55 pm #

    I got so tired of keeping up with the latest wisdom on fancy cooking oils and such that I intentionally went out and bought a pound of lard because nothing I made ever tasted like my Nana’s cooking. She kept a tub of lard handy along with a coffee tin of bacon drippings. Nothing was wasted, and all the members of her large family and cousins and aunts and so on cooked just like she did. Dinners were great wherever you went. Now, some family members were fat; some were not. Some lived to be over 100; some lived to be only 80. But I can say that I once again enjoy eating what I cook. I notice the difference, and it is quite profound.

    I will use lard from now on.

  29. Bev September 10, 2009 at 6:58 pm #

    Oh yeah…and I’ve gone back to using butter, too.

  30. Donna in Delaware September 23, 2009 at 8:53 am #

    I’ve never stopped using good ol’ butter, except it is now organic or it’s the excellent Danish Butter, Lurpak.

  31. Jeff October 11, 2009 at 9:31 pm #

    I read an article about skin cancer in Mexico that it was virtually unknown there. In the large cities that have been influenced by American TV lard used dropped. As it did incidents of skin cancer began to rise but in rural areas in Mexico where lard is still widely used incidents skin cancer did not rise.

    Lard was widely used in America in the 1800’s. In 1900 heart disease and heart attacks was virtually unknown. So much so that the average doctor didn’t know how to treat heart disease that year.

    In 1930 the population of the US was 123,000,000. There were 3000 heart attack deaths that year. Which means the odds of dying of a heart attack was 42,000 to 1. Not too shabby.

    In 1960 the population of the US was 197,000,000. That year 500,000 Americans died of heart attacks: Odds? 3500 to 1.

    From 1930 to 1960 everyone was switching from lard & butter to margarine, vegetable oils & skim milk.All “heart healthy” choices. As a result we started dying like flies.

    Dr. Paul White, who treated Eisenhower when he had his heart attack, started his practice in 1910. He didn’t treat his first heart disease patient until 1921. That’s 11 years!!! There isn’t a doctor in America today who can go 11 days without treating a heart disease patient.

    If we want to reverse heart disease in America today we need to return to the foods & diet that our ancestors were consuming back in the 1800’s. Pass the lard, please.

    Jeff

  32. Sharon Burress March 5, 2010 at 3:41 am #

    I had one time the opportunity to eat a pie baked by a British friend of mine. Oh my! I could not believe the texture and the taste. I have had great pies before, but nothing since my childhood days in WV came close to the heavenly pie she made me here in Florida. The crust literally melted in my mouth. I don’t even remember now what was inside the pie; that is how impressed I was with the crust. I begged her for the secret and she couldn’t believe the fuss I made over it. She stated that she used lard and that she kept everything cold as she worked on the crust. She did not overwork the crust. She put a wee bit of sugar in the dough. That was it! I have had a strong belief for quite some time now that “they” would begin seeing the benefits of real butter and they are beginning to. I just had a sneaking suspicion that maybe also lard would be found to be more beneficial than any other alternatives for frying, but barely held out any hope. I now am happy that to see that the fat pendulum is now heading back to our roots, before rampant heart disease took over.

  33. Ellen December 28, 2010 at 3:29 pm #

    I missed lard myself. Requested the leaf lard and rendered it myself. I was able to fry potatoes and they tasted so much better, even my grand children loved it. Deep fried sweet potatoes and yum.

    I now keep it in the frige and use it in place of oil when appropriate. My goal was to reduce the amount of chemicals in my food and this was another step.

    At 59 I will continue to cook with the more natural fats using them appropriately and sparingly. I feel much better and have lost 40 lbs without making major changes – just getting rid of packaged and pre-processed foods. It seems when it taste’s good I get full faster and want less.

  34. Lauren May 7, 2011 at 1:51 am #

    Just wonding if anyone has used lard for wheat free baking. My daughters are allergic to wheat, eggs, and dairy(no butter) and are underweight…lard sounds perfect. Wondering if there are any tricks using it in allergy free cooking?

  35. Jana September 29, 2011 at 5:58 pm #

    Saturated Fat is healthy for you despite what groups like CSPI, the USDA and other government agencies say. Saturated fat lowers your cholesterol and raises your HDL. It also helps your body absorb fat soluble nutrients. Your brain is mostly saturated fat and cholesterol and without these essential fats you are more likely to experience brain malfunctions (depression, ADD, or epilepsy). Check out the Weston A Price Foundation. Also watch the film Fat Head. You’ll get a great education on the health benefits of natural fats like lard, tallow, and butter.

    What we’ve been told about nutrition is totally bogus. I can’t believe that I’ve been listening to politicians tell me what to eat. No wonder the obesity rates have sky-rocked since the 1980s. Don’t listen to the politicians they only want to support their people. Read up on Gary Taubes who is a science journalist who wrote Good Calories, Bad Calories and Why We Get Fat and What To Do About It. Go Paleo. Use Lard. Use Tallow. Use Suet. Use Butter! Your body will thank you for it.

  36. Jana September 29, 2011 at 8:20 pm #

    Lauren –

    Try substituting Almond meal for wheat. For dairy use coconut milk. Check out http://www.wheatbellyblog.com

    The Weston A Price Foundation might have some alternatives. Sally Fallon, the president of the Weston A Price Foundation, wrote a book called Nourishing Traditions. She shows you how to make your own katsup, mayonaise, broth, etc. She is a big proponent of using natural fats and real food. Some of the oils she recommends using are coconut oil, palm oil, flax seed oil, and olive oil. If you’re using Canola oil please stop using it. Canola is made from Rapeseed and is not good for human consumption. The little omega-3 that is in the oil is converted to trans fatty acids during the deodorizing process. It also causes a deficiency of Vitamin E and heart lesions especially when your diet is low in saturated fats.

  37. Wildviolets101 October 25, 2014 at 5:15 pm #

    My Grand Mother was a cook all her life, til the week she died, and she used Lard, and Bacon Grease, all the time, and lived to be a healthy 98 years old!
    Maybe something to that? LOL ;)

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