Food History, Retro Recipes, Vintage Recipes

In A Lather About Lard

Lard makes the best pastry for pork pies.
Lard makes the best pastry for pork pies.

We have a difficult relationship with lard, most will only eat it as a decadent, guilty treat. Some people are physically disgusted by it. Particularly in the last few decades, we have been taught to fear it.

(Tim Hayward, Presenter of The Food Programme, ‘Lard’ episode, BBC Radio 4, first broadcast, 5.11.12)

Lard, not the prettiest word in the English language and one we tend to associate with unhealthy eating practices. Lard is purified pork fat and the very best type is ‘leaf lard’, created from fatty deposits around the pig’s kidney and loin. Recently, I met with a former head chef who is now General Manager of a famous eaterie in Bath. I took the opportunity to discuss with him current food trends as well as the retro food revival. I asked: ‘What do you think will be the next ingredient or recipe to experience a revival?’ His answer was very simple, ‘Lard’.  I looked quite shocked at this prospect. Like most of my generation, I have been conditioned to believe that saturated fats are bad and I must always select the unsaturated, low-fat option.

Lard was once a kitchen staple, a by-product of nose-to-tail cookery when no part of the butchered animal went to waste. In Charles E. Francatelli’s (Queen Victoria’s former chef) A Plain Cookery Book for The Working Classes (1861) he gives advice on how to deal with each part of the butchered pig including ‘How to Melt Down The Seam, or Loose Fat’:

Cut up the seam in small pieces, put it in a pot with about a gill of water, and set it over a slow fire to melt down, stirring it frequently with a spoon to prevent it from burning; and as soon as all is melted, let it be strained off into a jar for use. This will produce what is called lard, and will serve for making lard cakes, pie or pudding crusts, and also for general cooking purposes, instead of butter, etc

In Mastering The Art of French Cooking (1970), TV chef and author Julia Child (1912-2004) gives the following advice on cooking fats:

Ideally goose is cooked in goose fat and fresh pork leaf fat (also called fresh leaf lard), which comes from around the pork kidneys. This is very difficult to find unless there is a pork-slaughtering business in your area: substitute fresh pork fat back or the fat from a loin roast. If you have no success in finding this, render only the fresh fat and skin from the goose, and after you have strained it, add shop-brought leaf lard, which you can usually buy in 1-pound packages. Failing this, use white vegetable shortening.

Shortening is often confused with lard. Shortening is a block of chemically refined vegetable fat created from vegetable oil, usually white in appearance and manufactured in blocks. Popular brands in Britain include Trex (est. 1930) and Cookeen (est. 1957).

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Lard’ episode of The Food Programme (5.11.12), food writer, Oliver Thring observes: ‘In 1974, the average Britain’s consumption of lard was about 54g a week, now it is closer to 5g.’  Until the early ’80s, lard appeared on the list of ingredients for a lot of baking recipes, particularly pies, cakes and puddings. Towards the end of the ’80s our obsession with low-fat foods and the British government’s fixation with changing our eating habits, led to lard virtually disappearing from the pages of cookbooks altogether.  Instead, olive oil, butter and margarine were favoured by food writers as the fats to bind our baking ingredients.

In the late ’90s lard did have a ‘mini-Renaissance’ when it was rediscovered by a new generation of professional chefs but interest in its use soon waned.  Home cooks continued to banish lard from their refrigerators and took careful note of rigorous advertising campaigns that peddled the virtue of low-fat vegetable spreads and synthetic substitutes.

The fatty facts of fats are:

  • 100g unprocessed lard contains:  39g saturated fat and zero trans fat;
  • 100g typical low-fat spread contains: 11g saturated fat and 13g trans fat;
  • 100g olive oil contains: 14g saturated fat, 11g polyunsaturated fat and 73g monounsaturated fat. Trans fats only occur in olive oil when heat is added.

In her 2012 article, ‘Praise the lard: Pork fat – and its gourmet cousin lardo – are having a revival’, Claire Hargreaves, writes that:

Recent research is questioning the received wisdom that animal fats are the main cause of obesity and that we should eat vegetable oils instead, and carbs rather than fats. A book by the American science journalist Gary Taubes quotes US government figures showing that nearly half the fat in lard is monounsaturated.

(The Independent, Thursday 13th December 2012, for article CLICK HERE)

In 2013, lard is slowly emerging from culinary exile. The campaign to re-introduce it back into our diets is spear-headed by chefs working at some of Britain’s top restaurants.  Head chef of Soho’s Quo Vadis, Jeremy Lee, is a lard enthusiast and chefs at Lardo in Hackney use lard to create some of their menu options. I think we need to try to be a little less squeamish about using lard in our cooking, it is not quite the health horror that we have been led to believe. I am certainly not advocating a total abandonment of low-fat spreads in favour of a lard-only diet. Instead, the next time you make pastry, why don’t you substitute lard for butter or use it to roast your potatoes (goose and duck fat are also excellent for this too). Everything in moderation.

If you do decide to give lard a second chance, then make sure that it is unprocessed and in its pure form. Pure lard or leaf lard is tricky to get hold-of in Britain (in the US it is more readily available). Try your local farm/butcher’s shop, farmer’s market or artisanal food outlet. Otherwise you could render your own pork fat. Here are a few recipes for you to try that use lard:

Seed Cake (Anon)

  • 3/4 lb flour, 1  1/2 teaspoons baking powder, 2 oz lard, 2 oz butter or margarine, 6 oz brown sugar, 1 egg, 1 oz candied peel, 1/2 oz caraway seeds, a little grated nutmeg, pinch of salt, about 1/4 pint milk. Method: Pass the flour and baking powder through a sieve, rub into it the butter and lard, and add all the dry ingredients. Beat up the egg with the milk, pour this onto the cake mixture and mix thoroughly. Turn into 6″ x 3″ tin lined with greased paper (or 7 1/2″ x 3  1/2″ tin if making double quantities). Bake for 1  1/2 hours at gas mark 4 (or 2 hours 30 minutes at gas mark 3 for a double quantity cake).

Pork Pie (Practical Cookery for All by Blanche Anding et al, 1949)

  • 1/4 pint hot water, 5 oz lard, 12 oz flour, 1 teaspoonful salt, 1/2 lb pork, 1/2 lb sausage meat, 1/4 teaspoonful pepper, 1/2 teaspoonful salt, a pinch of mixed herbs, 1 egg. Method: Boil the water and fat together. Warm the flour together with a teaspoonful of salt. Make a well in the centre and add the liquid. Mix and knead well until dough is soft. Line a greased pie-mould or cake tin with the pastry. Cut the meat into cubes and add sausage meat, seasoning, herbs if used and one tablespoonful of water. Put the meat into the pastry case. Brush the edges of the pastry with beaten egg. Roll out a piece of pastry to fit the top and place it on, pinching the edges firmly together. Make a hole in the centre of the pie. Decorate with pastry leaves. Brush the whole with beaten egg and bake at once. Cook for half an hour in a fairly hot oven and then for a further hour and a half at a moderate temperature. Note: If necessary, cover with greaseproof paper to prevent overbrowning. Make a little liquid jelly with stock and gelatine (one teaspoonful gelatine dissolved in a quarter pint of hot stock), and when the cooked pie is cool make a hole in the top crust. Pour liquid jelly into pie through a funnel.

Lardy Scones (Practical Cookery for All by Blanche Anding et al, 1949)

  • Good pinch of salt, 1/2 lb self-raising flour, 1/4 lb lard, 1 dessertspoonful sugar, milk to mix. Method: Add the salt to the flour and mix well, rub in the lard as you would in making pastry. Stir in the sugar and mix to a soft dough with milk. Roll out half an inch thick. Cut into cakes with a wineglass, and bake about fifteen minutes in fairly hot oven. Split, butter, and serve hot.

Parkin (Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management, 1936 edition)

  • 2 lb of fine oatmeal, 1 1/2 lb of treacle or golden syrup, 3 oz lard, 2 oz of brown moist sugar, 1/2 oz of ground ginger, milk. Method: Let the treacle warm gradually by the side of the fire until it becomes quite liquid. Rub the lard into the oatmeal, add the sugar and ginger, and stir in the treacle with a wooden spoon. The vessel which held the treacle should be rinsed out with beer, but milk may be substituted. This is added gradually until the right consistency is obtained. The mixture must be smooth, but not drop too easily from the spoon. Have ready 1 or 2 greased Yorkshire, pudding-tins, pour in the mixture, and bake in a steady oven until the centre of the parkin feels firm. As the mixture improves by being allowed to stand, each cake should be baked separately when the oven is a small one. Let the parkin cool slightly, then cut it into squares, remove them from the tin, and when cold place them in an airtight biscuit-tin. The parkin may be kept for months.

Date Gingerbread (More Everyday Dishes by Elizabeth Craig, c.1930)

  • 7 oz flour, 2 oz lard, 1 egg, 3/4 gill milk, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 5 oz chopped dates, 4 tablespoons Lyle’s Golden Syrup, 2 teaspoons ground ginger, 3 oz Tate & Lyle’s Caster Sugar, 2 oz blanched almonds, pinch salt. Method: Grease and line a small square baking tin. Measure lard and syrup into a saucepan. Heat until melted. Sift flour with ginger and a pinch of salt. Beat egg and sugar together till frothy. Stir in flour, syrup and lard alternately. Dissolve soda in a little of the milk. Add remainder of the milk and stir in other ingredients. Bake in buttered baking tin in a moderate oven from 30-35 minutes.

2 thoughts on “In A Lather About Lard”

  1. How does one tell if lard is unprocessed and in its pure form? I bought some Supermarket own-brand lard to cook parkin as there was no other available, and I’m not sure if this is good quality lard or not.

    Great blog btw which I’m enjoying reading!

    1. Hi Peter, apologies for the delay in replying to you. Thank you for your kind comments. The best lard is purchased from a good local butcher. If you give them a call they will be very helpful. This is the best lard in my view. Kind regards. Emma.

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