Saturday, 25 September 2010

Cracklings and Lard Uses

"Cracklings (American) or crackling (British) is a crisp, deep fried food that may be made from various animals. Pork rind cracklings are popular in the American south. The skin of all kinds of poultry are used to make cracklings, including duck, chicken, goose and game birds. Some classic dishes, such as cassoulet depend on a top crust made crunchy by turning the skin of the duck used in the dish into a topping. Cracklings of all kinds are eaten plain, folded into breads and dumplings, and sprinkled atop dishes on their way to the table to add crunch. They are part of all traditional European cuisines, since the use of all parts of a butchered animal was nutritionally and economically important. They are called Gribenes and traditionally made from goose or chicken in Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine."- from Wikipedia

So that's what they are. Our fat comes ground from our butcher so we're not going to get nice little squares to be made into chips. However, there are LOTS of tasty uses for cracklings here at the farm!

The crackling product coming from or off of the slow cooker, low heat fat rendering into lard, looks like underdone ground pork. It is less meaty and more fatty and smells a bit like bacon. It needs to be cooked more before using, but stores best at this fresh off the lard form.

So to use it, thaw it. Then fry it up in a cast iron skillet over low to medium heat until it is crispy (high temps you risk flash point and lots of smoke). At this point, depending on how I am going to use it, I season it with a garlic, salt, pepper, and cayenne mix I use instead of plain salt. You can season it to taste many different ways, but the Cajun in me prefers cayenne. I've also uses thyme, salt, and cayenne with a bit of maple syrup. Look at what application you'll be putting them to, and season accordingly. I find that they have a slightly porky flavour unseasoned, but that it is rather bland.

So fried up and crisped and seasoned, what now?
  • I use in place of bacon bits on salad greens.
  • Mixed up with bread crumbs for casserole toppings. 
  • Green bean casserole, as an ingredient and with the fried onion bits that go on top.
  • I intend to also use in white gravy for biscuits and gravy, but have not yet.
  • As a pan liner for cornbread. If used like this really pay attention to seasoning, it will carry the bread.
  • Sprinkle on roasts just before serving. 
  • Add to brown gravies just before serving.
  • Mix with cream cheese or sour cream as a spread or dip.
So you see, it is more of a condiment, has a lot of flexibility, and use.

Now lard is just as easy. Any recipe that says use vegetable shortening (Crisco), substitute 1:1 for lard. Pretty easy that. You'll get flakier pie crusts, more tender cookies, lovely sweets. 

Other uses:
  • Greasing pans for pancakes and egg or fish frying, for cakes and breads.
  • Slice open lean roasts and tuck in a bit of lard. Makes for really tender meat. Especially useful for dry lean venison roasts. 
  • Oven fried potatoes, use instead of whatever oil you'd use. We used to use olive or peanut oil.
  • Fried chicken. Pan fried or deep fried. Results in a really crisp and delicious chicken breast. 
  • Dutch oven popcorn. 2 Tablespoons of lard, 1 teaspoon of salt, cover the bottom of the oven with kernels, cover and heat. When popping is done, remove from heat.  So incredibly good (can also be made with bacon grease, btw). 
  • Fried with plantains and served with rice
  • Added to Asian style stir fry and fried rice (seasoned with soy sauce)
Last weekend I made plain old sugar cookies with lard instead of shortening as a taste test sample at a local farm open house. I used the most basic sugar cookie recipe I could find, no added flavours like cinnamon or vanilla. I subbed the lard and I switched out the called for corn syrup with maple syrup. These cookies were good. Not fabulous, but lots of people comment on the fact that they'd thought there would be a porky flavour from the lard and they just tasted like sugar cookies. That is exactly why I made them. There was even an older baby who'd never had a cookie before, and his mom gave him my cookie as his first! That was really flattering.

5 years ago my husband brought home lard for pie making and was super excited to use it. I was totally grossed out. At that point I still thought I had to microwave my food to make it safe to eat, even fresh out of the oven food would get zapped for 30 seconds. How far I've come that I now raise and render my own lard. Food for thought, I guess.

Are there any uses I have left out? What do you or would you use lard and cracklings for?

Saturday, 18 September 2010

How To Render Lard in a Crockpot or Slow Roaster

Our butcher does not render the lard that our pigs produce for people, but they will grind it up and bag it to be included with the order. Still, rendering lard has set in our cultural imaginations as something dangerous, messy, smelly.....ect. I came across several historical accounts that involved houses burning down as a result of lard splatter during rendering or of severe, debilitating burn injuries. Most accounts talked of men with long sticks and huge kettles over open fires doing the rendering due to the danger factor.

I'm not kidding.

That doesn't work for our modern kitchens. At least not mine. I did a bit of research and found lots of links to sites that had people buying a couple lbs of lard and doing small batches on the stove top or in a dutch oven. But that's still not what I needed. Last year our butcher presented me with a full 5 gallon bag, frozen hard. It took three days to thaw mostly. I needed a way to do this thing in bigger batches and explain to customers how to do it too.

So my starting point was my experience last year. It wasn't hard, it did smell though, and the end results had some problems. This year I was having none of that.

My first batch was completed on Thursday and came out exactly how I wanted it to.

So start with the big old bag of frozen lard. This bag was about 3 gallons. I let it completely thaw in my fridge.

It would fit in my 7 quart crock pot, but I also have an 18 quart electric slow roaster that I wanted to try out. Either would have worked great. A smaller amount would work in a smaller crock pot too.

I scrubbed out all the equipment I was going to use. Any old food residue will contaminate, even dust from sitting in storage. Wash and rinse before use no matter how clean it looks.

I set the fat in the roaster and set it at 225 degrees (low on a crock pot). Some say to put 1/2 cup of water in too, but I didn't. I put the lid on and came back in 1 hr. In that time a lot of fat had liquefied so I scraped down the soft sides of the fat glob in the middle.

1 hr. later repeat.

Lots of extra room. A 7 quart crock pot would have been more than enough.
 1 more hr. later and it had all liquefied and the meat chunks that will be cracklings were floating on the top. I stirred and broke those up a bit more. No splattering involved. No really any bad smell either. Many of the accounts I read said this is a critical time to watch though. The cracklings will soon sink and then rise up again. When they sink and then rise, it is done. If you wait too much longer then the lard will start to brown and take on a more porky flavour.

So now I was checking every 20 minutes or so and I actually saw the sinking in progress. Yay!

Very clean and clear.
Once that happened I got my containers out. Last year I used old yogurt and ice cream plastic containers. Bad idea. They looked clean, but were not. The result was that the cracklings got contaminated and spoiled fast, the lard also developed mold and growth at the bottom once thawed in the fridge. This year I used sterilized for canning (washed in hot water and soap then boiled in water for 10 minutes) glass freezer safe jars. In our experience, lard can last up to 2 years in the freezer, though the official time is more like 1 year. It is supposed to last 3-6 months in the refrigerator. Cracklings are more of a meat product and will last 6 months to a year in a freezer and 1 week in the fridge. So when storing cracklings think about how they will be used and store in individual servings (sandwich size freezer bags or small freezer safe 1/2 pint jars are what we use).

As it was cooling. Chad thought it was lemonade concentrate and almost tried to drink some.

To put in the jars I got out my widemouthed canning cone and some cheese cloth/mesh folded over 4 times.  I just laid it in. I used a metal measuring cup and scooped the lard/cracklings mix into the mesh. The lard drained into the jars, the cracklings separated out. When enough cracklings built up, I dumped them into a big bowl to cool. I filled the jars just below the freeze line and capped with a sterile lid.

After cooling and freezing.

No splattering since it was all done at low heat. I laid a towel out to catch drips but those were minimal.

I did put my purse in the car (in case the house caught fire) and a bowl of ice water waiting (in case of burns). Neither was necessary.

Lard can be used in place vegetable shortening in any recipe. Crisco type shortening was developed to replace lard with its longer shelf life (of like 20 years, ew). Lard should not be shelf stable, ever.

Anyway. No mess, no stink/smell, super easy, clean jars. I'd call this year's process a success!

Simple Lives Thursday.....

Friday, 17 September 2010

Last Few Weeks in PIctures

Lots of farm visits, lots of friends, lots of exploring, frog catching, running, playing.......and then we all were down with a stomach bug that I am still convinced might have been food poisoning. Then we were all up and back at it again. And that's life on the farm! Days like this have us running hard, but the laughing and smiling are what rejuvenate the heart. Thank you to all who have brought us joy this summer and this lifetime. :)

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Family Farm, Picking Apples

We made apple picking a family effort on weekend. Usually it is just me and the girls, but our wonderful friend Amanda said we could clear her entire, yummy, loaded tree and I needed help with the high branches. We still did not completely clear it and will have to make various trips for windfall soon. Also, not all these apples are for the pigs, as the girls have voted they are the yummiest apples ever. They are also storing amazingly well.

I love that our farm is a family effort. 3 generations working hard here. With many hands it didn't take long to gather three laundry tubs of apples. We'll head out this Saturday as well for our next round of picking. So grateful for these wonderful sources of food for our pigs.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Pig in the Pasture

This pig is going to be harvested on Thursday. He is in the finishing acre, feasting on really good fresh picked apples (some windfall too, but not as much since we found a really good tree to pick for this week) and 10-15 gallons of whey per day between just four pigs. We also offer them grain but they are not eating much of that, opting for the delicious food instead.  Next week the next round of pigs will also get pears. Very exciting change in season. :)

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Bashing and Priorities

An interesting discussion online this week, to sum up: bashing your husband to friends, just part of female bonding or detrimental to marriage and self?

What about bashing your husband in public? Like on a blog or a facebook post? Let's go a step further, what about bashing your sister or other friends or other extended family?

Bashing. Trashing. Talking about everything they do that annoys you. Sure it's good to just get it out sometimes and just plain wonderful to have a sympathetic ear. Maybe they are legitimate concerns over problem behaviours and you are seeking counsel with friends. Talking things out is how we find solutions, right?

Or is it? I've been thinking lately that maybe this talk solidifies feelings, reinforces them, and when done publicly damages relationships a lot. Does it qualify as gossip? Maybe not. Honesty? Perhaps. But what counts is not even the intention, but the effect it has on people and relationships that matter to us.

My husband knew I was struggling with some work related technical problems. He fixes work related technical problems for a living. He tried to help. I got annoyed and posted a FB update about a vague someone not helping. Well, that hurt Chad's feelings. HE knew it was about him and he was really trying to help me. Later we talked about it and I still feel awful. That was very public and not very nice.

Lately, and especially as winter approaches and "honey-do" lists get longer and longer, I have been reading a lot of very public statements from women bashing their husbands. So I got to thinking about this, what if MY husband presented me with a list of things around the house he wanted done and a deadline to do them. How would I feel? What if he suddenly decided that this holiday should be spent reorganizing the kitchen cabinets and deep cleaning the floors? What if I had plans to just take a break and relax instead of working myself to the bone? What if he decided that I was to be assigned these tasks while he worked on something else?

Yeah, I would not be happy. I would happily help if that's what he wanted to do, but if just presented with a list? So how fair is it to do this to our husbands? Women do this all the time to their significant others and get bent out of shape when things don't go as THEY planned.

One thing the farm has really driven home to me is that my husband prioritizes very well. I can complain and nag or use hysterics to move an item up the priority list, or even just make it clear that it is important to me and it does make a difference BUT the priority items still get done first. Sometimes I do not agree, and he listens, but in the end he's usually right. So I may want the tomato bed weeded, or the foundation fixed, or a flower bed mulched, but the car repairs and livestock come first. The foundation is next on the list. Firewood will either happen before first snow or he'll be out there all bundled up, but I will always have the firewood and heat I need.  I trust him to do that. He's not lazy and it will not be me out there chopping wood in labour pains. And if he needs a weekend off, so be it. Sometimes I do too and I can't expect him to be supportive of that if I give him a hard time when he expresses his need for downtime.

And you know? We also have a rule here. If it bugs you, take care of it. Less energy expended getting all riled up about it, no one gets nagged at, and the thing gets done. It's also ok to ask for help.  It is not ok to just tell someone to do it or be mean about it. Yes, that happens and we are not perfect, but happiness is something to work at and awareness of things that are problematic are the first step in making it better. Often, by just talking about, explaining why certain things are more important than others, the issues are resolved and mutual respect is reinforced.

I wonder if women know what they are doing to their marriages or if this behaviour is encouraged and escalated by the small group chatter? And its not just limited to marriages, but friendships and sisterhood too. Instead of holding each other up, we repeat the patterns of adolescence and exclude, form cliques, and gossip. We model that behaviour to our children and then they do it; the cycle becomes normal. If someone speaks out about it, they get excluded. It's easier that way and next time it will be harder to speak up.

What would happen if for even just a week we said nothing but praise about our family and friends? I've done this before, try to do it as a regular part of my life, and it is really hard, harder than I'd imagined it to be but well worth the uplift it gives me personally. I notice the difference when I slip and start being negative. I don't mean being all Pollyanna all the time either, just a mindful loving.

So that is my reflection for the week.