Sunday, November 16, 2014

Tending a Pot of Pig Fat

Brandon tells me he's always amazed that I can continue to find unique distractions from making progress on our farm house, and that each distraction is weirder than the last!  He told me this last weekend, when instead of helpfully nailing up ceiling boards in the kitchen, which was our selected chore, I spent nearly the entire work day tending a giant pot of melting pig fat.  Is that really so weird? 

You may recall the giant cast iron pot and stand that I bought in January, at the farm auction. Well, I've been waiting for the perfect time to break it out of storage and put it to use.  That time came when I had to squeeze an entire frozen pig into my freezer, which meant I had no room for the nearly fifty pounds of frozen pig fat I had stashed away from the past two pigs.  I don't really think of myself as a pig fat hoarder, but when faced with mass quantities of frozen pig fat needing a home, I had to reassess my hoarder status.  Brandon may have a point.  

Since the giant pot had some rusty and sticky crud in the bottom, I put in some of my oldest fat from my freezer collection in it to melt and sort of clean and season the pot.  By the time I got the fat good and melty, and sort of scrubbed it around in the pot cleaning off the crud, the fire underneath was roaring and I had chopped up some of the partially frozen fat that I wanted to melt and keep. I used a dipper to scoop the melted cruddy fat and unmelted bits from the pot, and poured it on the wood underneath, which really got a good blaze going.  This also created a pungent burnt pork rind smell which began to permeate my clothes and hair as I worked around the fire.     

Puck, by the way, thought this was the best thing ever, and spent the entire day guarding the pot of fat and snatching up any bits I dropped.  At first, I thought it would be best to melt my fat in small batches.  I also thought I could leave the fat unattended while I went in the house to work on the ceiling.  After seriously scorching the first batch, as you can see in the photo above, I realized that not only do I have to continually tend the fire and stir the fat as it melts, to keep it from burning, I also need to put lots of fat in at once so it doesn't get so hot.  This job was turning from play to actual work.  

I ladled the scorched lard and burnt briskets of pork into the only container I could find that wouldn't melt - our drywall spackle holder, which is sitting on the ground in the photo above, and dumped my next batch of chopped up fat in the pot.  I immediately realized that the residual burnt black bits in the pot were going to contaminate my next batch, meaning I would never be able to produce the pretty white lard of my dreams.  Oh well, the giant pot is too heavy to lift and to hot to touch, so washing it was not really an option.  Now I know.  

After the burnt fat cooled, I poured it into an empty plastic salad container.  Brandon and I were amazed at the black oil that I made.  It looks just like oil!  Considering pig fat is probably very similar to human fat, it sort of weirds me out to think that a significant percentage of me is made of oil.  

Since I wasn't planning to eat this oil, but instead decided to mix it with bird seed to make winter bird feeders for the wild birds and the chickens, I used the black oil even though it was burned.  Maybe the birds won't mind so much.  

The rest of the fat melted at a much slower rate, and I didn't leave it unattended for long, so I think if I hadn't burned the first batch the oil might have been clear, which would cool to the white color of good lard.  

As you can see in the photo above, it's much better than the first batch.  I hope the stupid birds appreciate all my work!

By the time it was dark, I still had plenty of unmelted fat, but decided six giant bird feeders was enough, and I was exhausted.  The dog looked like he was going to explode from eating so many dropped bits of fat and bird seed, and Brandon made me promise repeatedly that I would shower as soon as we got home and put my clothes directly in the wash, since the crispy pork rind smell was particularly potent in the close confines of the car on the way home.  

I'm glad I had this practice round with the pig fat.  Not only did I get my cast iron pot seasoned, use up my freezer fat, make lots of bird feed, practice making mass quantities of lard, and get out of hanging ceiling boards, I also learned it's way easier to use the crock pot or do it on the stove top!  


Anonymous said...

Rain! Now you need to make soap with some of your lard... that is, the lard without birdseed in it; although, that might make a nice dry skin defoliate! We made lye soap with my grandma years ago. The burnt stuff probably wouldn't work well for laundry detergent (as she used to use hers) but it's not as hard as you'd think to make up a batch. As I recall, we used lard and Liquid Plumber.

MA said...

My grandfather liked to eat something called cracklin's that cooked out of the lard.

rain said...

Liquid Plumber? I never would have thought of using that, but I guess it must have lye in it. I would like to try soap making too, but I'm going to have to get much better at rendering or enjoy the smell of pork rinds in my soap!

The crasklin's must be the little fried bits of meat and skin. I think I would do better to grind my fat or cut it in much smaller chunks. My cracklin's weren't very appetizing to me, but Puck thought they were delicious.

Anonymous said...

A neighbor, Mrs. Wells, used to render her lard on her wood cook stove, when I was a kid. She'd skim off the cracklin's and place them on a paper towel to drain. She then, later used them to flavor her cornbread. I thought they smelled wonderful!


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