Friday, January 10, 2020

How does the The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby Opened fit into the world of the medieval reenactor?

The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digbie Kt. Opened is well-known in the realms or reenacting. It is the earliest publication of its kind to present such a wealth of different recipes and almost seems too good to be true for the medieval reenactor. It includes over 100 mead and metheglin recipes and has become the go-to source for many a beginner brewer. Unfortunately, Digby really is too good to be true for the brewer looking for pre-1600 recipes and techniques, especially in context of reenacting Arts & Sciences competitions. Let's take a closer look at the man himself.

The general image of Sir Kenelm Digby is that of a great gentleman, a romantic Royalist, a somewhat out-of-date philosopher, as well as an accomplished cook and social brewer. In his own day he was befriended with Bacon, Galileo, Descartes, Harvey, Ben Jonson, Cromwell - the famous people of his time - was the intimate of kings, and the special friend of queens. Perhaps it should not be surprising that the publication he is most know for displays his remarkable skill in making drinks, and his interest in the skills of cooking.

For such an intriguing life's journey, living close to the stars of his day, Sir Kenelm Digby came from somewhat humble beginnings. Born July 11, 1603, Kenelm was barely three years old when his father, part of the Gunpowder Plotters, died on the scaffold. Fortunately, James I acceded to the wife's appeal that his widow and children should not be reduced to beggary. While Kenelm received an estate income during his active career, it was not enough to furbish a student of such diverse ambitions. His mother was in deep depression and her demeanor, and her faith, kept her on the sidelines of high society. Her son Kenelm would seem to be destined for obscurity, were it not for his unusual intelligence and his restless mind. King James was so enamored by Kenelm Digby that he turned a blind eye to his father's offense and enjoyed his company.

Perhaps to get the younger Kenelm away from the dark influence of his mother, and her catholic friends, Sir John invited fourteen Kenelm was invited to stay with him in Spain. A year in Spain, in Court and diplomatic circles, was followed by a year at Oxford, where Thomas Allen, the mathematician and occultist, looked after his studies. Thomas Allen was his friend and admirer until death, and he bequeathed his valuable library to Digby, kick starting Digby's own collection. Kenelm was restlessly longing to taste life outside academic circles, and already was hotly in love with his old playmate, now grown into a great beauty, Venetia Anastasia Stanley, the granddaughter of the Earl of Northumberland. Venetia was above Kenelm in station but as she was mother-less, and her father a recluse, she was left to bring herself up, and bestow her affections as she pleased. Kelemn and Venetia were together for a year or two, but Kenelm's mother would hear nothing of the couple and at seventeen sent him away on his grand tour, hoping to put an end to it. Unfortunately for his mother's wishes, the more Kenelm travelled the more he admired Venetia. Kenelm Digby stayed away from England for three years. The plague drove him from Paris to Angers, where the appearance of the handsome English youth caused such commotion in the heart of the Queen Mother, Marie de Médicis, that she evidently lost her head. When Sir Kenelm Digby's Memoirs were published in 1827, his narrative of her behavior was purged before publication! Kenelm ended up fleeing the royal attentions by faking his death, and moved to Italy.

When he moved back to England he found his great love had not waited for him. Venetia had believed in his death. It seems that in Kenelm's absence she had been the mistress of Sir Edward Sackville, afterwards the fourth Earl of Dorset. On Digby's return she was happy to return to her old love. But, alas! Sackville had her picture, which seemed to her compromising. Digby, therefore, having accepted her apologies and circumstances, challenged Sackville to a duel. Fortunately, Sackville refused to fight, gave up the picture, and swore that Venetia was as blameless as she was fair. A private marriage between Kenelm and Venetia followed. Only on the birth of his second son John (the first son having died) acknowledged Kenelm their marriage to the world. His Memoirs might give the impression that he looked on his wife as a wronged innocent, but when read closely it seems he knew the truth and took the risk. Perhaps not such a great risk after all, for the lady of many suitors and several adventures settled down to domesticity.

Sir Kenelm Digby was seen as an amateur, not as a scholar. One reason for this was how he presented himself - he talked endlessly. He had to share, explain, illustrate his ideas, whether or no they were ripe, and this was seen as a sign of the sincere amateur. His books are probably a distillation of his conversation. He was not a literary person, his style could be seen as self-aggrandizing. His scientific and controversial treatises, quite pleasurable to read and full of strange old lore, survive as singular curiosities. With an itch to use his pen as well as his tongue, he had none of the patience, the hankering after perfection of form, of the professional man of letters. Unlike his writing, his way of work was distinctly scientific, and he is known for observing the effect of oxygen on plant-life, and his invention particularly strong glass bottle in 1633. It was this glass making technology that let to the creation of vintage port, champagne, and wine meant for keeping as before the glass was too fragile for storage and aging purposes (indeed, bottling brews is post-period). According to bibliographer Anne MacDonell (1910): "There is no one like such amateurs for bridging two ages; and Digby, with one hand in Lilly's and the other in Bacon's, joins the mediæval to the modern world."

In the end, as is often the case with tinkerers, Sir Kenelm Digby died poor. Of his five children, by the time of his death three were already dead. Kenelm, his eldest son, had fallen at St. Neot's, in 1648, fighting for the King. His surviving son John, with whom he had been on bad terms, did not initially accept his father's estates. He regained some part of the estates later, perhaps it was separated from the main estates to pay off debts. Sir Kenelm Digby's library was still in Paris at the time of his passing, and was claimed by the French king to be sold for 10,000 crowns for similar reasons.

It was his remaining son John who sanctioned the publication of his father's receipts but it is not clear if he, John, or Hartman, Sir Kenelm's steward, compiled the publication. Hartman, Sir Kenelm's steward, made an excellent project out of Digby's recipes. His "Choice and Experimented Receipts in Physick and Chirurgery" had already appeared in 1668, suggesting that John Digby's consent might be obtained for printing both of Sir Kenelm's culinary as well as his medical note-books. The 1669 edition of The Closet Opened is evidently the first printing of these notebooks. The title of the book is lilely borrowed from The Queen's Closet Opened, Incomparable Secrets which were presented unto the Queen by the most Experienced Persons of the Times, many wherof were had in Esteem when she pleased to descend to Private Recreation (1655). The Queen in question is Henrietta Maria, and chief among the "Experienced Persons" referred to was certainly her Chancellor, Kenelm Digby. In 1682, George Hartman published "for the Publike Good," The True Preserver and Restorer of Health. It is dedicated to the Countess of Sunderland, and is described as "the collection for the most part (which I had hitherto reserved) of your incomparable kinsman and my truly Honourable Master, Sir Kenelm Digby, whom I had the Honour to serve for many years beyond the Seas, as well as in England; and so continued with him till his dying Day, and of whose Generosity and Bounty I have sufficiently tasted, and no less of your illustrious Fathers, both before and Page xlv after my Glorious Masters Decease."

Perhaps reading this short summary of his life helps illuminate why Digby is problematic as an easy resource for reenactment brewing. Not only did Sir Kenelm Digby live out of our period of reenacting, we saw he was born in 1603 and died in 1665, he also did not write The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby. This is problematic: officially the publication is post-period as it was first published in 1669. Then why is it often accepted as a credible source for plausible pre-1600 recipes? One prevailing thought is that Sir Digby collected the recipes in his notebooks during his lifetime including from sources older than himself, like his mother, which could plausibly be from before 1600. But here we run into another problem: the publication was compiled either by his son or by his steward, not by Digby himself. This means the publication itself is a secondary source.

Of course, this only matters from a reenacting arts & sciences point of view. Anyone interested in brewing historic recipes would do well to take heed of The Closed Opened! But for those looking to emulate medieval and renaissance times should dig a little deeper. From comparing the style and ingredients of the recipes included in Digby to similar recipes it becomes clear that most are written in an elaborate style, using ingredients and techniques much more common to the 17th century than before. It is not unthinkable that the compiler updated many of the recipes to reflect contemporary practices and tastes – the publication was meant to sell after all. Unfortunately, these issues mean Digby's The Closet Opened is not a beginner’s source for reenacting competitions. To be successful there, the artisan would need to prove the recipe they chose to emulate is more akin to recipes of the past, than those contemporary to the publication. There are a few early recipes hiding in between the sparkling citrus flavored meads, and those would make quite a nice research project - but not one ideal for beginners.

This does not mean The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby has no place in pre-1600 reenacting. Because of its cornucopia of recipes and ingredients it can be a valuable starting point, or a help shed light on a technique too briefly mentioned elsewhere. Like its contemporary publications Martha Washington and Ladie Elynor Fettiplace, The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby is wonderfully verbose. Most medieval recipes tend to be brief, to the point of obscure – not all that unexpected for handwritten manuscripts using precious resources. The invention of the printing press and the resulting popularity of book printing changed this approach to sharing information, and by the 17th century recipes flourished into the detailed, sometimes even overwhelming, guidelines we are used to today.

Therefore: if one takes Sir Digby as the original source and assumes the recipes are mostly period, then the work is a secondary source as the book was compiled by his son or steward. And if one wants to reference to the publication as primary source, then it is out of the scope of medieval reenacting, as it was published in 1669. Unfortunately, with this fabulous resource you can only have one out of two.


Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Frying lard and boiling tallow PART TWO

PART TWO – How to use lard and tallow

There you have it, a nice big tub of home rendered fat for use in the kitchen. But that is an awful lot of fat just for cooking… What else can rendered fats be used for around the homestead? As it turns out, animal fats have been used throughout history for a myriad of uses, including lighting and soap making. Tallow makes quite good dipped candles, as seen in many a medieval manuscript, even the Vikings used tallow and lard in ceramic candle dishes. Both tallow and lard were used in soap making throughout medieval Europe – especially the London soap makers were known and feared for their smelly craft!

American Guinnea Hogs, an easy to manage heritage breed which roams easily in large grazing areas as well as around the homestead and produces quality meats and by-products like lard.

            Just like in the kitchen, modern people often have the funny idea that animal fats in soap are not good; clogging the pores and making a “heavy” soap. The truth couldn’t be more different! Lard soap is highly compatible with the structure of human cells. Just like lard, our cell membranes consist largely of saturated fats – a big reason why animal fat soaps have nourishing properties plant-based monounsaturated oils can’t deliver. Lard and tallow create a creamy and stable lather, and especially lard has mild moisturizing qualities preventing the soap from drying out the skin. And unlike most plant-based oils, animal fats will make a hard and long-lasting soap bar. It does not need hardening oils like the drying coconut oil and the environmentally unfriendly palm oil, and as a local product it is a much more sustainable soapmaking ingredient. Interestingly, pasture raised beef tallow is very similar to palm oil (both contain high amounts of palmitic acids) and they can be substituted one-to-one in soap recipes. Plus, I just love the idea of ensuring the whole of the animal is used, especially the supposed waste products.

A good project for a chilly fall day: rendering fats on the woodstove (left). 

Tubs of lard, cooling down for storage - and future projects (right).

Making dipped tallow candles
You’ll need one sauce pan, one half-gallon mason jar, and several candle wicks.
Fill the mason jar with crumbled tallow, the harder the better, and place into the sauce pan. Fill the sauce pan with hot water, and heat double boiler-style. You can use commercial wicks from any craft department, or you can make your own from coarse hemp or linen yarn. If the yarn is fairly thin, braid or twist into a thicker diameter. Slowly heat the tallow, and when it has melted dip your wick in and out of the liquid tallow. Keep the wick straight down and wait until the tallow solidifies. Then dip again, quickly, adding a new layer without melting the previous one. Repeat this step until your candle is at a diameter you like. Tallow candles burn less clean than beeswax candles, the primary reason medieval churches had prolific bee yards.

A Viking animal-fat light; an earthenware dish with a center post. The protrusion can have a wick wrapped around it, or, for a big flame, can be inserted into tubular linen-fabric wick.

Making tallow and lard soap
You’ll need a digital scale, two measuring cups, an empty 2-liter soda bottle with cap, some water, sodium hydroxide (lye), one funnel (or two, if you have them), 10 ounces of luke-warm liquid lard or tallow and a bucket of ice water. Always wear protection when working with chemicals.
In a double boiler melt 10 ounces of lard or tallow. No need to boil, only to have it become warm enough to liquify (around 110°-120 °F works well). Measure out 2 fluid ounces of water, and use a funnel to add it to the soda bottle. Using a different dry container, measure out 1.3 weight ounces of lye. Have a bucket of ice water ready to go. Using a second, dry funnel, add the lye to the water in the soda bottle and -immediately- close the cap. Shake and quickly stick the bottom into the ice water, while you keep sloshing the lye, making sure all the lye crystals dissolve. The soda bottle works as a pressure chamber, containing the harsh vapors created by the exothermic reaction of the lye in the liquid. Once the pressure in the bottle lets down and the moisture starts to condense, remove the bottle from the ice water and feel how hot the bottom is. When the bottom is the same temperature as you or a little warmer (similar to the fats), you’re good.
With a funnel, carefully add 10 ounces of liquid lard or tallow to the liquid lye in the soda bottle. Close the cap and shake. Keep shaking until the saponification reaction changes the fatty acids into soapy salts, which you’ll recognize by the thickening of the liquid. When the raw soap is about as thick as custard or apple sauce, you’re good. You can add a few drops of essential oils, or a few pinches of herbs or scrub, at or near this stage – shake well to incorporate throughout. Then remove the cap and let it sit until it solidifies, this step should take a day or two. Cut the top part off the bottle and carefully pop the soap out of the bottom. The bottle will have acted as a mold, and your soap will be formed just like it! Place it on a wire shelf or something similar to dry for about 3 weeks; it can be cut to size in about a week.

My milk and honey soap made with 100% pastured lard, and patterned by lining the mold – a kitchen drawer organizer – with recycled shipping bubble wrap.

Cooking with animal fats

Some of my favorite tastes from our kitchen are connected to using animal fats. I always have a jar of bacon grease around as I found that to be the best to brown pancakes, especially gluten free European crepes. My favorite crust recipe uses lard, and our leaf lard or beef tallow French fries are phenomenal. We believe it is better for our health to use real ingredients in moderation, than use abundant substitutes to fool our body. After having tasted the difference, I hanker for the occasional but perfect pie! Yet another instance where the road to the good life is choosing quality over quantity.
            What exactly makes lard so good in pastries? Why not stick to butter, no pun intended? You are right, butter produces extremely good crusts. But lard produces crusts even flakier than butter due to the difference in melting point. Butter melts into the dough at a lower temperature, and its water content can cause the dough to stick instead of separate into the distinct layers of flaky pastry. Butter is also primarily a saturated fat, where lard is primarily the healthier unsaturated fat. What makes lard more challenging to work with in baking, and why some aspiring cooks have trouble with lard crusts is that butter is easier to work with. Butter retains a workable range for pastry making at a temperature range of 58° to 69 °F, whereas lard only as a malleable-yet-firm consistency at the slightly higher temperature of 75 °F. When at room temperature, lard quickly becomes too soft to work with.

Gently kneading the butter, lard and sugar with help of the kitchen machine. (left) A beautiful loaf of cold pastry dough, ready to be partitioned into bottom, sides and top.

The best of both worlds could well be the half-lard, half-butter pastry crust. Using the classing baking ratios of 3 parts flour to 2 parts fat and at the most 1 part water, the combined lard and butter recipe makes a most tender and flaky crust. Cut the chilled butter and lard separately into cubes, and at first only cut the butter into the flour. When the butter is worked into pea-sized lumps, cut in the lard, then add just enough cold water to bind the mixture to form a dough.
When using a food processor, keep in mind that when fats are over-processed and get overly hot, the crust will lose its capability to become flaky and can taste dense. Refrigerate the dough for at least one hour before use, it could be made up to three days in advance. If necessary, soften slightly at room temperature before rolling out. If the dough does not roll out well, it is either too cold, or too dry. Adjust your process as needed. In traditional deep-dish Dutch apple pies - this would be Netherlands Dutch, not Pennsylvania Dutch, which is of German heritage – the crust is not rolled but pressed in by hand, as well as the lattice. If you prefer the traditional home-made look, you can also flute or crimp the edge by pushing the rim with your thumb from one hand in between the thumb and index finger of the opposite. Whichever method you use, your guests are not going to care as they will be too distracted licking yummy lard-crust crumbles off their fingers!

Lard pastry deep-dish Dutch apple pie – for a golden-brown crust brush the pastry lattice work with egg yolk.

Traditional all-lard pastry crust
1 ½ cups white whole wheat flour, or unbleached all-purpose flour
½ cup of chilled lard
¼ tsp of salt
3-4 tbs very cold water.

Cut the chilled lard into small slivers. In a bowl, blend the flour and salt, then cut in the butter and lard with a fork; blend until the mixture looks coarse. Sprinkle in the ice water and mix with a fork until the dough clumps together (add more as needed).

Frying lard and boiling tallow PART ONE

How to make lard and tallow.

Any cook interested in traditional fare will find to their surprise - or maybe not for those with continental roots - that one ingredient to have disappeared without a trace from our cookbooks and kitchens: animal fats. When we think of lard now it is not the flaky pie pastry, the crispy fries and the luscious gravy which comes to mind, but a looming vision of obesity and clogged arteries. If that truly is the case, then why were animal fats a staple in cooking, used around the globe throughout history? Our great-great-grandparents consumed butter, lard and tallow at their leisure, while experiencing extremely low rates of heart disease. How can this be?

A razor back and a pure-bred hog – allowed to free-feed on fenced off cornfields after the harvest was brought in. The method was called hogging down corn, and gives the hogs about the right amount of exercise, allows them to eat whenever they desire, and saves the farmer the labor of husking, hauling and feeding. With this method, the same amount of corn will produce more pork per animal.

Let's take a closer look at lard and tallow. Lard is the fat found in pigs, which are omnivores. This diet influences its composition, and typically, lard is made up out of 40% saturated fat, 50% monounsaturated fat and 10% polyunsaturated fat, the latter even lower in pastured hogs. You might not be aware, but lard can come from two different places on the pig. Depending on breed and raising, pigs are quite the fat factory and store much of their excess fat under the skin. This fat is called back fat, and is much lower in saturated fat than leaf lard, making for a soft fat unlikely to solidify at room temperature. Like all mammals, the other place pigs store fat is around the kidneys, and this is called leaf lard, sometimes baking lard. Leaf lard tends to be higher in saturated fat, which makes it stiffer and harder, although not as solid as tallow. Saturated fats are most heat stable, and protect the more vulnerable unsaturated fats from oxidizing with heat. As oxidized fats create free radicals, and free radicals contribute to cell damage, lard actually makes an excellent heat stable choice in cooking and baking.
            Tallow is found in herbivores, like deer, sheep, goats and cows. Most herbivores do store some fat under the skin, but it is rarely as thick as on pigs and tends to be inefficient to harvest. A very fat cow will definitely have under-skin fat, but as beef hangs much longer than pork after slaughter, the skin fat is usually left in place to protect the underlying meat from oxygen and moisture loss. Unless you harvest and process yourself, butcher store tallow primarily comes from the kidney area. Tallow is highly saturated, even more than leaf lard, making it solidify easily at room temperature. Refrigerated tallow is hard and crumbly when refrigerated, similar to cold butter.
            Used in cooking, lard is a great choice for sautéing vegetables, browning meat and pancakes (don’t forget your bacon grease!) and flaky pastries and pie crusts. Tallow is not as good for pastries as it is not very pliable when cold and because it already solidifies at room temperature it can leave a filmy feeling in the mouth after eating if the food has cooled down too much. But because of the high smoke point of tallow (400 °F / 250 °C) it works phenomenally in the deep fryer. The smoke point for lard varies (from 250–424 °F / 121–218 °C) depending if it is from back fat (lard) or kidney fat (leaf lard), and this is why leaf lard is often sold as baking lard. Therefore, when frying with lard, make sure to use leaf lard.

But lard ranks number 18 in foods richest in cholesterol! That can't be good, right? Actually, cholesterol consumption is not directly connected with blood cholesterol levels. Levels of cholesterol rise during periods of stress and inflammation, as the body produces the cholesterol it needs as a healing agent. Even more interestingly, providing cholesterol from quality fats like pastured lard, reduces the burden on the body to produce cholesterol itself when already stressed. Pastured lard is also the second highest food source of vitamin D, after cod liver oil, and well ahead of pastured egg yolks and liver. And remember, as vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin it requires fatty acids, including saturated fatty acids, to be absorbed and utilized in the body.
Keep in mind that these wonderful benefits come from pastured animals, with access to sunlight and rooting around and foraging, not from confined, antibiotic-laden livestock. Ask your butcher where his pork fat comes from, or even better, go directly to the source and ask the local farmer at your Farmers Market. Even though lard is making a culinary comeback, lard and tallow is often are often products produced in surplus. Our local organic butcher shop sells pork fat and rendered lard, but our local farmers often end up composting their fats as there is no market. By now, we have saved at least 500 pounds of local fat from the composting bin to render into lard, leaf lard and tallow, used in soapmaking and cooking. It might be cheaper in labor and material to buy a tub of shelf-stable lard or tallow in the supermarket, but the purity and quality of the home-produced product beats off the shelf anytime.

Born and raised on Kingbird Farm, in Upstate New York, their heritage breed pigs produce copious amounts of high-quality lard. I’ve traded and bought many a box of fat at the end of fall to use in my line of sensitive skin goat’s milk soaps.

Rendering lard and tallow for the homestead.

Identifying the fat
When you purchase lard locally or have the butcher return from your backyard livestock, it is a good idea to separate the leaf lard from the back fat. Most times, the butcher does this for you and both types will be bagged separately. Back fat resembles a thick narrow sheet of glossy, greasy solid fat, often triangular of shape when cut through. I don’t like handling back fat with my bare hands as it feels slimy and immediately makes my hands too greasy to safely handle my knife (it’s a great moisturizer, though!). Leaf fat feels dry and looks like clumps of fat globules within a balloon-like sheath. Tallow looks and handles very similar to leaf lard, the main difference being after processing as tallow will solidify more completely.

Sheaths of shiny back fat (top) and bundles of crumble leaf lard (bottom).

Cutting the fat
There are several ways of processing the fat to efficiently extract the fat from the fatty tissue. If you have the option, ask the butcher to grind the fat with their sausage grinder. If not, you can either grind yourself, cut the fat real small by hand, or cut the fat in manageable chunks or about an inch and give the fat a hand to help release more later in the process.

Cutting up pastured beef tallow. This particular tallow is extraordinarily yellow because the farmer pastures his heritage breed cows on lush grass, making for especially nutritious tallow high in beta-carotene.

Heating the fat
This is the point where it makes a difference if you are working with lard, or with tallow. When the fat is rendered, cooled down and solidified, tallow will float on top of the water whereas lard will be less easy to separate as it does not completely solidify. This is why pig fat is “fried” and tallow is “boiled” during the rendering process. Heat the pot and then turn on low. It is better to heat low for a long time, than heat high and be done quickly – too much heat can create musky off-flavors in the fat, let alone the risk of burning the bottom (and that really does not taste good!).

Rendering fats is a good project for during the winter, during the times the woodstove is banked. Here I am also rendering lard from pig bones, another useful source of fat.

Lard: It is easiest to start the process with some lard already rendered.  If you have none around, no worries, as a little water to prevent scourging works fine too. It will evaporate during the process, leaving you with pure fat and fatty tissue. If you want real high-quality leaf lard, do not heat the lard at all but only simmer at very low temperature, as high temperatures can damage the molecular structure of the fat.  Leaf lard has much less game flavor than back fat, and rendering at low temperatures lessens the flavor even more. This explains why bacon fat, which is belly fat fried at high temperatures, is so full of flavor!
Tallow: This is started with a decent amount of hot water, enough to fill in around the fat to about half the height of the stock pot. The water will bubble through the fat, helping to separate impurities, which then sink to the bottom into the layer of water, as fats float.

Giving the render a helping hand
When the lard and tallow chunks start to become translucent - turning from white to off-white to beige - the fat is starting to render. If your fat was not finely cut up or ground, this is the time to use a stick blender to carefully break up the fatty tissue (wear safety goggles and gloves). This trick significantly boosts the efficiency of the rendering process. It also saves time on cutting, although it might add a bit of work to separate the sludge later on. Keep in mind, if you enjoy your cracklings, then this is not the trick for you.


Using a stick blender to maximize fat retention. 

Filtering beef tallow using a metal colander and cheesecloth.

Cleaning the rendered fat
When the cracklings start to brown, or the blended fat starts to show separation into clear fat and opaque tissue, then it is time to filter. I use a tall metal stock pot, a metal colander and a doubled piece of cheese cloth. Do not use plastic, as the fat can be hot enough to melt or at least warp plastic. Slowly pour the fat through the cheesecloth. When it clogs up a bit, you can carefully pick up the edges, make a hammock, and slowly roll the sludge back and forth. Be careful not to let go, as cleanup is a challenge!


Filtering rendered lard through cheesecloth (left). 

Ground up fats make a much finer residue, which is easier to work with and makes awesome cracklings (right).

Lard typically renders clean enough in one go. Unlike lard, tallow will solidify into a cake, floating on top of the water. Remove any impurities from the bottom of the cake and it can be stored as is, or gently re-melted. Often, tallow is re-boiled several times. The more often it is boiled, the purer the tallow becomes. The repetition of this step both helps to remove even more impurities for a whiter tallow and to minimize scent. If your tallow is especially fragrant – for instance from game – and multiple boils did not help, try some baking soda in the water-boil.

I don’t tend to produce cracklings as now I mostly blend my fat. If you did, after filtering, fry the cracklings a bit further, until nicely brown and crispy, and, like bacon, use as a snack, salad topping or soup flavoring.

Storing your lard and tallow
Rendered lard and tallow can be stored for several weeks on the counter. Its shelf life can be extended by storage in the fridge or cold storage, and for up to year in the freezer. Lard or tallow can be poured into wide-mouth glass jars, or when cooled down enough to not melt plastic it can be poured into freezer appropriate take-out containers. It can also be pre-measured in ready to go amounts in ice-cube trays, or poured into Ziplock bags for minimal storage space.

One year’s worth of lard and leaf lard, ready for freezer storage and next year’s cooking and crafting projects.


·       All process and product photography by author.