Underneath the cast iron skillet the flame is a contorting mixture of pale blue and tiger orange. Mrs. D’Augostino pulls open the heavy, ornate oven door and tosses in another piece of dry hickory, which Johnny, her son, my grandfather, has just brought in from the woodpile near the barn.
She closes the door, rattling the skillet slightly. Some of the fat she’s frying the pork chop in splashes over the side and sizzles. Quickly, she wipes it with her apron. “Hell of a thing to waste this lard,” she mumbles under her breath.
Back in my great-grandmother’s day lard was the fat, the vehicle to cooking. Before the introduction of hydrogenated oils, Crisco and the like, there was lard. It fried your chops. Made your pie crust flakey. Lined your bread pans. It was healthier than most people think. And it’s mounting a comeback.
Poor lard. It’s very existence has been demonized. Just the word lard is itself synonymous with gluttony, conjuring up thoughts of clogging arteries, heart attacks, and strokes. Well, that’s just not accurate.
Coming in behind olive oil, lard has about 48 percent monounsaturated fats, actually beating out butter, which comes in near 30 percent. I know, what the heck are monounsaturated fats?
According to the American Heart Association those fats can help reduce the bad cholesterol in our bodies, which in turn reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke. Monounsaturated fats also help maintain our cells and provide nutrients to our bodies, like vitamin E, an antioxident.
And what do processed fats like shortening offer our bodies. Well, they offer trans fats, basically a result of the hydrogenation process. Which starts off with vegetable oil that manufacturers want to process into a solid, shortening. So by forcing hydrogen into the structure of the oil, it then becomes a solid. A hydrogenated oil. You see these listed on many packaged, processed foods. If you can, it’s best to keep these out of your diet.
Another popular fat is palm oil, or palm shortening. Which in itself has some unique health qualities, that include monounsaturated fats, and vitamin E. But they come at a cost. In many tropical nations huge amounts of forest lands are being removed to make way for industrial scale palm oil plantations. And the World Wildlife Fund reports species of orangutan, along with other wildlife, are losing habit.
Breaking it down, in our grandparents era there wasn’t the high numbers we see today of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. I believe it’s due to the “old school” diets at the time, they ate more whole foods that were of better quality.
One of those whole foods being lard. Completely natural, wholesome, lard. I buy pastured, leaf lard from a farmer near me. A word of advice, don’t buy the lard in the grocery store, it’s also hydrogenated. Another, read your food labels, you will be surprised. And always know what you’re putting in your body.
Have you tried cooking with lard? What’s your experience with it?