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DECEMBER 29, 2017

Anyone remember rendering lard? What about mending a torn shirt? Making a quilt to keep your family warm? Did you know that these were community events?

My name is Tabitha Wallen and I am a Pike County native, currently living in Floyd County. I have been married for almost 8 years and have two boys, Austin and Lawrence. I have spent the last 15 years compiling my own family research and re-learning the old ways my grandmothers were unable to teach me. We farm pigs and chickens and try to live as close to how our ancestors did 150 years ago as we can. I have an extensive cookbook collection that I adore and love the history, culture and heritage of this region. My name is Tabitha Wallen and I am a Pike County native, currently living in Floyd County. I have been married for almost 8 years and have two boys, Austin and Lawrence. I have spent the last 15 years compiling my own family research and re-learning the old ways my grandmothers were unable to teach me. We farm pigs and chickens and try to live as close to how our ancestors did 150 years ago as we can. I have an extensive cookbook collection that I adore and love the history, culture and heritage of this region. Neighbors would gather to slaughter half dozen pigs, process the animals and share in the meat. A few women would get together to mend shirts and piece together quilts for the winter. Hunting parties would go out and all families involved would share in the hunt. I can remember shucking corn and shelling beans with my great grandmothers as a small child and helping make quilts.

The ways of our ancestors are being forgotten or lost every day with the death of someone’s grandparents. Rendering lard, cooking from scratch, mending or making your own clothes and communicating face to face are a dying art.

Old men would tell stories to the kids, old women would shoo mischievous boys out of the kitchen and away from the food while showing little girls how to cook without a recipe using dashes and pinches.

Family histories were shared over dinner and many of us found out that we had outlaws and famous people related to us! My husband’s great-great-great grandmother shot and killed two men at age 17. The men had come to arrest her father for bootlegging, shot her brother and had beaten her mother with the butt of a gun. She grabbed her father’s gun, shot and killed both men. She was later acquitted because the judge couldn’t believe that a woman who cried during the entire trial could be possible of murder. My own great-great-great grandfather, while a Union soldier during the War Between the States, was a poker buddy of Confederate and Logan Wildcat leader, Devil Anse Hatfield. His brother swore in Garfield as Brigadier General of the Union Army at Pikeville.

This column will focus on Appalachian cooking and history and I am open to any and all suggestions. Remember your grandmothers making something, but don’t have a recipe? Let me know, I may just have it. Want to learn how to quilt or mend a sock? Just wait, it’s coming. Ready to learn little known histories of this area? That’s coming too.


How to render lardHow to render lardRENDERING LARD...

Rendering lard has been around for centuries. Pigs are a cheap and easy animal to raise. They will eat anything, reproduce prolifically, and mature quickly.

Once processed, one animal could supplement a family’s food larder for an entire year when coupled with other domesticated animals and wild game.

My family has been raising hogs for almost 5 years now. Breeds most common to this area are Red Duroc, similar to strawberry blond or red hair, Yorkshire, the big white pigs, Elisted, the black pigs with white bands and most recently, Hereford, cinnamon-red like the Duroc but with a white face and temperament similar to a Labrador Retriever. Yorkshire’s have a reputation of having more fat overall but it all really depends on their living conditions. Many people feed their animals anything and everything including dog food, cereal, table scraps and while they will eat it, it isn’t what’s best for the animal. You get out of the pig what you put into them; if it’s junk, you will get fatty meat that isn’t the best. Feed them good quality feed, veggie scraps and give them lots of attention for the best tasting pork you will ever have. Same as Wagu beef; there is a reason it’s the most expensive meat on the market.

To render lard, you must first process the animal. Some people only use the leaf fat attached to the kidneys but when lard is all you use, you will process all the fat from the animal. When we process an animal, we typically get about 30 pounds of fat from one pig with a hanging weight of 350 pounds. The old timey way to render was to toss every bit of fat into a pot as soon as it’s cut from the animal. Now, when you pick up the animal from the slaughterhouse, all the fat is frozen so cutting it up is a must. A butcher knife is needed to cut chunks off the big piece and then a small paring knife to cut the chunk into nickel sized pieces. Fill a pot with about 2 cups of water and set your heat to low. Add the pieces to the pot and stir frequently. Do not over fill the pot as the pieces will stick and the solids will settle to the bottom.

As the lard renders down, the solids will separate and need to be strained. Scoop the solids into a cheesecloth lined strainer and squeeze out all the liquid. There may be remaining pieces of fat that can be placed back in the pot to continue rendering. The solids are now called cracklins and are a great treat on their own or baked into cornbread. This is an all-day process and is best done when the weather isn’t hot as having your stove on all day will make your house hotter, that’s one of the reasons why animals are slaughtered in late fall.

The beginningThe beginning

Once you have all your fat melted down and cracklins separated, spread the cracklins on a baking sheet and bake at 200° to dry out. Eat them alone or mix into cornbread batter for a real treat. Let the liquid lard cool to just warm and pour into clean mason jars. Place lid on and let cool completely. It will solidify to a nice, creamy white color with no odor. While it may look solid, it actually has a soft, spreadable texture and can be melted and used in place of oil or butter in any recipe. Many bakers swear by it for the flakiest pie crust and I can attest that it makes the best fried chicken. If you cook with cast iron cookware, lard is the go-to for seasoning. Clean your pots and pans well and place 2 heaping tablespoons in the pan. Place in a moderate oven until melted and tilt the pan to coat. Let cool until warm enough to handle and use a paper towel to spread the oil over the entire pan. Return to the cooling oven and leave it overnight. If there is a white film in the bottom of the pan, slowly heat the pan over low heat and swirl the pan until fully coated.

Lard has many household uses as well. Squeaky door hinge? Smear on with your fingers and work the hinge until it no longer squeaks. Gum in your kids hair? Work a small amount into the gum and the oil will break up the gum. Want to seal wooden cutting boards? Rub the board with your fingers until a thin coat is applied. Let try and then wipe with a damp cloth.

 

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