Tag Archives: urban homestead

Small Batch Lard Rendering

Standard

homemade rendered lardBack in my grandmother’s day, lard was the king of the kitchen.  Most women kept a can of lard on the kitchen counter since it was used so frequently.  Lard created a flakiness that butter or other shortening couldn’t when it came to pie crusts.  It seasoned cast iron (another work horse of the kitchen), and was a favorite fat for frying (pan frying or deep-frying).  Oh…  what vegetable in that era didn’t have some lard at the bottom of the roasting dish?

Over the decades, it became villainized in favor of modern cooking oils.  More and more cooks turned to corn, vegetable, as well as soybean oils. Fortunately, the tide is turning and lard is once again making an appearance in the home cook’s kitchen.

If you are looking for lard, it can be found in some grocery stores in the same aisle as cooking oils or even in the baking aisle.  But if you are more adventurous, you can get pork fat from your local butcher… or better yet, from a farmer/rancher that sells meat shares and render the fat into lard yourself.packaged pork fat

But you don’t have to go hog-wild and get all the fat from a single pig.  Chances are, you won’t have the space to store (freezer is best prior to rendering) it.  You can do small batch rendering which is perfect for the urban homesteader and/or modern cook that typically has limited space.  To give you an idea of what is small batch, I used two and a half pounds of pork fat which resulted in one quart of lovely lard.

Prior to the rendering process, I freeze the fat.  Once I am ready, I remove it from the freezer and let it set at room temperature for approximately one hour.  Why, you ask?  Well, it makes cutting the fat much easier. pork fat uniformly cut into pieces

How to Render Lard in a Small Batch

  • Using a sharp knife, cut the fat into 1″ pieces (the fat renders more uniformly compared to placing large hunks of it into a pan)
  • Place into a heavy-bottomed pan (such as cast iron) that is placed over medium heat
  • Stir the fat slowly
  • After a few minutes, the fat will begin to render as a clear liquid is released (this is the lard!)
  • Continue to stir and render out the fatcracklins in liquid lard
  • After about 20 minutes, the pieces of fat will become golden in color and crisp in texture
  • At this point, the rendering is complete
  • Remove the crisp pieces (which are called cracklins)
  • Line a colander with cheesecloth and place over a heat-proof container
  • Pour the contents of the pan into the cheesecloth
  • The liquid lard will be strained through the cheesecloth leaving the cracklins behind (cracklins can be eaten, but if you are not a fan, they make great dog treats as well as nice treats for chickens)cracklins
  • After the liquid lard has cooled slightly, pour into a container, such as a glass jar; NOTE: sterilize the jar before use, but the jar (or jars depending on the quantity of pork fat used) should be warm as pouring hot liquid into a cold glass jar could result in the jar shattering

As the lard cools, it will solidify.  You will notice that it will turn from a clear liquid into a white solid that is scoopable at room temperature.rendered lard

Now that you are in possession of home rendered lard, you have options for storage.

Storage Options

  • Freezer (may wish to use a container other than glass)
  • Refrigerator
  • Pantry
  • You may also pressure can the lard for long-term storage

Lard is shelf stable as long as there are no remaining pieces of pork fat (cracklins) left in the lard, but proper straining should take care of that issue.  Straining will also help ensure a white color as sediment should be captured by the cheesecloth.

Folks, you have now successfully rendered lard!  Pat yourself on the back for learning this homesteading skill.  So go ahead and use it for baking, roasting, frying, and cooking.  But don’t worry about it lending a porky flavor to what you make.  At best, it lends a slightly fatty flavor to your creations.  Trust me, lard deserves a place in your kitchen.

Slugs! Beer is a Solution

Standard

beer slug trapsGardening is wonderfully unpredictable.  Each year, it is different.  We move things around in the garden.  We grow different crops.  Summer may be hotter than years past.  Or perhaps Mother Nature has opened up the heavens and sent down rain by the buckets.  If it is the latter, I know that there will be one pest in abundance.  Gardeners, I am talking about slugs.

Believe it or not, not every gardener has to deal with slugs.  The slugs themselves tend to prefer damp/moist conditions.  If you are in an arid environment, they may only make an appearance during a particularly wet season.  Elsewhere, they are an unwanted, frequent visitor.  But before you head out to your local nursery or garden center to pick up harsh chemicals consider driving to your local liquor store first.  My favorite approach?  Beer.  The cheaper, the better.  Oh… the beer is not for me, it is for the slugs.  Or more specifically, the homemade slug traps.

Now before you think that I am just setting out an open bar for the local slug population, there is a method to my madness.  You see, beer works very well as a bait for homemade slug traps.  It is the yeast and carbohydrates in the beer that attracts them according to wikiHow.

How to Prepare the Beer Slug Traps

  • Pour beer into a container that is approximately 1″ high.  Empty tuna cans work well as do lids for Rubbermaid or Tupperware containers that you lost long ago.  If you choose to go with a much deeper container, partially bury the container, leaving the top about 1″ above the soil surface.  But pour the beer into the containers during the cool part of the day, such as dusk.  If you fill the traps during a hot afternoon, a good portion of the beer may evaporate before it has a chance to attract slugs.
  • Since you are not enjoying the beer, use a very cheap brand (save the micro-brews for yourself).
  • Place the traps close to plants that the slugs are snacking on such as hosta, lettuce, spinach, or other leafy plants.  If you have a large infestation, you can place a beer trap approximately every 3′ – 4′ along the effected plants.
  • Check the traps in the morning.

    beer slug trap at work

    beer slug trap at work

  • Collect and dispose of the slugs and/or snails.  If you have chickens, they will go crazy for these boozy slug treats!
  • If you have animals that roam through the garden during the day, pick up the slug traps and set them aside until dusk.  If you don’t, you may go through the beer more quickly than expected.  For instance, our neighborhood fox was in the backyard one summer afternoon.  It went through its usual routine, check the perimeter of the chicken run, snack on ripe raspberries, then stroll around the garden.  However, when it came across a beer trap, it stopped, sniffed, and drank.  After draining the first trap, Mr. Fox proceeded on to every remaining beer trap and drank them dry.  We also found out that our chickens were fond of beer and would drink from the traps when the hens had free-range time in the backyard.
  • Refill traps as needed.

    chicken enjoying beer and slugs

    chicken enjoying beer and slugs

You may ask yourself if this method is going to catch every single slug in your garden.  The answer is no.  Some slugs may crawl to the brim of the container, take a sip of beer and leave.  Yes.  Leave.  However, there will be slugs that crawl into the slug trap and drown… staying in place until you dispose of them.  Is this method effective?  Yes.  Is it non-toxic?  Yes.  Are the traps easy to set up?  Yes.  Could you end up with a tipsy fox or chicken?  Perhaps.  But for the sake of a natural control method, I am willing to let Mr. Fox or Henny Penny sip some suds.

25 Homestead Resolutions for the New Year

Standard

After the beginning of the year, resolutions abound.  Lose weight.  Exercise daily.  Eat vegetables.  Carpool daily.  Try harder.  Be better.  Move faster.  It is exhausting, right?  And for the record, just how long do those newly minted resolutions last?  Do they live to see the Ides of March?  Perhaps they get the chance to revel in President’s Day weekend before fizzling?  End of the month?  End of the week?  Or are they scraped before the ink has dried on the paper?

This year, I am trying something new.  Rather than burden myself with a laundry list of personal resolutions that end up choking me with guilt, I am turning the resolutions towards another endeavor… my homestead.

What better benefactor of my good intentions than the homestead?  In my mind, resolutions is just another word for goals.  And goals my friends, are attainable.

25 New Year Homestead Resolutions

  1. Order seed in a timely fashion – before my preferred varieties are out of stock
  2. Organize my seed inventory – a spreadsheet is a wonderful way to keep track of such things
  3. Start seeds when appropriate – for example, tomatoes are best started at the end of February for my zone
  4. Apply compost to the garden BEFORE planting

    working the tomato bed

    working the tomato bed

  5. Get straw bales from local feed store in March – so they can be used to mulch the garden beds
  6. Set out the ‘walls of water’ in March – this allows an early start on warm season crops such as peppers, eggplants, and tomatoes
  7. Plant oldest seed first
  8. Price out and purchase metal tubing for low tunnels
  9. Send oldest hens to ‘freezer camp’ by March

    backyard chicken

    backyard chicken

  10. Hang yellow jacket traps on first 50F day in late March or early April
  11. Sharpen garden tools, such as hoe before first use of the season
  12. Install french doors on garden shed (with help of husband) before the heat of summer sets in
  13. Harvest garlic scapes before they become tough and fibrous
  14. Eat food from the freezer so it will be ready to hold the summer’s bounty
  15. Actually harvest horseradish this year rather than talk about harvesting horseradish
  16. Bake homemade bread at least once every two weeks – this includes homemade English Muffins and biscuits
  17. Remember to do succession planting after initial harvests
  18. Hang laundry on clothes lines – skip the dryer this spring and summer

    mended and line-dried laundry

    mended and line-dried laundry

  19. Do small batch fermenting (quart size) at least once per month
  20. Make my first aged cheddar cheese
  21. Begin summer days gardening
  22. Brew a batch of beer – use last fall’s hop harvest

    screen drying hops

    screen drying hops

  23. Experiment with making different types of sodas
  24. Set up low tunnel in late summer as a season extender
  25. Plant assorted spinach, lettuce, chard, and other greens in tunnel to enjoy throughout winter

Looking at this list, I feel a sense of pride and hope for the year to come.  If I truly do everything on this list, our modest urban homestead will thrive.    We will have fresh smelling laundry.  There will be an ample harvest of fresh produce.  Old hens will make way for new chicks.  French doors will allow natural light in the garden shed.  Homemade beverages will be at our fingertips.

Whether I call them resolutions or goals, I resolve to see this list through completion.  Looks like this year is off to a promising start.