‘Tis the season to defrost the freezer. Wait, what? It’s actually the traditional time of year (January) when many recommit to eating healthy and I am with you on that journey. I spent some time in the last few days asking myself why my efforts […]
Oh how I hate chiggers! If you haven’t experienced them, they are nearly invisible bugs that live in grass and brush during the summer. Their bite, while not technically a bite, leaves a red itchy welt but you don’t know right away that you have […]
Once vilified as the epitome of bad fats, lard is making a comeback! Lard and other animal fats are showing up on natural food store shelves and coolers at premium prices. These are $9.99 for 11 ounces!
There is still controversy surrounding the health risks/benefits of lard and I found opinions on both sides and a few errors in nutrition facts so perhaps a future post will address the nutritional aspects of lard. It is agreed, though that lard is more heat stable for frying foods and also makes wonderful pie crust. Lard used for pie crust is usually made from a type of lard called leaf lard that is from the fat around the kidneys of the animal. In our own kitchen we cook daily with a cast iron skillet and the lard has made a noticeable difference in the sheen and non-stick quality of the pan.
Last fall we decided to purchase a half a hog. We wanted a non-GMO fed, pastured hog and asked for the fat to be saved with the order. The fat was in strips and frozen when we got it and I let it thaw a few days in the refrigerator prior to making the lard. We had 9.25 pounds of fat to start.
In researching this topic I found instructions for stove top , crock pot, and oven. It seems the stove top method was most likely to burn and required the most attention so I decided on the oven method. I cut the lard into chunks and loaded up my large roaster.
Once I got all the fat cut up, I decided that the roaster really was too full and moved about a third of it to the crock pot so I really got to compare both methods. You can see that some of the lard has bits of meat attached and some instructions tell you to cut this out if it is significant. This is part of what becomes the “cracklings” once the lard is rendered. I didn’t bother with cutting out any of the meat.
I put the roaster in a 250 degree oven. Some sources say that it takes only a couple of hours but after 2 hours and 40 minutes I wasn’t seeing dramatic progress.
I re-checked some sources and decided that the pieces were not small enough, so I took it out of the oven and cut the pieces into smaller chunks. That seemed to help the process along quite a bit.
About 8 hours later here we are:
The fat in the crock pot was slightly slower to melt but the end results were the same. As the liquid lard collected I began to ladle it out periodically and strain it through cheese cloth, then pour into clean jars. As the fat cools it becomes solid and white.
I continued the process until it seemed there was no more liquid fat accumulating and the cracklings were left. I ended up not using the cracklings this time around.
After all was said and done I ended up with 1 gallon (128 ounces) of lard. I used various glass and plastic jars and containers. The plastic containers will go in the freezer and the glass jars will stay in the refrigerator.
It was really an all day job but I figure at market prices the value of this lard is anywhere from $80 to $117.
Sources vary (as usual) as to how long the lard will keep. I don’t think I’ll need to keep it 64 years like this guy, but you should be able to tell when fats become rancid. I’m pretty sure we will use it within 6-9 months as we’ve gone through the first 16 ounces in about a month.
One of the coolest things about microgreens is that you can grow them year round. In the middle of winter when everything is brown and gray outside and you know most supermarket produce travels more miles than you did on your last vacation, something fresh, alive […]
What could be more fun than having a fresh, living, edible centerpiece for a holiday table? It’s even more fun if you grow your own with microgreens. To make this center piece, start with a 4 inch plastic plant saucer. They are available year round at most hardware stores . You’ll also need a matching 4 inch terra cotta pot or any container that fits the size of your plant saucer. Not all pots and saucers are actually 4 inches so be sure the saucer sits in the rim of the pot before you proceed.
Paint or decorate the pots as you like. This example shows a simple metallic paint. At this point you have a decision to make. You can either poke drainage holes in the bottom of the saucer and get a second saucer to set under the pot or you can go without drainage holes and just be very careful about not overwatering. I choose not to add the drainage holes. Using the saucers without drainage holes keeps the pots clean and easy to reuse.
Add your pre-moistened germinating or potting mix to the saucers and sprinkle on the seeds evenly. Microgreen seeds are available at garden centers. In our area some grocery stores (like Sprouts, Natural Grocers, Whole foods) carry sprouting and microgreen seeds pretty consistently. You can also try online sources like Mountain Valley Seeds.
These are radish and mild mix. Mist the seeds and place a cover of thin plastic over the saucers of use an inverted plant tray to help keep the moisture in the mix . After a day or two, seeds will germinate and can be moved to a window sill or other light source. Check daily and water as needed. In about a week, they will be ready to set into your terra cotta pots or other container.
Accessorize your microgreen pots with other seasonal decorations and you have a fun fresh centerpiece that is sure to impress.
This photo was taken just 5 days after planting.
This photo was taken 18 days later and I let them go beyond where I would have harvested (the radishes at least) just to see how long they would last. I really liked the look of the extra color of the radish developed but I wouldn’t eat them at this stage. We did eat the other two varieties. Growth rates will vary depending on seed type, temperature, light and water but in general, I would say to plant these quick growing varieties about a week before you want to use the centerpiece and that they would last about 2 weeks if well cared for. Don’t forget to harvest and eat them!
This summer my husband and I started a new adventure by becoming a vendor at our local farmer’s market. This is a very large, well attended market with space for 72 vendors. Most Saturdays every space is filled with a few less vendors on Wednesdays. I’ve learned a lot about the farmer’s market by being a vendor. I love the farmer’s market! I would shop the market first before a super market any day for fresh, quality produce, but there are some blanket assumptions I made about the farmer’s market that turned out to be wrong:
All food from the farmers market is local food (false)
The market where we sell requires labeling of all products as either homegrown (grown or produced by the vendor on their property) local (vendor purchased produce from a farmer who produced it within 150 mile radius of our city), regional (vendor purchased from a farmer or auction house within 250 mile radius of our city) or warehouse (vendor purchased produce from a wholesale supplier or farm more than 250 miles from the city) There is actually no limit as to how far away food could be produced and still show up at this farmer’s market as far as I know. If a vendor is willing to make the drive to the market (and there is one vendor who travels 169 miles) they can still label their products as “homegrown” if they produce the meat or produce on land they own. I guess there isn’t a universal definition of “local” I kind of think of local food as something produce close enough to me that I’d be willing or able to drive to the producer’s farm or ranch and pick it up. By their labeling definition, the market considers local food to be food produced within 150 mile radius of the city. Since Regional and Warehouse produce is allowed at this market, not all the food at the market is “local”.
All food sold at the farmer’s market is grown or produced by the vendor selling it (false)
It is a natural assumption that the farmer you buy from at a farmer’s market is the one that produced the food. Okay, sometimes there is a family member or friend who helps do the selling. As I explained in the paragraph above, famers can also sell food they buy from another farmer, auction house, or wholesale producer. On the one hand I want to buy from the person that produced it. They can tell you how it is produced and answer your questions confidently. On the other hand, being able to buy produce and resell it can help a farmer make a living or increase their income. Buying from a third party also allows vendors to bring in seasonal produce earlier. Produce 100 miles to the south can be 2 to 3 weeks ahead of our produce.
Food sold at the farmer’s market is non-GMO (false)
Produce at the farmer’s market enjoys a healthy image and I’d like to think that on the independent farm, food is non-GMO and produced without a lot of chemicals. I would be wrong. One Saturday our booth was next to a vendor who sold heirloom tomatoes, corn and other vegetables. I asked if his corn was non-GMO. He said it was GMO and proceeded to tell me how GMOs are fine and the media has just scared people about GMOs and research shows GMO’s are safe…. He also said that he preferred the GMO corn because he only has to spray it 4 times. Farmers with smaller farms can buy Round-up too. At least he was honest. He still sold out all of his corn. You’ll have to ask if products are non-GMO.
If food sold at the market is organic, it will be labeled “organic” (false)
At our market, we cannot even use the term organic on a sign or in a conversation about our food unless it is USDA certified organic. On the one hand, this avoids confusion. On the other hand, a lot of growers do produce their crops using organic methods but don’t want to go to the expense and trouble of organic certification (and have to pass on the costs to the consumer because farming is a business). Certified Naturally Grown is a lower cost alternative to USDA certification and that is a good label or sign to look for. It’s always good to talk to the seller and ask questions.
I am confident that the produce at the farmer’s market is fresher than anything in the super market. Most farmers harvest the day before the market and rarely carry over produce to the next market. Many of the vendors grow without pesticides. These are great reasons to shop the farmer’s market.
If you want to know about what markets allow and what rules the vendors have to follow, a great place to look is at the vendor application. Most of the larger markets have applications and rules online for anyone to read. Our market restricts some regional and warehouse foods during times when that produce is available locally. Our market also inspects every farm or vendor and posts pictures on their Facebook page and that gives me more confidence to buy.
The bottom line for buying at a farmer’s market is to research the market online if possible before you go and ask a lot of questions before you buy.
In the interest of connecting consumers with farmers the Farm Bureau hosts bloggers on a farm tour once or twice a year. At our first stop we toured a greenhouse and pig barn. The greenhouse is a fairly new addition to the farm. One of […]