Why did I leave the warm glow of the Christmas tree, the glow of fellowship and cheer and gift opening to begin the five hour process of making braids when I could have/should have made them the day before? Because I am a spaz. A complete spaz.
It all started in the meat department at Costco. It was the Tuesday before Christmas and the store was packed. My mom put two beef tenderloins in our cart and then said she needed rolls. Navigating the heavy cart over to the bakery was going to be tough.
“I’ll make grandma’s braids,” I said. Her face lit up. “Really? You will?”
So I left my mom’s house that day with the recipe for grandma’s braided rolls. “You can just use shortening,” my mom said, as she handed over the recipe. Grandma was a really good cook and an even better baker. I was about to put on her really big shoes. “Just use shortening,” when grandma used lard? That’s not how I roll.
When I got home I googled “where can I buy organic lard in Michigan.” ‘Cuz if you’re going to eat lard, it ought to at least be organic, made from pasture raised heritage hogs.
My search yielded no stores, but I did learn a few things. I learned that “lard has 20 percent less saturated fat than butter; it’s higher in monounsaturated fats which are said to lower LDL cholesterol; and it has none of the trans fat that shortening does.”
I also learned that leaf lard – made specifically from the fat around the kidneys and loins – is the cadillac of lards. It’s definitely the lard you want to use for the flakiest pie crusts and biscuits.
And if you want your roasted veggies to be perfectly browned and crisp (like grandma’s), you have to use lard. Olive oil just doesn’t get you there.
Maybe Whole Foods has it. I searched the store, then I asked a worker in the dairy department where I might find the leaf lard.
“Whole Foods doesn’t sell lard,” he said with culinary snobbery, disgust and a look that judged me on several levels.
I turned and muttered, “What does Whole Foods have against lard?”
A fellow customer – a handsome young man – heard me and offered, “Kroger has it. I just saw it the other day. It’s in a blue box.”
Then he went on to tell me about his grandma’s pie crusts and how she used lard to make wonderfully crispy roasted potatoes. “I was just reading about that,” I said with glee.
I thanked him for the tip and then silently had a snobby thought of my own, I doubt the Kroger lard is organic.
I called a high end specialty store. “Leaf lard? What is that?” The young man put me on hold and then came back and said, “I’m sorry, we don’t sell lard, we only sell healthy food.”
“Lard is healthy,” I said, cheerfully. “It’s making a comeback, you should google it.”
“Oh, well maybe we can start carrying it.”
Lovely young man.
I called Trader Joe’s.
“We don’t sell lard,” he said in a voice that accused me of being trailer trash. No offense to all the lovely people who live in trailers.
I picked up the blue box at Kroger and read the label: Lard plus hydrogenated lard, BHT, BHA, to protect flavor.
Back to the web I went. I could buy a five pound tub of raw, organic, pasture-raised heritage hog leaf fat from a farm in Minnesota for $30. I put it in my cart. Oh my. $19.99 for shipping and handling + another $9.99 for the cooler. $60 for a 2 quart yield of leaf lard? No. Plus it would not arrive in time.
Christmas Eve morning the hub and I were dressing to take his aunt, his sister and her husband out to a nice lunch – our Christmas gift to them. They all live an hour and a half southwest of here.
“Could we stop by that farm on our way home? The one where I get our Thanksgiving turkeys?”
“It’s not on our way home,” he said. “It’s northwest of here, we’re going southwest.”
“We could zip straight up 23.”
As lunch was winding down, the hub said, “We have to get going, we have hog fat to buy. He explained the situation and added, “This is my life.”
Yes, yes it is.
A 53 mile zip up 23 later, I had me some leaf fat – soon to be leaf lard. Glorious leaf lard. Another 30 miles and we were home.
I immediately cut up the raw, frozen fat and put it in a large pot on low to begin rendering. At 9:15 pm I turned off the burner and told the hub to just leave it – it needed to cool.
I returned from the candlelight service after midnight, removed the cracklings and then strained the rendered fat into jars through cheesecloth. I went to bed exhausted but happy. Three jars of homemade leaf lard were solidifying in the fridge. In the morning they would be ready to perform light, flaky roll-making magic.
While the rolls cooled, I made a bleu cheese walnut salad. I’m going to tell you how to make it because it goes SO well with beef tenderloin.
Put 2 ounces of good bleu cheese in the bottom of a salad bowl. Add 5 tablespoons of good olive oil, 1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon salt and several grinds of pepper. Mash it up real well with a fork and then stir in 1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts.
Toss in a bunch of romaine lettuce pieces (a head or two) and toss until the leaves are coated. Top with another 2 ounces of bleu cheese, crumbled, and about a half cup of coarsely chopped walnuts.
Just do it.
I’ve been making this salad for thirty years. It never goes out of style.
At dinner, the sister to my left said, “When I retire, I am going to make rolls. I’ll need grandma’s recipe.” Another sister said, “Or Julie can just keep making them.” “Yes, they all agreed, Julie will be the designated rolls maker.”
They had no idea what they were saying. But it’s fine. Lard keeps in the freezer for a full year.
Next Christmas Eve, the rolls will be made BEFORE I go to the candlelight service.
I’ll linger in the glow of Christmas morning, sipping coffee and mimosas. Maybe I’ll even make a nice breakfast. I wonder how hard it would be to make my own bacon…