Most Americans are horrified by the very thought of eating lard. Some seem to think that even a small amount of lard will stop their hearts, or make them obese, or both. Yet lard was once the most popular cooking fat in America. Lard was also the most popular cooking fat in China.
Lard was demonized so margarine, hydrogenated oils, and other creations of the processed food industry would sell. The artificial fats created by the food industry taste and feel much worse than the traditional fats of our ancestors. This means that the only reason people would buy the factory fats is if real fats are believed to be unhealthy. There are no shortages of scientists and studies that the food industry could and can buy to scare people into giving up real food. Lard, and all saturated fat, was blamed for heart disease, and countless other illnesses.
The truth of the matter is that real lard, from healthy pastured pigs, is very healthy and nutritious, and one of our best sources of vitamin D.
Real lard is one of the very best cooking fats, having a high smoke point, and being unlikely to spatter in most circumstances.
And food cooked with real lard can be incredibly delicious.
The Two Types of Lard
Nearly all the lard you will find in the supermarket is hydrogenated, which means that the very molecular structure of the fat has been changed to something that never appears in nature. This lard almost always comes from pigs that have been kept in confinement, may never see the sun, and are fed almost totally on GMO soy and GMO corn. This lard does not need to be refrigerated, which means that it has been processed to the point that it will not spoil. But lard like this has a horrid, greasy, slimy texture, and a truly disgusting taste, at least to me, and many others. It will, in my opinion, ruin any food cooked with it.
Real lard, the lard enjoyed by our ancestors, is not hydrogenated. It comes from pigs raised in the open air, who forage for a great deal of their own food, and see plenty of sun. It is hard to find, but it tastes and feels a thousand times better than the hydrogenated abomination. You can get this kind of lard at some farmers markets, though it can be very expensive. My favorite Internet source is U.S. Wellness Meats, which sells rendered lard from pigs who spend most of their life in the open, foraging for a large part of their food. The price is also quite reasonable.
The Benefits of Real Lard
Real lard gives incredible flavor to food. It is great for basting meats, and has been used for that purpose for thousands of years, from Sardinia to China. Meat basted with lard is more tender, retains more of its juices, and tastes fantastic.
Real lard is also great for baking, and played a huge part in traditional European and American biscuits, pies, cakes, and breads. It gives incredible flavor and texture to these dishes, one that is unique and wonderful.
Real lard is perhaps the best fat for frying and sautéing. It has a very high smoke point, spatters rarely, and adds its own wonderful flavor to the food that is cooked in it. We do not have French fries or fried chicken very often, but when we do, it is usually fried in real lard. It is the fat of choice in most of our stir fries. Not only is frying easier, safer, and smoother, but the taste benefits are immense.
And real lard is healthy, to the great surprise of most people. The Weston A Price Foundation, which I consider to be the most knowledgeable food organization on earth, recommends the use of real lard in cooking. Not only does real lard provide a valuable balance of essential fatty acids, it is one of the best sources of natural Vitamin D, and other nutrients.
Today, following the suggestion of a seventh generation English butcher, we fried eggs in real lard for the first time. Awesome.
We use real lard in cooking all the time, and enjoy it immensely.
A feast at the end of the year is a very old European tradition, going back to the days before Christmas was celebrated. This holiday was often known as Yule. It has generally been replaced with Christmas, which also traditionally includes a feast.
It was common to welcome the New Year with a feast as well.
These days, people are taught to fear their food. Fat from healthy animals, one of the most vital and nutrient-rich foods we can eat, has been demonized and blamed for heart disease, and almost every other chronic disease known to humanity. This is just not true. People ate foods rich in animal fat during eras where heart disease, cancer, and most other modern diseases were unknown.
Yet the propaganda has been so effective that many people do not even know which foods were the traditional centerpieces of the holiday feast, and have never tasted them.
Certainly, skinless, boneless chicken breast, or skinless, boneless turkey breast, from birds fed GMO soy and GMO corn, were never the center of the holiday feast. Neither were vegetarian concoctions such as soy substitutes for meat, laden with chemicals and flavor enhancers.
The traditional centerpiece of the European and American holiday feast was a big grassfed roast, or pastured roast, or pastured bird, roasted whole with its skin intact.
It is time to put the fear aside, and enjoy the rich, traditional bounty of the holiday. You do not have to restrict yourself to lean factory meats devoid of taste and nutrition. We can still enjoy the feasting traditions of our ancestors and the many health benefits of grassfed and pastured meats.
Traditional Foods for the Feast
Prime Rib Roast
This roast, grassfed until the mid-twentieth century, is a magnificent centerpiece for any holiday feast. Cut from the chine area of the steer, the most prized traditional cut, sometimes reserved for heroes, it is a magnificent sight. Resting on a natural rack of its own bones, covered by a thick mantle of its own healthy fat, it produces instant hunger when brought to the table.
Prime rib has a unique taste of its own, that no other beef or meat shares. It is a truly wonderful taste, enhanced by being roasted on the bone, enriched by the melting fat that bastes the meat as the roasting proceeds. The natural fat cap helps keep the meat moist and tender, while lending a magnificent flavor.
It is an old tradition to roast vegetables in the same pan as the prime rib. The vegetables caramelize in the flavorful fat that melts from the roast, developing a depth of flavor that must be tasted to be believed, turning crusty on the outside while remaining tender on the inside. Organic potatoes reach their height of perfection when roasted this way, which also adds scrumptious flavors to peeled and sliced carrots and onion wedges. A traditional grassfed prime rib roasted with vegetables in this manner is perhaps our favorite holiday meal, which we have at least once every holiday season. You can see a photo of one of our holiday prime ribs above.
Roast Tenderloin of Beef
A whole tenderloin of beef is another holiday choice for a special meal. Grassfed tenderloin, in particular, has a wonderful flavor. Tenderloin is naturally lean, and traditional preparations add fat to it in many different ways. It often had slivers of bacon inserted in the meat, a process called larding, that used a special needle. It was often wrapped in pork fat, or beef kidney fat. It was often marinated in oil with herbs. Many times, it was coated with large amounts of butter and basted as it roasted.
Yet our favorite method of cooking this magnificent, luxury cut is to cook it in a rich pastry, made with huge amounts of butter, known as Beef Wellington. The meat is coated with a mixture of finely chopped mushrooms and onions, sautéed in butter until they have shrunk and caramelized, which greatly intensifies their flavor. The coated meat is than wrapped in butter-rich puff pastry, and roasted to tender, flavorful, perfection.
The smell of the roasting grassfed meat, butter, and mushrooms makes you so hungry, and the sight of the wonderfully browned pastry as it is carried to the table is something to behold. The combination of the tender grassfed meat, sautéed mushroom coating, and buttery pastry is wonderful beyond my ability to describe it.
Roast Rack of Lamb
The rack of lamb is cut from the chine portion of the lamb, traditionally the most valuable and cherished cut. This cut is also a great choice for a holiday feast. Many people, especially in the U.S., think they do not like lamb, but that is only because they have not had quality grassfed lamb, from a traditional meat breed, which has a mild yet wonderful taste, especially when served rare to medium rare.
A rack of lamb has been prized in Europe as a holiday feast for a very long time, and we have learned how to enjoy this tradition as well.
Racks of lamb are often “Frenched,” which usually means that all the fat is trimmed off. I do not recommend this, as the fat is crucial to a magnificent roast. Sometimes during the holidays you will come across a “crown rack of lamb,” which is cut in such a way that it is almost guaranteed to come out overcooked. I do not recommend this either. Most American butchers will cut a rack of lamb between each bone, to make it easy to carve into individual chops once roasted. I do not recommend this either, as it almost always results in an overcooked lamb that has lost far too much of its natural juices and flavor.
The rack of lamb in our holiday feast rests on a natural rack of its own bones, retains a thick crown of its own magnificent fat, and is uncut and whole—no cuts between each chop to let the flavor out. It roasts quickly at a high heat, with organic potatoes and other vegetables in the pan, caramelizing in the melting fat, and taking on a wonderful, crusty flavor and texture. The smell of this cut as it roasts is almost as good as the taste when it is finally served. It is important to serve lamb hot, and not let it get lukewarm or cold. But the flavor of a true grassfed lamb, from a traditional meat breed, is magnificent.
No article about holiday feasts in winter can be complete without at least a mention of roast goose, which was one of the favorite Christmas meals in Europe for many centuries. In fact, having a roast goose for Christmas was so important that many employment contracts provided that the employer would give the employee a fat goose at Christmas time—it was that important.
Goose is not commonly made these days, and is a bit tricky to get right, but when you get it right, it is something very special. The plentiful, crisp skin is in a league of its own, being an incredibly satisfying mouthful, with a wonderful texture and flavor. The tender dark meat has a great depth of flavor which sets off the crisp skin perfectly. Any traditional holiday goose will include a delicious stuffing, often rich with apples, which go perfectly with the goose meat. And the traditional gravy, flavored by the rich, caramelized drippings, is something special, a symphony of flavors that enhance the stuffing, the skin, and the flavorful meat.
The goose gives off a lot of fat when roasting, so much fat that it must be carefully drained at various times during the roasting. Traditionally, this fat was saved, and used for cooking, and for healing. I have saved goose fat in this matter, and it is one of my favorite fats to cook with.
There are many other traditional centerpieces for the holiday meal, including hams (both cured and fresh), duck, capon, turkey, leg of lamb, rib roast of pork, roast pork loin, roasted beef strip loin, roast saddle of lamb, and others. All of them are roasted whole, with plenty of their own fat, and usually roasted on the bone. Our ancestors knew how to celebrate with food!
My first cookbook, Tender Grassfed Meat, contains many recipes for prime rib and rack of lamb, and the best grassfed Beef Wellington I have ever tasted.
Winter is coming. In Europe, those words were a serious warning. Winter, with the freezing cold it brought, the snow and occasional blizzards, was the time when many people died. In fact, often a person’s age and health were measured by how many winters they had survived. The Native Americans of the Great Plains also used this measurement.
Whether one survived the winter, before central heating and supermarkets, was largely dependent on having shelter, fuel, and, most importantly, the food that ensured survival. Our ancestors learned much about what to eat during this dangerous time, and passed this knowledge down through the generations.
While most people in the U.S. and Europe do not see winter as a threat, more people do get sick in winter and more people die. Many people expect to have colds and flus during winter, and many do. Most people have no idea of what their ancestors ate to survive the winter, and depend on doctors and prescription drugs, or over-the-counter drugs, to get them through it. Unfortunately, doctors know nothing about curing colds and flus, and the drugs are of limited effectiveness and all have negative effects. Some take flu shots, and get sick anyway.
We can still use the wisdom of our ancestors to stay healthy during the winter, by eating the foods that make our immune systems strong and able to fight off colds and illness.
Traditional Winter Foods
Our ancestors used a number of foods in winter, foods that they knew would help them stay healthy. Here are a few of the favorites in Europe and the United States.
This is the number one winter survival food in the entire world. Made from the bones of grassfed animals and pastured poultry, or wild game, these broths were the best mineral supplement ever invented. The long simmering process, usually at least twelve hours, extracted the nutrients, minerals, and gelatin from the bones and meat, and put it into the broth, where it could be easily absorbed. The gelatin from the bones and cartilage was also invaluable, improving the digestion, nourishing the gut, providing a protective coating to membranes and the stomach, and enabling the body to keep digesting and absorbing the nutrients from food. The broths were always cooked with plenty of unrefined salt, which also nourished and protected the body. The broths were always drunk hot, not scalding, but hot. The hot, nourishing liquid warmed the body from the inside as it was slowly sipped, helping to ward off the cold . Those who had it would drink broth every day of the winter, plenty of it.
A traditional European stew contained grassfed meat, onions, garlic, and a number of other winter vegetables. Often broth was added. These ingredients were slowly simmered together for hours, which caused the vegetables to disintegrate into the gravy. The meat also broke down, and merged its nutrients with those of the vegetables. When the stew was ready, it would be very tender, and thick. The tender meat and vegetables were easy to digest, and the nutrients extracted from the ingredients form the long cooking process were easy to digest and absorb. These stews were also rich in minerals and gelatin. They were always served hot, and there are few things as warming and satisfying as a forkful of hot, traditional stew. Eating a stew like this after coming in from the cold is one of the most satisfying things you can do, as your taste buds and body welcome the badly needed nutrients.
Winter Fruits and Vegetables
It was hard to get fresh vegetables in the cold of winter, yet our ancestors had their ways. Onions, carrots, and cabbage would keep for a long time in a root cellar, and were full of nutrients. Just about every stew, broth, and pot roast was made with onions, and carrots were also often available. Turnips would also keep in a root cellar, and were widely used. Later on, turnips were largely replaced by potatoes. These traditional vegetables were often added to broths and stews, and greatly increased the nutritional value of these warming dishes. Cabbage was not only cooked into stews and broths, but fermented into sauerkraut. Fruit was often dried during the fall and eaten during the winter, often cooked into stews, and added vital nutrients. Dried apples were a favorite in Europe.
Traditional fermented foods were a crucial part of the winter diet, all over Europe and the cold parts of Asia. The fermenting process not only preserved the food, but actually increased its vitamin content. The most famous and crucial fermented food was sauerkraut, which was eaten every day in small quantities, providing crucial vitamins such as Vitamin C, and friendly bacteria that helped the immune system and the digestive system. Many other vegetables were also fermented. The fermentation process used was lacto fermentation, which used salt and natural bacteria to do the job. This type of fermentation is the only way to get the nutrients from these foods that our ancestors did.
These traditional dishes consisted of cooking a large piece of pastured meat, always one of the cheaper cuts, in a covered pot with spices, herbs, and winter vegetables, with some liquid added, often broth. These delicious concoctions were cooked slowly until very tender, and until much of the vegetables had dissolved into the heavenly gravy. Very tender, and full of nutrients like a stew, these roasts were also served hot, and would warm the body and soul on a cold day, while giving valuable nutrition. And the smell as the meat slowly simmers away is so good.
The more tender cuts of meat, containing much fat, both in the meat and covering the meat, were expensive, and beyond the means of most people. But the nobles and those who could afford them would make great use of them in winter. Grassfed meat, roasted in its own fat, often served rare or medium, is loaded with vital nutrients, and the smell of roasting meat and fat is one of the best on earth. These roasts were served hot, with plenty of their own fat, which was eaten along with the meat. The pastured fat was full of vital nutrients, and helped the body resist the cold, while nourishing the brain. Even people of more modest means would enjoy roasts at feasts and holidays, with beef, lamb, pork, geese, ducks, and fat chickens being the favorites. The fat skin of geese and ducks was particularly prized as a winter food, as was the crisp fat that covered beef, pork and lamb roasts. Eaten hot, these were absolutely delicious. These roasts were often served with rich sauces and gravies made from their own fat and drippings, often with butter and cream, or added broth. These sauces added even more fat to the dish, in a most delicious and warming way.
Salted Meats and Fish
Much of the meat used in earlier times was dried, or salted, or fermented, so it would be available when needed in the winter. Ham, sausage, bacon, salt pork, pastrami, corned beef, and salted beef are examples of these foods. Fish were often salted or dried, also for the winter. These heavily salted meats were also eaten hot, and the fat they often contained helped the body resist the cold. Bacon in particular was a popular winter food, as were hundreds of kinds of sausages. The heavy fat content in these products not only made them delicious, but helped people resist the cold.
There are many other winter foods, but these are some of the main ones. We always eat plenty of broth, stews, pot roasts, and roasts during the winter. There are recipes for many of these traditional foods in Tender Grassfed Meat. I can often feel the strength and health flow into me as we eat these traditional foods. Good food can do more to keep us healthy, in my opinion, than anything else. And it tastes so good.