Living High on the Hog

I was looking for my recipe clipping for the very first biscuits and pancakes I made on my own. It is a small piece of brown paper cut from a Commodities flour bag. . Commodities were part of the USDA program to provide supplemental food to the elderly and  poor among others.

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My grandmother was an elderly widow on a fixed income in the sixties. She would come and stay at our house for the summer or for several months. Along with her would come her USDA commodity food products. There would be flour, sugar, peanuts, peanut butter, powdered milk, and more. Lard was the fat to cook with back then, soon to be surpassed by Crisco and its ilk. What I remember about Grandma are the butterscotch hard candies she would pack in her suitcase, which I looked forward to getting slipped as a treat. I think I would just stare at the candies longingly being too shy and not wanting to ask for them directly. That was me even in my own family. Waiting on the edges to be acknowledged and provided for. I had a very loving family but I internalized a sense of modesty to the extent of waiting, not making demands, and never putting myself in the center of attention. (For those of you who know me I have changed, quite a bit, and am not the shy retiring girl I used to be.) But back to Grandma…

Grandma would cook with lard. There was no shame in frying up chicken or anything else for that matter and mashed potatoes were smothered with butter, or oleomargarine. She made the best biscuits ever. I have no idea what recipe she used; I’ll have to ask my sister. She has more knowledge about our family food history than I do. These biscuits were melt-in your-mouth tasty. Eggs would be fried and grease poured over them in the cooking. Grandma and my mom had a bit of weight on them. As they grew older and frailer in health they became thinner but one could always see the remnants of the belly and the round face. I have to watch out for this. I look in the mirror and sometimes see my mother’s face looking back at me. The belly is creeping up on me now too.

Lard is making a comeback into the kitchens of America. It is hog fat. It is processed to a degree but does not have to have trans fats. At least the pound I bought recently has 0% trans fats. It is not pure unprocessed “real” food because it has to be preserved in some way. The additives stabilize taste and texture. Shortening has always made a flakier pastry than butter but shortenings are out of favor. Butter seems to have gone out of favor too but hopefully is making a comeback. There are books that tout the healthier nature of butter to the “butter-like substances” filling the dairy shelves, and there are those who claim lard is healthier than butter. The idea came to me to make pie dough and to use lard. Actually I was watching a TV show on pies across America and one bakery featured used a combination of lard and butter and I liked that idea very much and wanted to try it. So I find a pound of lard for about the same cost as the pound of butter and bring it home. And what about biscuits? Perhaps Grandma’s were made with lard. Hmmmmmm?

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Which brings us to the other hog fat that is tasty, tasty, tasty, and which fragrance makes one’s mouth water: Bacon. And not just any bacon. Uncured bacon. Uncured bacon is processed in some fashion but not with the chemical additives so it is safer to eat. On my recent foray into the world of Trader Joe’s my husband and I looked hard and long at the meat. The price of uncured bacon is out of our normal budget but there was this package of ends and pieces. Hey, what the hey. I usually have found myself hacking off an inch or two from the bacon package to flavor dishes and not frying up slices. So this will be fine; I can hack off a chunk to use. I bring the entire frozen package camping. I can hack off a chunk and we can put it with our eggs in the morning. Labor Day weekend we are camping at our new found local private campground and cooking up our eggs in the cast iron skillet on the Coleman road trip grill. This is my husband’s fabulous new toy since the camping grill and the camp-stove blew up earlier this season!

ep2015 005The taste of this uncured bacon was heavenly. Umami: a pleasant savory taste. It fills the mouth. There is a lot of bacon grease that we poured into a tin camping cup and kept. Women used to keep the grease can on the back of the stove to reuse. And then I think: I have two small potatoes that I brought for hash browns and an onion. How about we cook these in the bacon grease? And we do.

I cut up two small potatoes into matchsticks. I dice one onion. We fry this up in the cast iron skillet, stirring, and then letting them get nice and crispy. Yum, yum!

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Now there’s a camp breakfast! Granted one cannot cook in fat all the time but every once in awhile, will it hurt?


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