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The Flat Cap on ... Lard

Today The Flat Cap has been looking at the important cooking and baking staple that is lard, as well as trying to find out more about its origins and uses. Lard comes from pigs, or more specifically any part of the pig where there is a high proportion of adipose tissue – the flabby bits. It is white and makes the best crisp flaky pastry but because of its piggy origins it’s not suitable for vegetarians and certain cultures. The Flat Cap thinks they’re missing out, although they do have Trex to fall back on; more of that below.

Lard hasn’t always been considered an artery-clogging fad, or just the fat chosen by lazy chefs. A century ago, rendered pig fat was the obvious choice for frying, cakes, biscuits, and many other dishes. It had its heyday in the nineteenth century, because up until then, other types of fat were relatively expensive and butter was a luxury. One of the biggest lard barons was a chap called Samuel Kilvert who lived in Sale in Cheshire. He had a big refinery and the lard that he developed was used in kitchens across the UK. In those days the poor people lived mainly on potatoes and bread, which were cheap, supplemented whenever possible with whatever source of protein and fat they could afford. Lard was used for cooking and when hardened it was also spread on bread and eaten as a snack, cut into shapes, or sculpted into replicas of small woodland creatures. There weren’t any takeaways back then, and because the motor car had still to be invented there were no drive thru restaurants either. If you were poor and wanted a happy meal lard was as close as you got, and the children of these poor people got a fun toy (until their little lardy animals became soft and misshapen). During World War Two lard was often used as a substitute for butter.

Ukraine holds lots of festivals celebrating lard. In 2008 the town of Poltava held its own lard festival. Together with lard selling there were a lot of fun contests, including one where men competed to be the fastest at drinking vodka and eating lard. Also many folk groups entertained the public. Continuing the country’s love affair with lard the first ever museum-restaurant of lard called “Salo” opened in Lviv, Western Ukraine in June 2011. Visitors were able to view over thirty lard sculptures and also taste various dishes made from unrendered pig fat. A working installation of a heart made of lard was the central element of the exhibition. Other highlights included lard sushi and even a dessert – chocolate covered lard. If you want to be immortalised in lard just contact the museum restaurant and they will make a life-size lard statue of you.

As noted above if you’re a vegetarian you have to use a lard substitute like Trex. Trex shares its name with a seventies pop group. Probably to avoid any confusion the latter helpfully put a full stop between the “T” and the “r” and went on to release such hits as “Telegram Sam”, “Metal Guru” and “I love to boogie”. Unfortunately for T.Rex the band’s lead singer Marc Bolan was killed when the car his girlfriend was driving crashed into a tree.

The Flat Cap found a man called Heston Bloomingdale (sic) in his local telephone directory and rang the number. The guy who answered claimed to know lots about food, and lard in particular, and he supplied the following interesting lardy facts:

• In 2014 a consortium of UK businessmen applied for lottery funding to set up their own theme park called “Lard World” on some disused land in Lancashire. After several meetings with local councillors, senior civil servants and a government minister it finally became apparent that this was just a scam and the plans were quickly dropped. Local newspaper the Lancashire Telegraph triumphantly reported, “Lard World backers fail to grease palms” whilst the Preston based Lancashire Evening Post headlined, “Take Fat – slippery, lardy conmen foiled”

• Blocks of lard sellotaped to old walking boots make a safe and inexpensive alternative to ice skates • As if to prove the above point if you rearrange the letters of “Bolero dancers” Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean they spell out the words “once lard bores”; giving a subtle hint to the Olympic medal winners’ humble origins. Prior to becoming an ice skater Dean was a policeman and it is rumoured he would put lard in his work boots to keep the balls of his feet soft when pounding the streets of Nottingham in search of burglars and shoplifters. • Lard got a bit of a bad press after a book called “The Jungle” was written by American author Upton Sinclair. In it Sinclair described workers falling into rendering tanks and being ground along with animal parts into “Durham’s Pure Leaf Lard” • “Cooking fat” is a spoonerism for the annoying feline family pet that takes a pee on your pile of clean washing just because it is too lazy to walk over to its litter tray • In 2004 Christmas dinners throughout the UK were under threat from a shortage of lard as Eastern Europeans stockpiled cheap cuts of pork. The increased demand from recently-joined members of the European Union such as Hungary and Poland (who were buying within the EU to avoid a levy on non-EU imports) had led to a shortfall of available pork to turn into lard. And as everyone knows lard can be used to make mince pies and Christmas puddings, and also roast potatoes • “Lardophobia” is the fear of embarrassing greasy stains • Comedian Peter Kay once created a fictional dog friendly fire safety officer called Keith Lard who appeared in the hit television series Phoenix Nights. After a real fire safety officer called Keith Laird complained that the hapless character was based on him Channel 4 coughed up a reported £10,000 in damages. The broadcaster also agreed to include a disclaimer stating that the likeness was entirely coincidental • In a 2014 interview former Italian Prime Minister Sylvio Berlusconi was asked by Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman if he had ever called the German Chancellor Angela Merkel an “unf***able lard-arse”. Berlusconi denied the allegation • Manchester born radio presenter and musician Marc Riley was known as “Lard” when he used to work with fellow presenter Mark Radcliffe

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