Monday, February 02, 2015

Lard, Lovely Lard.

A few years ago, on sites aimed at the food-intrigued, an image of an obviously jolly English family at the beach was circulated and re-posted and became almost famous. The slogan on the image said ‘They are Happy Because They Eat Lard’ and it purported to be a promotional poster from Britain’s World War II ‘Lard Information Council’. As I think is well known now, not only was the poster an amusing fake created by a British satirical magazine in the ’90s, there was never any such body as the Lard Information Council.

The truth was a surprise to me (as well as a disappointment, for the image was such fun) because, damn it, the British should have had a Lard Information Council.  Could anything sound more authentically British than a Lard Information Council?

Which brings me to the topic today, which is …… lard. There is no doubt that the best short pastry needs a percentage of lard, which is why it needs to recover its reputation. Even the best product has its dark side however, and the dark side of lard history is that once upon a time in the not so distant past, there were such manufactured products as ‘lard butter’ and ‘lard cheese.’

We do not need the Oxford English Dictionary to tell us that lard is ‘the fat of swine,’ but I for one was grateful to find that within this venerable resource was a pointer to a most appropriate recipe for the day. The word ‘lard’ is attested in English from the first half of the fifteenth century, and one of the earliest references is in a fascinating manuscript called the Liber Cue Cocorum. This manuscript was written in about 1430 (although the date quoted in the OED is 1475 – I am not sure why) and is a cookery book written in verse. It contains a recipe for a dish called Bucnade, which appears in other medieval manuscripts and appears to be a white stew of meat. The version in the Liber Cocorum uses ‘lard’ but other meats and onions appear in other recipes.

Take almonde mylke as I con preche;
Coloure hit with safron as I þe teche;
Fors hit with poudur, þat is gode;
Take larde of porke, wele soþyn, by þo rode;
Hew hit in gobettes wele afyne;
Loke þey ben smale and put hem inne;
Lye hit with floure or amydone,
Boyle hit wele and sett hit done;
Florysshe hit with powdur, as I þe kenne,
Þenne may hit be served, before gode men

P.S. I gave a recipe for the traditional Northern English specialty of Lardy Cakes (or Fat Cakes) in a previous post.


Lapinbizarre said...

Are lardy cakes really a Northern speciality? Though raised north of Manchester, I first encountered them when I was in my 20s, bought on Oxford market by a friend raised in the Home Counties and educated at Cheltenham Ladies College. She was very familiar with and fond of them. So I have always regarded them as a South Midlands "thing". From the first, however, they struck me as something very Northern in spirit. On a par with Eccles cakes. Were they found on your side of the Pennines? Roger Mortimer

The Old Foodie said...

Hi Roger. I always understood them to be a Northern English specialty - but that may be a belief rather than a proven historical fact! There are many similar regional specialties of course, so perhaps we are only talking about the names of the cakes?