Ishmael eats plum pudding

“Plum-pudding is the term bestowed upon certain fragmentary parts of the whale’s flesh, here and there adhering to the blanket of blubber, and often participating to a considerable degree in its unctuousness. It is a most refreshing, convivial, beautiful object to behold. As its name imports, it is of an exceedingly rich, mottled tint, with a bestreaked snowy and golden ground, dotted with spots of the deepest crimson and purple. It is plums of rubies, in pictures of citron. Spite of reason, it is hard to keep yourself from eating it. I confess, that once I stole behind the foremast to try it. It tasted something as I should conceive a royal cutlet from the thigh of Louis le Gros might have tasted, supposing him to have been killed the first day after the venison season, and that particular venison season contemporary with an unusually fine vintage of the vineyards of Champagne.”

—Moby Dick, chapter 94.

eight pounds of miscellaneous pig fat

Got a bag of pig fat the other day. About six different types of fat on a pig, to judge from my bag—I’ve written here before about the fat of different animals having different uses, well, I suppose hairs can probably be split indefinitely. I chopped it all up pretty fine for rendering on the stove, a batch of this kind of fat and a batch of that. Just to see what happens. If the skies part I’ll tell you about it.

Got sore hands, nearly a couple blisters, sore shoulders, sore feet, just cutting up that eight pounds fat. Gave me a little new respect I may have lacked for professional cooks, and for people who take down whole animals. I’ve sometimes ambitions to raise a couple pigs. And this is good to know: I can’t just throw them on a table and cut them up, not by myself and not just with a little help. Takes brains.

Next wad of fat I process, I’ll take the fatback and just salt it in steaks. Call that salt pork, people. Call that a huge saving in labor and energy: rendering takes all day on the stove. It’s a process should really be done in late fall, which is really when pigs ought to be killed anyway—then you want the heat, anyway, and the fat might taste better; older animals, finished on the mast crop, if you know where to buy them. But I needed my fat right away, and pig sellers need inventory all year round, so.

I cannot abide by a lack of animal fat. In my house we insist on good things, like in olive oil we must have extra virgin and it must be organic; even by the five-gallon bag-in-a-box pouring the stuff on feels profligate. Our commercial options, frankly, are awful. Like in many things food, there are shades here of be rich or die. Yet, the lard this year is a buck a pound, and everything I could ask for. And I’m a snot.

Sorry I’m writing so funny. Lately I have to take what I can get.

other foods, other fats


I was raised on olive oil. I was for most of my life not fully aware that there really were other cooking fats. I knew we kept ‘vegetable oil,’ made from vegetables, presumably, I think for popping corn. Butter was for baking with.

Things change. At the moment, we have duck fat (pictured), bacon fat and leaf lard, in the refrigerator. We frequently have tallow (beef fat, as hard as wax) and chicken fat. Usually twice a year, after holidays, we have goose fat, a favorite. All of these, with a small investment of time, are free for the not-throwing-away. In the case of lard it’s usually a matter of someone else throwing it away, but if you ask nice, it’s still usually free.

As much as I love olive oil and butter, there are some things that other fats do better. Poultry fat, for richness of flavor, cannot be beat. Leaf lard, as everybody knows, though hardly anybody has tried it, makes the best, flakiest pie crust. And not only that: lard-butter pie crusts are easier to make than butter-only ones. But lard is good for pan-frying, too: a little heavy, perhaps, but iconic in greens and beans, and good especially for use in the cold months. We don’t get much tallow on account of our not eating much beef, and the beef we do eat (don’t know his name, this last one, but he was an intact, one-year-old grass-fed bull) hasn’t got much fat on it. I suspect however that it has a higher smoking point than some other fats, though. I am still learning.

We keep a few other fats on hand, like coconut oil for popping corn, and sunflower oil, for I don’t actually know what, come to think of it. And I’m curious to play with grape seed oil and some nut oils, which I suspect I’ll get around to in good time. But those aren’t quite so free, or, now that I get around to mentioning it, local.