The New Home Economics


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End of summer

Fall is right around the corner, but my gardens are lush thanks to an unusually wet August. Soldier Beetle // via The New Home EconomicsSoldier beetle—a beneficial insect that preys on aphids. I usually see these on orange or yellow flowers, an excellent choice for camouflage.

Newly-hatched Monarch butterfly caterpillar, via The New Home Economics

After a very slow start, we’ve now released more monarchs this year than we did in 2015—the current count is 20. They are so tiny when they first hatch!

Black Swallowtail butterfly, via the New Home Economics

We also raised three black swallowtail butterfly caterpillars, but unfortunately one of them hatched out of its chrysalis with a deformed wing. We ended up mercy-killing it and will donate its body to the STEM classroom at school. Pictured: one of the lucky two that came out perfectly.

Lord of the Rings Kubb, via The New Home Economics

Adam and the kids made a Lord of the Rings-themed kubb set for our family a few weeks ago. With three artists and two months off school, the arts and crafts production reaches a fever pitch during the summer.

Community garden pumpkins, via the New Home Economics

I received an email from our community garden coordinator yesterday mentioning that my pumpkins are now blocking the paths on both sides of my plot. Oops! Going to cut them back later today. These are Musquee de Provence pumpkins; they started slowly but have quadrupled in size the past four weeks.

Harvesting potatoes, via The New Home Economics

We’ve been harvesting potatoes for over a month now. Instead of buying seed potatoes this year, I simply cut up some old sprouty potatoes we had on hand from the co-op. Result: our best potato harvest yet.

Moon rise over Minneapolis, via The New Home Economics

By this time next year, my deck arbor should look how I originally envisioned it: covered in vines, cool and shady even during the middle of the day. This is only year two, so I’m pleased with how far it’s come along.

Rudbeckia, via the New Home Economics

These rudbeckia laciniatas (green-headed coneflower) were taking over my boulevard in 2015. At 6+ feet tall, they were way too big for that spot—and spreading fast. We transplanted all of them to family hunting land this spring and most of them survived! They look much better in their natural meadow environment.

Goldenrod, via The New Home Economics

That meadow is also full of goldenrod. I picked a nice large bunch to dry for tea this winter; apparently goldenrod tea is full of health benefits. I’ve never tried it—I will report back on both flavor and miraculous changes to my well-being.

Lavendar, via The New Home Economics

I tried lavender again this year, in a pot on my steps. It’s grown quite a bit but it just… will… not… bloom. It’s running out of time, too. Lavender: I have never successfully grown it. I’m thinking this is a sun issue—very few areas in my home yard are very sunny. I may try it at my extremely sunny community garden plot next year.

Herb spiral, via The New Home Economics

My herb spiral, in its overgrown end-of-summer state. The sorrel (right) really took off, to the point where we don’t use nearly enough of it to keep up. I like the flavor of it, but no one else in the family does so it’s not getting much use.

Brown eyed susans, via The New Home Economics

A former co-worker divided many of her brown-eyed susan plants mid-summer last year and gave me several. They are thriving. In general, brown-eyed susan plants are easy to grow but individual plants are relatively short-lived, so it pays to let them spread a little by seed. Same goes for purple coneflowers.

This is one of MANY reasons why organic materials are the only mulch to choose if you’re going to plant natives. Put them in, mulch them with old leaves or woodchips, then let them spread and move around a little bit. You’ll be rewarded with volunteers to share with family and friends and spread around your own garden. It’s much more difficult to do that with plastic or rock mulch—you’re tied to the very first placement of the plant, and forced to replace it entirely when it dies.

Zucchini, via The New Home Economics

This used to be a garden path! Now it is an overgrown zucchini plant. Aah, August.

Ostrich ferns, via The New Home Economics

Ostrich ferns and chocolate mint have been waging war on each other for several years in this north-side foundation planting. It’s a pretty contained spot—there’s only one direction for them to escape and it’s narrow (to the east/left side of the photo). The mint started so strong that I was afraid it would completely eradicate the ostrich ferns, but this year thanks to plentiful rain, the ostrich ferns really took off. Will 2017 be the year I FINALLY have enough fiddleheads to actually harvest and cook some? We’ll see.

Spider, via the New Home Economics

August is also officially the season of the big bugs, especially given our tropical weather. Out in the country, literal clouds of mosquitoes are helping to create literal clouds of dragonflies. This spider built a web between our fence and our nannyberry. By the end of summer, the prey-predator balance in the insect world of my yard means I worry more about saving butterfly caterpillars than eliminating aphids or cabbage worms.

I’m all for edible landscaping, but mixing in as many natives as possible creates habitat that brings your yard to life. And it is amazing.

 

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Garden Plan 2016

Hello again friends! I hope you had a wonderful holiday season. Now that my yard and gardens are buried in snow, it’s time to start planning for next season. Here’s the layout I came up with for this year. Click to enlarge:

Layout of garden // via The New Home Economics

Not terribly different from the last 2-3 years, honestly. Just a couple of new things I’m trying:

Peppers: I’m not growing peppers in the main vegetable garden this year. Rather, I’m going to plant 3-4 of them each in 3-4 big containers which I’ll spread around the sunniest parts of the front yard flower beds. I have some extra space in my cherry tree garden while I wait for the tree and surrounding shrubs to get bigger (I got tired of weeding this in 2015). I’ve not had good yields of peppers the past 2 years, so I want to give the garden a break from at least one nightshade vegetable.

Spacing: each year I have to re-learn the spacing lesson. I’m going to try once again to control myself when it comes to how many plants I try to cram into each area (exception: I’ve gotten good at crowding onions). It’s hard when you have a tiny garden!

Sabathani Community Garden: after two years of growing only pumpkins and potatoes there, we’re going to add just a couple of other things: namely kohlrabi and (maybe) some radishes and/or onions if I end up with extra.

Other than that, we’re just continuing to try and rotate things through. I’m growing two trellis’ worth of cucumbers, in hopes that I’ll produce enough for the squirrels AND me (rather than just enough for them). I also doubled the number of onions, because onions fresh from the garden are SO good. We plant onion “starts” quite close together go down the row, picking every other green onion to allow the remaining onions to get bigger. Last year, only a handful ever got close to full size.

I’m trying two new-to-me varieties of vegetables this year:

Watermelon Radish, via Seed Savers Exchange

First is the Watermelon Radish. It’s not just for looks either; these are seriously delicious. We first tried them at the farmers’ market last summer but have purchased them from the co-op several times since. I may try to squeeze a row of these in at my community garden plot. I ordered this (and all my seeds) from Seed Savers Exchange in Iowa.

Musquee de Provence pumpkin

Next up is the gorgeous Musquee de Provence pumpkin. I love Long Island Cheese pumpkins, but after two years in a row it’s time to try something new. Crossing my fingers for a long enough growing season–these need 110 days!

It might be useful to review some of my past garden plans. I keep making the same mistakes!

2015 Garden Plan

Garden Layout for 2015

The biggest problem with the 2015 garden plan was that I did not leave enough space for the beets (top right). The parsnips got shaded by the grapevine, leaned over the beets, which leaned over the carrots, and NONE of them sprouted very well. (It sure looked good when I planted it in May, though!) I also continue to have poor results with radishes (yet continue to not give up). My peppers also did not do well–I picked them up at the Friends Plant Sale as I often do, and many of them were spindly and weak. A dose of too-strong compost tea (oops) then killed some of them.

BUT! But. We had great crops of peas and beans. We *would* have had great crops of tomatoes and cucumbers had the ___ ___ squirrels not eaten so many. I was on the right track with planting smaller-sized tomatoes last year, but this year I might plant all F1 hybrid tomatoes and skip the heirlooms. When squirrels take so many, I need a plant that seriously produces.

2014 Garden Plan

2014 Garden Plan

Aaah, 2014: the Crazy Garden. The main thing I remember: this was *way* too many plants for the center-left spot. Even though that is the biggest spot of the garden, to think I could do carrots, kohlrabi, beets, chard, broccolli AND cauliflower was way too much. At most, 3 broccoli or cauliflower plants would have fit this area, along with maybe two rows of something smaller like chard or carrots. Kohlrabi plants also get pretty big. The other issue with the broccolli, kohlrabi, AND cauliflower was that they took too long to get to maturity–by the time the plants got ready to make heads, they stopped getting enough sunlight to do so–I didn’t get anything from those plants.

The longer I garden in this spot the more I’m checking the “days to maturity” on the seed packets / plant labels. The season of full sun is short between two 2-story buildings. Although brussels sprouts also did not do a whole lot at Sabathani (which gets plenty of sun for a very long season)–perhaps insufficient soil fertility? They just never amounted to much. This was part of the reason why I abandoned pretty much all cruciferous vegetables in 2015–I’d had it from the previous year.

2013 Garden Plan

2013 Garden Layout

For 2013, I remember the zucchini taking over the whole left section of the garden, and basil never getting tall enough because the garlic was so huge. You’ll notice I do not have garlic in my garden for 2016. I’ve been thinking a lot about rabbits and squirrels. And I can’t afford to use space in this rabbit-proof enclosure for plants that rabbits don’t eat. So I planted garlic all over my flower beds in front of the house this fall. I can identify garlic plants easily enough that I’m not worried about finding them.

Rabbits don’t eat tomatoes, either, but I have the tomato trellis here and very little sunny space elsewhere. So here they remain.

2012 Garden Plan

2012 Garden Plan

Oh boy, we are heading into the deep recesses of my memory: 2012. And clearly I didn’t learn from my mistakes in 2012 when planning my 2014 garden, because I crammed to many large cruciferous veggies in that left-middle spot again. Looking at these old plans makes me very grateful for my new herb spiral garden, which frees up the space I used to dedicate to them. My garden plans get more simple each year.

2011 Garden Plan

Garden layout 2011

Speaking of complicated garden plans, wow. This one sure looks neat as designed. This was before I built my tomato trellis, so it was the last year we used tomato cages. It was also the year we installed our four wall trellises. I really upped my garden game in 2011! But this plan was so complex. It took me a very long time to plan each section, and once again I crammed too many things into the center-left section (story of my gardening life). The celeriacs never amounted to anything and the cabbages took over and crushed everything around them. See the size of the “tomato” circles? My cabbage circles should have been the same size, in this design.

The thing I like about this design though is the biodiversity in each plot–meant to thwart garden pests that I struggled with my first few years of gardening. But since I started adding more and more native plants to my yard in 2012, the number of pests I have to deal with has plummeted. My biggest challenge now is maintaining fertility in this intensely-gardened soil, and continuing to tweak the varieties that I choose to take advantage of the intense but short period of full sun between two houses.

What am I going to do about fertility this year? Last year I added a large amount of Happy Frog Soil Conditioner to each of the beds, but the results were not as spectacular as I hoped. Disappointing, because I have great luck with that in my container gardens each year. I thought about trying lime this year, but our soil is alkaline so that might do more harm than good. Readers, can you comment on that? This was an interesting read about lime.

Any other advice for me? Is it time to finally take my own Master Gardener advice and just get a dang soil test?!


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Pumpkin Spice Latte and other fall happenings

It’s really, really fall! Time to take millions of Instagrams of your feet in boots and your hands in mittens, preferably holding a pumpkin spice latte! But first… FIRST! Let’s talk about gardening.

Chard with leaf miner damage, via New Home Economics

I like to review my successes and failures at the end of each season. For learning purposes, you know. One of my failures this year was a leafminer infestation on my chard. I wasn’t sure what was going on, but I used the always-helpful “What’s wrong with my plant?” resource and sure enough, it turned out to be leafminers. The leaf shown in the picture has multiple things going on, because I also noticed towards the end of summer that goldfinches were landing in the tank and picking at these leaves, presumably to get those tiny worms.

Anyway I think leafminer season is over now because my chard perked up a bit this week. So today I cleared out all the junk in my main stock tank and moved a bunch of kale in, from various places in the yard.

Kale in a stock tank

I have a hoop house that fits on top of this tank; I will add it in a few weeks when it starts getting really cold. We haven’t even had a freeze here in Minneapolis yet, so this has been quite the long growing season. I should be able to extend my harvest quite a bit with the hoop house, but I’m not expecting much more growth out of anything.

Coir seed starting pods

While cleaning out the tank I found a bunch of these coconut coir seed starting pods that I planted there in March. I had used them to start a bunch of greens indoors. Looks like they basically did not break down… at all. So many products that promise to break down in the soil do not actually do that in one growing season. It would have been better to cut these all off with a scissors at the time of planting, as the clerk at my favorite garden store suggested when I first bought them.

Autumn Joy Sedum, via The New Home Economics

Another thing I learned this year (every year?) is: nature truly does abhor a vaccuum. If you have a blank spot in your garden, it will fill with weeds over… and over. I added a large new perennial garden in front this year, and because the perennials were still so small, it got very weedy. Just as I was beginning to feel overwhelmed with it all, I remembered to take 5 steps north and look at my established flower beds. They hardly need any maintenance at this point, because there is no room for weeds to grow. Picture, above: Autumn Joy Sedum, which is in full gorgeous bloom right now. It is not a native, but I still recommend it because bees love it and.. well, obviously, it blooms in autumn.

Purple Dome Aster with honey bees, via The New Home Economics

Speaking of fall blooming plants: my purple dome asters are spectacular this year! This one was covered in honey bees today. You’re welcome, local apiary owner! Purple dome asters *are* a native, and so easy to grow. Well-behaved too. (Meaning: they won’t spread like weeds all over everywhere.)

Potato harvest at Sabathani Community Garden

Another success: we’ve been eating all the potatoes we can hold out of our community garden plot for two months going strong now. And the most successful variety? Some red ones that we planted from a handful of co-op potatoes that had sprouted in our cupboard. Go figure. I think I know where I’m getting my seed potatoes next year…

Our prettier pumpkins, via the New Home Economics

But now on to the MAIN AUTUMN EVENT. Pumpkins, of course! I grew Long Island Cheese pumpkins for the second year in a row because aesthetically, really, they just can’t be beat. They also taste great. These five are our prettiest of the bunch. I put together a little autumnal display on our coffee table last weekend and within 3 hours the table was full of homework, Harry Potter books, Pokemon cards, you name it. So here it is: an autumnal display IN A REAL HOUSE.

Not so pretty pumpkins, via The New Home Economics

We also had a few pumpkins that were *NOT* pretty. You can even see the moldy patch on the bottom one. They got attacked by squirrels, slugs, you name it. But each one was still mostly good, so I was determined to still use them up. And that’s what did today. Step 1: Cut them up with a very large knife.

Pumpkins ready to bake

Step 2: Arrange them in pans. I usually cut pumpkins in half and bake them cut side down (so they don’t dry out), but these had to be chunked up to get rid of the bad parts. Put in 350 (F) degree oven. Go out in garden and completely forget about pumpkins baking in oven.

Baked pumpkins, ready to preserve, via the New Home Economics

Step 3: smell the pumpkin baking from outside and take them out of the oven. Let cool for a while. Scoop into ice cube trays for freezing. (Once frozen, transfer to gallon freezer bags.) I like the cube method; you can take as much as you need this way. It takes 5-8 cubes to make a cup of pureed pumpkin, depending on the water content of your particular squash. Also: I don’t always puree the pumpkin before using it. Pies: yes, puree it. Breads: nah.

Ingredients for pumpkin spice latte, via The New Home Economics

Step 4: assemble the ingredients for a Pumpkin Spice Latte.

Recipe: Pumpkin Spice Latte (for one)

1 1/2 c. whole milk
2 shots of espresso
2 Tablespoons pumpkin
1 Tablespoon maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1 pinch nutmeg
(Or 1 teaspoon “pumpkin pie spice”)

Gently heat the pumpkin, milk, syrup, and spices in a sauce pan over low-med heat until nice and hot. Whisk frequently so your milk doesn’t scorch.

Immersion blending pumpkin spice latte

Step 5: Immersion blend your milk and pumpkin mixture. This gives you a nice frothy top. You can skip this step if you’re using already-pureed pumpkin.

PSL FACE!

Finally, the most important step of all. Step 6: Take a selfie with your pumpkin spice latte and post it to the social media channel of your choice.

Happy Fall!

 


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Harvest time

It’s time for me to come clean. After last week’s native plants manifesto, I realized I’m a giant hypocrite because I plant an entire garden of non-native annuals every single year. Yep, that would be my vegetable gardens. And I’m not giving them up. So, now that my confession is over and you’ve forgiven me (right?), let’s talk about something positive: the harvest.

Long Island Cheese PumpkinsWe have more Long Island Cheese pumpkins than we know what to do with. My decision to grow them this year (at our community garden plot) was 100% fueled by this post and accompanying recipe. We made the soup last night and it was good. Subtle, but good. Once cured, these pumpkins do have a pretty great flavor. I’ll bake them up one at a time (because I can literally only fit one at a time in my oven) and freeze the flesh for pies, breads, pancakes, etc.  I’ve also given a few away to friends and family. So fun to have a big success!

Romanesco Broccolli failNo year is complete without a few fails: my Romanesco Broccolli still has not formed heads and I don’t see how it will now, since the sun has now dipped behind my neighbor’s roofline for most of the day. I also crowded too many plants in this little space. The broccoli and cauliflower really shaded the purple kohlrabi. There are one or two edible kohlrabis in there, but the rest are mostly greens. I’ll still cook them up—all are edible. I think we ran out of the large amounts of sunlight the Romanescos need, just at the time they need them. This particular spot is truly a short-season garden.

HopsSpeaking of fails, here’s another one that only recently came to light.  We started talking to a fellow home-brewer at National Night Out, and realized that we are not growing the right kind of hops (he informed us with his nose in the air). We have Golden Hops; apparently they’re not really recommended for brewing. No wonder the homebrew we made with them last year didn’t taste quite right! We were planning on removing this vine anyway next year. It has gotten too big for this little garden spot, and we might just let it die and replace it with Cascade, or another traditional brewing hops plant. Even Master Gardeners can make big mistakes!

Blueberry preservesEnough of the fails, in a year where we have SO MUCH for which to be thankful. One of those things was the opportunity for me to take a Friday off work in August so that the family could go pick blueberries in eastern Wisconsin. We made quite a few (18?) half-pints of this simply amazing blueberry preserves recipe, and have been enjoying it weekly since.

TomatoesI never grow enough tomatoes for canning, so as usual I purchased 40 lbs of canning tomatoes from Gardens of Eagan—the best value I’ve been able to find at $1/lb. I had grand plans, and my best friend and I thought we could drink wine and can tomatoes at the same time. You can imagine how much we actually got done!  We processed 1/3 of them raw, while another 1/3 of them baked in the oven using Trout Caviar‘s roasted tomato recipe. We intended to can the roasted tomatoes in these half pints (we use them as a pizza sauce base), but ended up freezing them because my patience for the canning process is wearing thin, in general.

Tomato PasteLater that week I still had 1/3 of the tomatoes to use up, so Adam and I tried our hands at tomato paste, using this recipe. It was easy! I’ll definitely do that again. We froze the resulting paste in ice cube trays and I have a feeling it will be gone before the new year.

tomatopaste2Frozen cubes of tomato paste, ready to be used.

La Ratte fingerling potatoesWe dug up three final hills of “La Ratte” fingerling potatoes the first weekend of September, from our community garden plot. They seem to be storing pretty well so far, but we’ll use them up before we really test how long they can last.

Chamomile flowersI didn’t dry quite as much mint as I usually do, but I doubled my usual amount of dried chamomile flowers for tea this winter. Good thing too; we’ve already run through one minor illness in the first month of school.

Little Bluestem grass in the fallOver in the prairie boulevard, Little Bluestem is turning absolutely gorgeous.

Aromatic AsterIn the backyard woodland garden, this wee little aromatic aster (mixed in with some lemon balm) is adding a nice little splash of color.

We have two remaining harvests in our community garden plot, too: our brussels sprouts and Anneke’s strawberry popcorn, which is close to being ready. Part of me wishes we would have a freeze to sweeten up those brussels. We’re living on borrowed time right now here in the Twin Cities; the average first frost date is September 21.

I hope this post has illustrated that every year in the garden, you have some successes and some failures. This blog is part of how I keep track of mine. It’s all part of the process, right?!


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Late summer garden

Less than two weeks until school starts? Say it ain’t so. Here’s what’s happening in my gardens.

Tiger swallowtail on coneflowerWe’ve had more bees and butterflies in our yard this year than ever before. It could be because we have more coneflowers than ever before; they really spread. Here’s a tiger swallowtail in the foreground and a red admiral in the background, enjoying the coneflowers next to a carpentry project Adam was working on last week.

Bee on Prairie Blazing StarI managed to save one of the Prairie Blazing Star plants in my boulevard from rabbits this spring. It’s finally blooming, and looks glorious at 5+ feet tall. Now that the coneflowers are just past their peak, it’s providing some nourishment for this bee. Level two of wildflower gardening is when you figure out a way to provide for pollinators during the entire growing season, and the very early and very late seasons can be tricky. But this Prairie Blazing Star, some sunflowers, and goldenrod are going to be nice late summer/early fall food sources.

Vegetable gardenMy main vegetable garden is being taken over by pie pumpkins and hops (you can see the hops actually coming in through my bedroom window upstairs). The tomatoes (trellised at right) have been a bit underwhelming this year, but I’m hearing that from other people, too, so I’m guessing it was partly having to do with our (so far) mostly cool summer.

A picking of vegetablesA picking of “crazy” vegetables, the theme of our home garden this year. Yard long beans, white cucumbers, a variety of peppers, purple green beans, and some not-quite-ripe-yet Sungold tomatoes. We ripen them on the counter top to prevent squirrel thievery.

Community garden panoramaHere’s a panorama of my community garden plot at Sabathani, which is being overtaken by Long Island Cheese pumpkins. Behind the pumpkins, our dying-off potatoes (we’ve eaten three of the seven hills now), then the brussels sprouts mingling nicely with anise hyssop, and finally Anneke’s strawberry popcorn in the back. Random composting instructions in Español on the side.

Brussels sproutsAt last, my first ever successful brussels sprouts experience. I can hardly wait to eat these!


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And now, squash vine borers

Well, that’s it. I’m pretty much ready to throw in the towel on 2011’s garden. It’s been one thing after another around here — thank goodness I don’t have to actually sustain my family on this garden because we’d be facing one lean winter. Earlier this week I noticed my squash and pumpkin vines were looking a little wilty. Then today they seemed a LOT wilty:

I could see this little guy from several feet away:

squash vine borer

It’s a squash vine borer. This is my first experience with them. We ended up pulling out ALL of the squash and pumpkin plants. So depressing. They were full of these little worms. I didn’t dare compost them, so we bagged everything up and threw it in the garbage.

The good news: these borers do not attack cucumber plants, so hopefully my pickle crop is still safe.

U of M Extension has some really great info on preventing squash vine borers.  Among the ideas:

You can physically exclude adult borers by placing floating row covers over your vine crops when they start to vine (or for non-vining varieties, starting late June or early July) or when you first detect squash vine borer adults. Keep the barriers in place for about two weeks after the first adult borer has been seen. Be sure the row covers are securely anchored to prevent adults from moving underneath it.

Caution: Generally do not use floating row covers anytime crops are flowering. This prevents bees from pollinating your vegetables…

My favorite garden pest book suggested pulling out all the diseased parts, squashing every worm you find, then pushing the healthy part of the vine into the soil and piling some compost on top in hopes that it will send out roots and maybe (maybe) I’ll have a chance of still getting a pumpkin.  I tried it with one really healthy-looking vine, but I’ll be surprised if it works.

Well, there’s always next year I guess.  Here’s a picture of the adult, for future reference:

adult squash vine borer

I never saw these guys in late June, but they look a bit like boxelder bugs — which we had A LOT of, so they probably just blended right in.

First time I’ve tried to grow pumpkins and squash, and it was a fail. Really, maybe I’ll just plant my entire garden with garlic, chamomile, and mint next year. Fail-proof, right?


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Cooking with lard

Yes, you read that right.  We’ve been experimenting with lard, on and off, for a few months now.  We’ve cut really, really far back on most processed foods in our lives, but there was one thing we still needed ye olde tub of shortening for: pie crust.  Adam is semi-famous for his pie crusts, and was reluctant to trade in something that he knew worked well for the unknown.

Now the results are in: he finally made a pumpkin pie crust with lard instead of vegetable shortening, and I am telling you: it was the most delicious crust I’ve ever eaten.  Light, flakey, and the kids went crazy for it.

We also made some ginger cookies with a half lard/half butter combination last week:

They too were delicious.

I was really nervous about using lard in baked goods because when you open up the container it smells like, well, it smells like what your kitchen smells like about 4 hours after frying bacon.  Not so appetizing.  Furthermore, we tried frying with it a few times —  once for popcorn and once for fish — and it really  made the kitchen smell icky.  I have to say, though, that both the popcorn and the fish tasted really good, with no hint of bacon flavor.  Strange, yes?

Adam was reading his Ratio cookbook and Ruhlman recommends using lard only in highly-spiced baked goods — apparently that bacony flavor can come through if you make, say, simple short-bread cookies with lard.  That makes sense to me.

But what about the health implications of all this?  Well, it never would have occurred to me to seek out lard until I read about it in Nourishing Traditions last year.  You will not be surprised to learn that Fallon and the Weston A. Price Foundation recommend using lard in cooking, as well as duck fat, chicken fat, and beef tallow.  But what about the saturated fat?  Well, let’s talk about that for a minute.

First, let’s look at this simple breakdown of Crisco shortening, Spectrum Organic Shortening (which we have been using in pie crusts), and lard.  Behold, the first-ever New Home Economics TABLE:

Name Total Fat Saturated Mono-
unsaturated
Poly-
unsaturated
“Trans”
Crisco 12g 3g 3g 6g 0g
Spectrum Organic 13g 6g 5g 2g 0g
lard 12g 4.8g 5.76g 1.4g 0g

Now, keep in mind: the amounts for the lard can vary depending on the pig’s diet. I got these amounts from Nourishing Traditions, which most likely assumes that you’re getting lard from pastured/grass-fed/free-range (whatever) pigs. I bought mine from the co-op, and it comes from Grass Run Farm in Iowa.

Why the difference in saturated fat between the Crisco and the Spectrum?  Spectrum bases their shortening on palm oil, which is a highly-saturated tropical oil.  Crisco is more of the “we’re afraid to raise our saturated fat profile” line of thinking, so they rely instead on polyunsaturates.

Which leads me to my next question: what are they replacing trans-fats with, anyway? It’s not like food processors can just remove trans fat and have all their food still taste just as good.  It’s got to be replaced with something.  Searching around trying to find the answer to this led me to, among other places: a super creepy article from the “Homepage of the Food and Beverage Industry” that describes “The Four Paths to Sans Trans” — among them are replacing trans fats with interesterified fats and genetically modifying soy beans to get a soy-based oil that is friendlier to food processing.  NICE.  If the name alone doesn’t scare you, check out more info on interesterified fats.

Even if you are not a pie-making, cookie-baking fool, all of this should still concern you if you eat ANY PROCESSED FOOD AT ALL.

So yeah, you might say that I am now a lard convert.  Never thought I’d hear myself say that.  And it’s not like I’m going to start slathering it on everything I eat.  But in certain situations, it works really well, and it is MUCH less scary than the alternatives (although the Spectrum shortening is a bit less scary than the Crisco — that high polyunsaturate number in Crisco is a red flag to me).

To the people living in fear of saturated fat, think about this: our bodies need a little bit of saturated fat.  Many vitamins, such as E and D, are much easier for our bodies to assimilate if they accompany a bit of the good stuff.  On the other hand, our bodies most definitely do NOT need ANY amount of interesterified, trans, and whatever other highly-processed thing food processors want to tempt us with.  Did I mention that lard is high in vitamin D?  (So is butter, FYI.)

Finally, there are several sustainability aspects to this.  Palm oil, like that found in my Spectrum shortening, is a major contributor to deforestation in tropical areas.  Not to mention it has to be shipped all the way to the U.S., processed, and then shipped to me.  Lard is a byproduct, yo.  The lard I bought came from Iowa.  I could conceivably make lard myself, if I had the inclination.

So what do you think?  Are you willing to take the plunge and try it?  It took me a long time of staring at that container before I took a deep breath and used it, but now a little research both online and in the kitchen have turned me into a believer.

Update, November 6, 2010: I just found this article explaining more of the science behind interesterification, and also some other interesting information about saturated/trans/interesterified fats.  Check it out!

Update, February 24, 2011: Here’s a takedown of the new USDA nutritional guidelines, and some of the best questioning of the lipid hypothesis that I’ve seen in a long time.  A must-read!

Update, March 4, 2011: Wow, the mainstream media is really catching on. This was all over my Twitter feed todayCivil Eats says “If you work out the numbers, you come to the surreal conclusion that you can eat lard straight from the can and conceivably reduce your risk of heart disease.”  Awesome.

Update, February 23, 2012: Save the orangutans. Eat lard.