As the limbs of osage hang low under the weight of great lime-green hedgeballs (monkey brains we used to call ’em) and pears advance to the apex of sweetness, I am doing all I can to fill our larder for the winter. Except for right now, because I’m too burnt out from canning, fermenting, dehydrating and harvesting to accomplish much more for the morning. We’ve begun to harvest our ducks, and as soon as the weather allows, the next stage of preserving the harvest begins… curing, smoking, and sausage making.
Which brings me to fat. I would argue that fat is a far higher form of stored caloric energy than fossil fuels. It has greater value to the human physiology, can be more efficiently manufactured, and is itself a preservative when used properly. The old-timey term I used above, larder, indicating a pantry specific to the preservation of one’s own harvest, has a very clear and obvious rooting in the word ‘lard’.
Before lard became out of fashion according to the dictates of our seemingly arbitrary, bottom-lined to death food system which has been concocted in the boardrooms of corporations and marketing firms, not to mention their subservient politicians, it was a staple food, relatively accessible, straightforward to use… a byproduct of other byproducts like culled vegetables, dairy and slaughter wastes, and those forms of caloric energy which are generally unavailable to human digestion: grasses, weeds, and acorns.
Well rendered lard itself is a shelf stable, vitamin and energy rich foodstuff, and can be incorporated into almost anything. The French peasantry refined the use of animal fats into a preservative, alongside salt, with products like confit and rillete, wherein meat is salt-cured and poached in its own fat, then put away, sealed off from oxygen and light. This is well before mechanical refrigeration.
Of course, in working with natural cycles, fat is not available on demand. There is a season in which it is gleaned, time and conditions associated with its development. Luckily, many of these fall in line with other natural cycles. Oil rich nuts begin to drop from the canopy as the summer concludes, giving both our pigs and turkeys a boost. This coincides with the approaching cool season, when these animals can be harvested in a food safe manner. Alongside this, corn begins to ripen… in an alternate reality without commodity grains and massive propane-powered grain dryers, grain corn is itself more highly cherished as a source of calories. Even a small plot can be put up in a corncrib for shared consumption throughout year, but the glut and the gleaning occurs immediately after harvest, when poultry can be fattened out in the field.
There is also “meat on the hoof” the storage technique whereby an animal being raised for meat is grazed well enough throughout the season to be able to remain fat and healthy through the winter and eaten when necessary. I have been running a parallel program with my own body as my metabolism slows down in my mid-30’s. I tend to have a noticeable weight gain, like many others, in the winter time, though I naturally shed it by swimsuit season. I use it up when I need it, but it remains alive if not somewhat in the way before then. Though the changes are subtle and not unhealthy, they’re pretty noticeable being slight of frame as I am. My above the waist broadening is unfortunately underrepresented alongside media-marketed standards of beauty. Next time you get the chance to go to a feed store, take a gander if you will. Farmers are an assless lot. Have you ever seen a frog standing up? That’s called farmer ass.
Of course, it would be remiss of me to acknowledge the non meat sources of fat. Dairy fat, which is in my experience more difficult, infrastructure wise, to preserve for long periods of time is a clear one, and produces, again, a byproduct, whey, that continues to yield when fattening other animals or even used as garden fertilizer.
Nut crops have a very clear potential as an efficient source of dietary fats, as well as fuel energy. They are not as widely planted and maintained here in the midwest as they once were, due partly to disease, but mostly due to the demands of commodity markets, again. However, tree nuts can not only serve as a relatively shelf-stable source of fat and protein, but integrate clearly with livestock such as pigs, whereby a pig’s staggering efficiency to develop fat is powered by merely the culled nuts left on the orchard floor. 150 years ago, a hog lot not outlined with chestnuts was considered absurd by most commercial growers.
Nuts are relatively simple to harvest on the homestead / subsistence scale and require no special tools outside of a couple rocks to process. Coconuts and palm kernels are high in fat, but there are some major environmental and social issues in how they are grown, and besides, I can’t grow a coconut here, not yet. Seed based vegetable fats are more difficult to process on the human scale… most of them are annual in nature and require frequent tilling and hence soil loss, though the Land Institute is developing sylphium (cup plant) as a perennial, temperate oilseed crop. It is similar to sunflower. Very excited about that. Sunflower and pumpkin seed oils themselves are complicated to process, but as a whole product can also stack up to a lot of stored fats, pumpkins having the obvious bonus of yielding extra nutrition.
Well, I suppose that’s all what I gotta say about fat right now. Outside the temperature is rising, and the breeze is steady. Another good day to use the solar dehydrator for the abundance of peppers, tomatoes, pears, okra and beans. It still feels like endless summer. Stashing a batch of tomato sauce here and a few cans of cushaw pie filling there, not to mention some duck confit when the next cold front rolls in, might be the only way to ensure I do not literally work my ass off.