Q: I remember having cornbread with cracklins years ago. I wanted to try to make it for our family gathering, but I couldn't find cracklins like I remember. What are in the store are big and fluffy. What I remember were small and dense. Where can I find the little kind, or how can I make them?
A: You're right. Old-fashioned cracklins are not at all like the fluffy snack things sold by that name, and cracklin' cornbread is delicious.
I don't know where to buy the old-fashioned ones, but they're not hard to make. You'll need fresh pork fat, such as what is trimmed from a fresh pork roast or fresh ham. Fatback and pork belly will work, too, as long as they've not been salted.
Some people like to have the skin on the fat, but that's not absolutely necessary. A little lean in with the fat is fine. Check with a local butcher shop or grocery that trims its own meat to find the fat.
Trim out any little blood vessels, and cut the fat into half-inch cubes. You'll need a heavy pot or deep frying pan, depending on how much you're rendering. Use low heat, you don't want to brown the meat or smoke the fat.
You can start with a little water, half a cup or less, in the pan to keep it from sticking. The water will evaporate as the lard melts. As the first fat starts to melt, you can gradually add more to the pan. Stir occasionally and just keep cooking it until the bits of tissue and meat sink to the bottom of the pan. They should not be dark at this point.
It will probably take one to two hours. I've seen that some people do it in a slow cooker set on low. Just don't let it get too hot. Use a slotted spoon to lift the cracklins out of the lard before they darken. Or strain all the lard through a fine metal sieve or a colander lined with cheesecloth or coffee filters.
If you want the cracklins darker, you can put them back in a frying pan to crisp and darken, but don't let them scorch. You can salt them lightly at this point, if you want. The fat you strained off is pure lard, to use if you like.
Q: I used part of a carton of sour cream for a cake at Thanksgiving. Now the rest of the carton is sitting in the refrigerator. I have no plans to use it soon. Can I freeze the rest of it? How long will it keep?
A: Sour cream does not freeze well. It still has some water, along with all the fat (cream). If it's frozen, the water will crystallize.
It will look fine while it's frozen, but when it's thawed, the water will separate. It'll become a watery, curdled-looking mess, not even good for stroganoff or gravy. We can't just whip it back together again. The structure of the cream and water mixture has been changed, and it won't go back to the way it was.
But it should keep for several weeks in the refrigerator. And cakes or cookies made with sour cream usually do freeze well. Maybe you can get a jump on Christmas baking to finish it off. Sour cream pound cake? Kolaches? Or just find a friend who can use it.