Black Bear Lard Hand Pies

By Gabby Zaldumbide

I've been a hunter for nearly two and a half years now and this fall I was fortunate enough to harvest my very own black bear. I'd been wanting to do this hunt for a while; personally, I was really curious about rendered bear fat and wanted to give it a try myself. While I scouted for bears over the summer, I foraged about a half gallon of wild raspberries from my hunting unit. This recipe highlights not only what bears feast on, but the bear itself. This is the first recipe I did with the bear fat, and although it's not perfect, it is certainly worth baking! Here's my recipe for six bear lard hand pies filled with wild raspberries and local pears.

Raspberry Jam (without pectin)

  • 6 cups of wild raspberries
  • 6 cups sugar
  • (1:1 ratio berries and sugar)

Heat the raspberries on the stovetop, stirring/mashing constantly, until it begins to boil. There is enough water in the raspberries that there will be enough liquid in there already, so no need to add water. Once it’s boiling, add the sugar, continuing to stir constantly. Stir until the sugar is dissolved and the liquid becomes a gel. Once you reach a jelly-like consistency, remove the mixture from heat. At this point, you may strain out the seeds if you wish; I kept them in. Feel free to add other flavors, like cinnamon or vanilla extract, at this stage, too. Pour into jars until they’re 3/4 full. 

If you add pectin to this recipe, your jam will be shelf stable. There are a lot of online resources that dig deep into making jam with pectin. However, I left it out of this recipe and chose to keep my jam in the fridge where it’ll stay good for a few months. I have another jar in the freezer and that will last indefinitely. 

Bear Fat Rendering

To do this, first, you need to shoot a bear! Have you harvested a bear during the 2020 hunting season? Did you keep all of its fat? Great! You’re ready to render some bear fat into lard. You’ll need:

  • A crockpot/giant pot
  • Fat from 1 black bear, trimmed and cleaned (no meat/hair/grass/etc. on it)
  • Water
  • Jars
  • A fine mesh strainer (and cheesecloth, but I didn’t have any so I skipped this part)
  • 24 hours

Take your clean and meat-free bear fat and cut it into 1 inch-sized chunks (this is easier if you refrigerate the raw fat first). Add it to your crockpot. Turn the heat to low. Add an inch or two of water to the bottom of your crockpot; this will keep the fat from burning to the bottom of the pot or ceramic as it initially heats up. The water will boil off quickly and this is when the rendering process will begin.

As fat starts melting, take a measuring cup or other good scooping device and remove liquid fat from the crockpot. Strain it through the fine wire mesh sieve first, then the cheesecloth (or skip this part, I did and my bear fat turned out snow white). Pour your strained liquid bear fat into a jar until it’s 3/4 full. Continue to do this until all of your bear fat has been rendered down. The first few jars will likely be a lot lighter in color than your last ones. You’ll know when your fat is done rendering when you have chunky, pork rind-like crispies in the bottom of your crockpot. If you were wondering, these crispies do not taste like pork rinds. I do not recommend them.

The two year old female black bear I harvested this year was quite small. I ended up with five medium-ish-sized jars of lard. (I recycle jars, so they were all different sizes. Mostly tomato sauce jar-sized.) Let your jarred lard cool to room temperature, then stick them in the fridge or freezer. They will last a few months in the fridge; you’ll know when it’s gone rancid. The lard will last in the freezer indefinitely.

Pie Crust

I used a food processor for this part; you don’t have to if you don’t have one.

  • 2.5 cups all purpose flour, plus some extra for rolling
  • 1 cup cold (refrigerated or frozen) bear lard, cut into half-inch chunks
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 6-8 tbsp ice water

Mix the flour, sugar, and salt in the food processor by pulsing the blade a couple of times.

Add the bear lard, half at a time, to the flour mixture, pulsing several times with each addition. You want the largest pieces of lard to be about pea-sized. 

Slowly add 1/4 cup of the ice water and pulse the processor again. Then add the rest of the water, a tablespoon at a time, pulsing once or twice after each time. You want the dough to just barely hold itself together. You know when the mixture is ready when you pinch some between your fingers and it holds together. If you add too much water, though, the crust will be tough. If you didn't add enough water (you'll find out when you try to roll it out and it crumbles apart), just sprinkle some cold water on it when you go to roll it.

Dump out the mixture and gather it into a mound. Knead it just enough to form a disk and it holds together without cracking. Be careful not to knead it too much; this will develop too much gluten and cause the crust to be tough, just like adding too much water.

Sprinkle the disk with some flour, wrap it in plastic wrap, and refrigerate it for an hour or up to two days. In my case, I refrigerated it for a little over an hour and made the pie filling during this time.

When you’re ready to make the hand pies, like I mentioned before, roll out the dough into a big sheet so it’s evenly 1/6 inch thick all the way around. I have this handy-dandy roller that measures my dough for me. Rolling will also be easier if you let the dough sit for 5-10 minutes on the counter prior to rolling. I used the mouth of a large jar to punch out circles to serve as my hand pie crusts. Note that I needed two circles for each pie, so 12 circles total. 

Pie Filling

  • 8 small (ripe) pears, peeled and sliced thinly into half-inch pieces
  • 1/3 cup wild raspberry jam (or actual raspberries)
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • Sprinkle of ground clove
  • 1 egg (for the egg wash at the very end)

Mix the chopped pears and raspberries together. Add in the lemon juice and vanilla extract. Mix. Add the sugar, stirring until dissolved. Add in the remaining ingredients and set aside; I let the mixture chill in the fridge for about 30 minutes until my pie crust was ready to be rolled out.

Keep in mind that you can be as flexible with the filling as you want. Have a bunch of apples? Throw them in there! Hate cinnamon, but love allspice? Swap’em out! Add less sugar for a more tart filling, or more sugar for a sweeter filling. You could add walnuts or pecans here as well.

Cooking

Preheat the oven to 400 F.

Take a circle of dough. Use a spoon and scoop out enough filling to give the hand pie a full, round shape, but not so much that now there isn’t room to seal it. When filled to meet your preferences, take another circle of dough and, using a fork, your finger, or by twisting the dough, seal the edges. Cut a criss-cross on the top of the pie so the steam can escape in the oven, evenly coat the top with the egg wash, and that’s it! Set it aside until all of your pies are complete. I used a silicone baking mat to cook my pies on, but this is optional.

Cook the hand pies in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes (the timing will depend on the fullness of your pies and thickness of your dough). On the outside, they should be golden brown, maybe even have some of the filling bubbling out of the steam vents, but not burnt at all. Let cool at least 15 minutes before serving. Serve on its own or with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Enjoy!

Did you try this recipe, either as a dessert or a meat pie? I want to hear about it! Shoot me an email at community@hunttoeat.com and share your story with me.