The Dangers of Living in the Woods

I went for a walk with a neighbor, and we saw this gate.

gate

Now that’s what I call spontaneous yard art.

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Rendering Beef Fat into Tallow

Every once in awhile I find myself doing something which, if you’d told me twenty years ago I’d be doing, I would have thought you had gone off the deep end.  I think this is in part because God has a sense of humor.

Then I got convicted on this whole “use the whole animal responsibly” method of eating, in addition to the “eat sustainably-raised foods” ethic, plus the ever present “food nerd” obsession, and I found that previously unheard of culinary events happen in my kitchen all the time.

Which leads me to tallow.  I found out awhile back that food fried in beef fat tastes about a million times better than food fried in just about anything else.  Now, let me preface this by saying, we don’t eat a lot of fried foods.  We don’t eat out much, and when we do, it’s typically not burgers-and-fries.  We fry stuff at home about once a quarter, if that.  So if I’m going to fry something, it had better be worth it. 

It’s not like you can meander down to the grocery store and buy good tallow.  You can’t even buy good lard – the stuff that is on the shelf is so loaded with chemicals that it tastes horrific.  I don’t even know of a local butcher shop that sells rendered fat.  Plus, we purchase a half a steer every year anyway, and the fat from that was previously just going to waste.  All of this led me to figure out how to render my own beef fat.

This year, I asked the butcher doing our half-a-steer to set aside for me all of the suet – raw fat carved off our meat – that was fit for cooking with.  This arrived, frozen, in plastic bags.

 

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Now, I know you’re supposed to cut up fat before you render it, and trim off all of the meat.  I’m aware that cutting it up into little pieces makes it render faster.  But I didn’t do it this year, because (a) I wasn’t going anywhere all day and could wait a few extra hours, and (b) it was still frozen, and I needed to get it DONE.  Plus – while it looks like there was a lot of meat there, it was all about two molecules wide and would not have given me enough to make anything.  The final factor in my deciding not to dice everything up is that we have a whole flock of hens eager to handle anything that got strained out at the end, so nothing would really go to waste.

Plus, I figure that a little meat helps give the final tallow more flavor, kind of like the meat on bacon adds a lot of flavor to the bacon grease.  You save your bacon drippings, right?  Around here, they are liquid gold.  I can’t “add a little butter” for flavoring because of the Moose’s dairy allergy, and many times bacon drippings are a great substitute.

Besides, as any Southern cook knows, all the really good recipes start out with, “Fry up a half pound of bacon.  Set aside meat for another use.  In bacon grease, fry…”

I digress.

I poured a quart of water and a teaspoon of baking soda in the bottom of the turkey roaster, (to keep things from scorching before anything rendered, and because baking soda – according to Shannon Hayes in Grassfed Gourmet helps pull out impurities), and loaded in the fat pieces.  The roaster was set to about 225°, the lid tightly put on, and we were off.

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After a few hours, the fat was starting to soften up and some was rendered, but it certainly wasn’t done yet.  Yes, it looks mildly disturbing.  Truly great gastronomical pursuits are not for the faint of heart.

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Fast forward about six hours, and I had this:

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Now, obviously, there was quite a bit more that could render out if everything was chopped up fine.  I decided against it, because (a) I was going to have way more tallow than I needed anyway, and (b) it was midnight.

Mr. Caffeinated volunteered to strain off the rendered fat into a big pot with about 4″ of water in the bottom.  (Another recommendation from Grassfed Gourmet.)

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We were left with quite a few “cracklin’s”, as they’re called in the South.

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These I tossed with chicken feed pellets, sunflower seeds, and oyster shell for the hens.  There was plenty of fat still left in the cracklin’s to glue all of that together in a sort of homemade “seed block” for the birds.  They are mighty happy with this treat, especially in this cold, rainy weather we’re having.  I’ll have to take pictures of that for another post.

The pot of rendered fat floating on cold water was covered with foil and hauled out to the garage fridge for the night.  The next day, all the fat had hardened into a disk on top of the water.

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There were a few bits of stuff still sticking to the bottom of the fat.  There wasn’t any stuff suspended in the fat; just on the bottom.  I suspect that pouring it into a pot of water helps these bits settle to the bottom of the fat while it is cooling.

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I shaved off all the stuff with a bench scraper.  Those scraps also went to the birds.  They are currently very pleased with me.

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This left me with a beautiful big disc of tallow to deal with.  The sides got a bit chewed up coming across the inside handle rivets on the way out of the pot.

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Tallow is about the consistency of wax when it comes out of the fridge.  Kind of a good reminder that, while it makes food fried in it taste fabulous, it’s still not something we ought to indulge in constantly.  I know it’s still healthier than a lot of fats, given that it came from an organically raised, grass-fed, custom-processed animal… but still.  Moderation in all things.

I sealed some of it in vacuum bags for the freezer, and put some in ziplocks for next week’s annual Wing Night (my impetus for getting this done now), and ran all the equipment involved through the dishwasher because everything gets very greasy during this process.

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Next time, I do think I’ll cut the fat pieces up at least a bit.  I don’t see a need to run them through a meat grinder, like many people do – that does speed up the process and gives more fat, but my hens would probably accuse me of being greedy and not sharing.  I’ll probably aim for 2-3″ pieces.  I’ll also try to get the whole thing going in the roaster before noon, because midnight is awfully late for pouring hot fat through a strainer.

Why post on the subject when there are plenty of blogs out there showing a more practiced and developed process?  To quote Joel Salatin – “Anything worth doing well is worth doing poorly at first.”  The idea here being: I ended up with a perfectly useable product, (and happy hens, don’t forget!), without having a completely refined process honed by dozens of years of experience.

Lastly – you don’t have to have a steer custom-butchered in order to get suet for making tallow.  Call up your local butcher shop (find the one that all the hunters take their deer to) and ask them if you can order a few pounds of beef fat trimmings for making your own; I haven’t ever been disappointed.  Sometimes it takes a day or a week for them to have it; it depends on what they’re working on, so be flexible.

Did you know that McDonald’s used to fry their French fries in beef tallow?  It’s why their fries used to taste so good before they switched to vegetable oil in 1983.  They still added beef flavoring to their fries and hashbrowns for years – they still might.  By rendering my own tallow, I can still indulge – occasionally – in the most awesome fried foods… and since this fat came from an animal I’d already paid for, I don’t have to spend more money on oil for the fryer.  When you purchase your meat directly from the farm, you generally pay for the fat with the meat, even if you never ask the butcher to package it up for you.

Now I’m off to thaw out some soup bones to make broth.

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The joys of co-sleeping

Junior-man is apparently incapable of sleeping all night by himself. This in defiance of all recommended child-sleeping arrangements from all kinds of well-respected pediatric authors and researchers alike; he simply doesn’t care. He wants someone to snuggle with, and now that he’s capable of climbing into (and out of) any bed or crib in the house, he’s in a position to insist on his prerogatives.

Now, I get this. I really do. The poor little guy had a week in the NICU at birth where he wasn’t held enough, wasn’t cuddled enough, and was made to spend hours alone under bilirubin lights, when what he really wanted was to be asleep on someone’s chest, preferably mine, with his food source close to, as we might say, to hand. For months afterwards, he wasn’t happy unless he was being held or in the backpack. My spine will never be the same.

For the most part, he’s gotten over it. During daylight hours, he is content to roam the house, wreaking destruction and chaos, leaving opened drawers and shredded tissue in his wake.

At night, though, at night… the beast retreats and the forlorn, abandoned newborn resurfaces and he wants his peeps. He will wake up from horrendous nightmares, screaming, and only being held will comfort him.  Preferably by Daddy, although Mama will do, and a sibling can fill in if absolutely no parental option is available in the Cuddles Department.

Let me assure you that, given my own preferences, there would be no one sleeping in my bed except myself and my erstwhile spouse. Our first three children were perfectly happy to indulge us in this. Junior, however, has his own requirements.

Sometimes he pre-empts the nightly struggle by simply putting himself to sleep in our bed. He’ll clamber up while we’re brushing our teeth and checking email, and spread himself allll across the top, and promptly nod off. Our pillows get kicked to the floor or simply shoved aside.

The first time this happened, Mr. Caffeinated picked him up – little toddler snores and all – and attempted to deposit him back in his own bed. The incredible din that reverberated from the boys’ room informed me that this endeavor had gone down in metaphorical flames. He – Junior- promptly sprang from his bed and climbed right back into ours, howling the entire time. After a seemingly endless protest, he finally decided that we’d been punished enough, whereupon he crawled under our covers and promptly dropped back off to sleep.

The next night, we simply tried to reposition him 90°, so that we could at least have some headroom. This did not go over well. Mr. Caffeinated, becoming wise to Junior’s ways, refused to budge. Junior, alternating attempting to push his father out of his own bed and wailing like a banshee, eventually gave up and settled for taking up half of my pillow.

This isn’t a problem merely at night.

Yesterday morning, Rosebud wanted me to Please Get Up and Log Onto The Computer So That I Can Do My Math. This is normally an activity I encourage, and so I typically will blearily stagger downstairs and indulge her attempts at sunrise scholarship.

This particular morning, Junior was present as usual, albeit somnolent (I thought). No sooner had Rosebud made her request, however, and Junior promptly wedged himself against my torso, head firmly planted in my armpit (his favorite sleeping position, which boggles my mind), and grabbed my pajamas to boot. I was obviously not going anywhere without a struggle. Rosebud was forced to do Language Arts (a workbook) instead.

I’m sure that the day will come when Junior is content to spend the entire night in his own bed with his teddy bear and blankets. I will no doubt look back on these days with maudlin sentimentality.

I just hope it happens before he turns 30.

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Egg Consumption

Someone at church last week asked me how many eggs we go through in a week.  I had to think about it.  My off-the-top-of-my-head response was three to five dozen per week.

Some weeks we eat more, simply because we have more.  Then there’s the weeks when Mr. Caffeinated decides that there needs to be an end to the ongoing angel food cake shortage, and there’s 18 eggs right there.  Some weeks, I have urgent requests for eggs, so we choose other menu options so that we can take eggs to others.

Last week being an average week, with no exceptional requests on the horizon, and no cake extravaganzas in the works, I decided to track how many we actually consumed.

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We ate thirty-nine!  Four dozen also made their way to other families’ refrigerators.

One morning we had scrambled eggs.  One evening we had quiche, and another night we had fried rice.  All of these dishes use a minimum of six eggs.  All the others were just here and there – a couple for bread, a couple for custard, a few hardboiled for salad.

Would we eat as many eggs if we didn’t have chickens?  Probably not.  But since we have them, they’re a healthy source of protein, and we have complete control over what’s gone into them.  Our hens are currently eating a mix of organic pellets from Rogue Feed, purchased through Azure; organic, soy-free broiler feed from Scratch-N-Peck, left over from raising broilers last summer; kitchen scraps, and all the grass they can scavenge.  I tell people, “I don’t miss having a garbage disposal, since my current ‘disposal system’ gives me fresh eggs.”

Viva les hens!

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Oops…

Awhile back, we were en route to Grandpa and Grandma’s house.  The kids were howling, the wind was blowing like crazy, and I was trying to text our revised estimated time of arrival to my mother-in-law on Mr. Caffeinated’s phone.  We were running an hour or two behind schedule, and she was a bit concerned.

In my defense, his phone is a bit different from my phone.

So there I was, trying to see what her number was on his phone so that I could make sure I was texting to the right address on my phone.  I couldn’t figure out his texting app.

In the meantime, Mr. Caffeinated reached his last nerve, inhaled deeply, and glared at the troops in the rearview mirror and bellowed, “WE’LL GET THERE WHEN WE GET THERE, JUST SIT DOWN AND WAIT!”

I giggled.

There was an indignant gasp from Mr. Caffeinated’s phone.

That’s when I realized that I had inadvertently called my mother-in-law from his phone.  I hung up in a panic and hoped she’d attribute it to a prank call.  Not that I had high hopes of that, given Caller ID.

However… she didn’t bug us about when we’d arrive for the rest of the drive there.

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Sleepers

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Going…

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Going…

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Gone.

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Gone, the Sequel.

 

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Spotted at a friend’s workplace

sign

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