Blame it on the Rockies. We were at a Colorado Springs bar munching away at some delicious fries, moved to take a second glance at the menu which indicted they’d been fried in beef tallow. Of course! I’d realized just recently that frying is better done in animal fat. Much maligned lard has fewer calories than butter and has a much higher smoke point than any of the common vegetable oils (1). So I have a nice chunk in my refrigerator that I use liberally. But that’s a pig product. Could I produce a bovine equivalent? It turns out I had 7¼ pounds (3.4 kg) of beef suet in my garage freezer, the one I’ve had since my internship (42 years). They took up a not insubstantial portion of my freezer capacity (0.3 cubic feet in a 16.5 cubic foot freezer). I acquired the stuff when I bought a whole sirloin to slice into steaks and discovered a fairly substantial apron of fat, maybe accounting for the bargain price. Originally, I saved it for the birds, as I’d heard that birds in winter like suet. Years passed without ever the hanging of suet and there it sat.
So home from Colorado I looked up how you might convert suet to tallow. It’s pretty darned easy https://yourfamilyfarmer.com/recipes/how-to-make-beef-tallow-from-beef-suet. Of course, I ignored the instructions and just kept my 8 quart pot of suet on low for 3 days. There was a slow and steady cook down, filling the house with an aroma of a pot roast in the oven. Not all bad. One by-product of rendering (what this process is called) are the “cracklings”, bits of meat and fat from which no more fat can be rendered. This is where pork rinds come from. Well, beef rinds are no less tasty and I now have 2.3 pounds (1.04 kg) of them. I’ve been snacking on them but they get their first real tryout as a condiment tonight when a handful go on a salad.
See here the sequence of rendering:
Pot full of suet
Pot after 2 days rendering
After 3 days it was time to separate cracklings from tallow and proceed
But that’s a lot of cracklings!
But just look at that beautiful tallow, filtered through cheesecloth, just hitting the 1.75 L mark
So 3.4 kg of suet yields 1.75 L tallow. That’s a 51.5% yield. There a lot of “energy” in that stuff. At 115 cal/TBSP (same as lard, a little less than olive oil), that big measuring cup contains 15,715 calories. How fat would you get if you downed it in one big gulp?
I divided my 1.750 L of my very own home-made tallow into 2 quart jars, 3 pint jars, and a 1 ½ C number. This stuff isn’t just for eating. It can be a fuel for candles, and makes excellent skin care products. We’ll see if my sweetheart, who is very particular about cosmetics, rubs it on her face. She’ll have to gauge the effect on her husband, who is very fond of items bathed in tallow. A little wood ash and we could make soap! https://www.motherearthnews.com/homesteading-and-livestock/how-to-make-soap-from-ashes-zmaz72jfzfre
When first poured
Rendering used to be a big thing on the farm, as all that fat from the season’s butchering was thrown into the rendering pot, producing tallow and lard that would take them through the winter. They weren’t watching their waistlines so much back then. This replica of a “pig pot” I inherited from my late Aunt Dorie is the sort of thing that would have been used for rendering. However, prior to the rendering, the pot had another function. Filled with boiling water, into it would go each newly dead pig for scalding, followed by the scraping off of any hair with a sharp scoop. Young men like my Grandpa Slater assisting in this task, then cutting up the pigs, were rewarded with a few cuts of meat for their own use, never the choice cuts
So we further go into the brave new old world of animal fats. We’ve already discovered duck fat, leading us to choose supermarket ducks over the free range grass fed numbers of my colleague Michelle, as they are too scrawny. Can schmaltz (chicken fat) and goose fat be far behind (Ann Arbor parks are overrun with sources)?
It all brings to mind one of Roy Blount Jr’s old food songs. Roy, now 80, is a Southern writer and raconteur who was a regular guest on the old Prairie Home Companion. He also performs with the “Rock Bottom Remainders”, a group composed only of writers, which have included Dave Barry, Stephen King, and Mitch Albom, among others. As I was watching all that wonderful beef fat render, I couldn’t help but think of the one of his food songs that goes:
“I think that I shall never cease
To hold in admiration, grease…”
That’s all I remember. The Ann Arbor District Library and Amazon are racing to get me a copy of the book (2). When I get it, I’ll update, so stay tuned.
Update, Tuesday May 18th. It’s a tie. Kathy drove me to the Ann Arbor District library downtown so I could get there by noon. The disembodied figure on the big screen in the caged-off entryway explained my book was on the shelf, bearing my name in alphabetical order, and already checked out. Happily, I headed home with it under my arm to find a pile of packages on the doorstep, one of them from Amazon bearing my book!
So here’s the cover
Overstuffed with paens to food. I anticipate many hours of pleasure, and more than a few pounds of weight gain.
And here’s the song in question. Much more to it than what I remembered
I like the line in the 3rd stanza “Oh when our joints refuse to function”. Wish I’d know that back when I was practicing. I could have just recommend to my patients to get more grease in their diet. They were always asking about diet, anyway. But, grease, that’s the ticket. Tallow if you’re lucky enough to score some.
1. Maynard C and Scheller B. The Bad for you Cookbook. New York: Villard Books, 1992. pp 69-70 (on lard)
2. Blount RJ. Save Room for pie: Food Songs and Chewy Ruminations. New York: Sarah Crichton Books/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016