Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Adventures with Tallow

The first time I heard of tallow, it was while reading one of the Little House on the Prairie books as a young girl, and they were talking about bear fat.  If I thought about tallow at all, I assumed it came from bears, was used only to make candles back in the 'olden days', and that was that.

I don't know when I figured out that tallow is not just made from bears.  It can come from sheep, bison, venison, or beef and is essentially the equivalent of lard. 

Far from being a relic of the olden days, beef fat has a multitude of uses.

Tallow can be used for candles (add a wick to a container, and pour in the melted tallow) and in soapmaking.  It is also useful  for balms and salves (I've got a salve recipe at the end of this post), promotes bone strengthening, and may have cancer-preventative properties.

Tallow is useful to keep on hand when you need to get a label off a jar - just rub a bit of tallow all over the glued on label, and let it sit for about a minute.  The label will then rub right off, along with most or all of the adhesive with very little effort.

Tallow was used traditionally (and still can be) to clean metallic surfaces, including iron.  It not only removes dirt and restores shine, but the oiliness creates a shield against oxidization (rust).

Tallow mixed with bird seed can be used to make simple birdfeeder.  Press the mixture into some pretty molds, and you've got some lovely outdoor decor that will keep your birds fed and content.

Like lard, you can, of course, cook with it. It has a high smoke point, making it great for frying foods. Remember back when everyone swore McDonalds made the best French fries?  They were utilizing tallow in their cooking oil.  The tallow gives the food a subtly rich taste you will never get from vegetable cooking oil, so that they taste good even after they've stopped being piping hot.  And it takes fried 'junk food' into the territory of being something with actual nutritious value.

Also like lard, tallow can be used in baking.  Before Crisco, there was lard and tallow keeping baked goods light and fluffy.  I haven't tried tallow for this purpose (we are no longer eating grain products), but biscuits, pie crusts and tortillas done with lard taste amazingly better than those made with processed vegetable oils, and I have little reason to think those done with tallow would be much different.  As we have come to realize the negative health effects of eating vegetable oils, it's good to know that stepping away from them to older ways also returns better tasting food!

So why am I chattering about tallow?  Because I rendered my own tallow for the first time this week!  On our last excursion to the farm for our meat for the month, I picked up a big package of beef fat, and another big package of pork fat (I'll be doing lard soon). 

[Sidenote: If you have a good source of pastured grass-fed meat, I cannot encourage you enough to buy the cheap stuff - the bones and the fat.  These will give you a huge bang for your buck, because they are full of nutrients and allow you to stretch out that more expensive meat, through broths and cooking fats  that actually contain things your body needs for good health, and makes everything taste wonderful.  This is  the real secret to frugal living:  done right, it feels decadent!]

Now, I'd never done this before, and I was more than a little intimidated.  I think I made it harder for myself than I had to, too - but that's what first tries are for! To make mistakes you don't have to repeat once you know.

I forgot to snap pictures along the way - I'll be sure and do  that step by step when I do the lard, because it's exactly the same process.

What I had was gigantic sections of fat - some of it 6 inches thick. It was mostly hard, about the consistency of cheddar cheese, and some more like a block of parmesan, and much of it had a thin layer of flesh still attached, or a thin ribbon of meat running through the middle.  Now what I read was that you needed to get all of that stuff off, so I cut and cut and chopped, and sliced away bits for well over an hour, and by the end of all that, my feet were tired, my hands were sore, and I was starting to understand very clearly why Crisco replaced animal fats.

Eventually it was done - I put the fat into a stock pot on low to slowly melt (this is all rendering is), and wondered what to do with all those scraps - I covered them in a container and refrigerated them while I thought about it.

I took a break (noting that my hands, while a bit sore, were also delightfully soft), and posted a note on Facebook about this, when a couple of my friends who are actually farmers responded and said they didn't really do all that - just run the fat through a food processor - shredding it up lets it melt a lot faster - and all the meaty bits will just cook and float to the surface so they can be skimmed off.  And also, they stressed that with a bit of salt, those meaty bits were awesome snacking.

So do it their way, not mine!  I will be, next time I do this.

Meanwhile, my fat was slowly melting down (it took hours and kept me up well into the night - next time I'm shredding the fat!), and the left behind cracklings were indeed very tasty. 

Melted tallow in small jars

Once the fat had been rendered, and the meaty bits skimmed off, I ran the fat through a wire fine mesh strainer into a container, and then from there through a smaller strainer into 1 cup jars.  Some people recommend cheesecloth, and to ensure nothing gets in that might become rancid, that's probably a good idea. I didn't have any, so I'll be storing mine in the refrigerator to be on the safe side.  Really pure tallow is shelf stable.

This represents about half of the tallow I got - and I'm positive I'd have gotten more if I hadn't been so fastidious about picking through it first.

As to all of those bits - I dumped them into the stockpot after I was done, and let them melt slowly and wound up with another couple cups of tallow, along with a lot of crunchy, tasty meaty bits which are, indeed, quite delicious with a sprinkle of salt.

Some of the meatier bits will wind up in our dog's mouth as treats over the next couple of days (she was being driven quite mad by all the broth and fat smells the last couple weeks), and some will end up on salads as a topping, like bacon bits.  The rest is going into the freezer, and the next time I want some substitute for breadcrumbs, I'm going to grind these up in the food process and use them, instead.

Am I tickled that I figured out how not to waste any of it? Oh yes, I am.  Ma Ingalls would be proud.

One last thing - in figuring all this out, I was doing some reading and came across this from Weston-Price about using tallow for skin care: Traditional Nourishing and Healing Skin Care.  This is well worth taking  the time to read, in order to understand why tallow is useful as a skin care product. 

After reading I decided to try to make a little bit of skin salve while I was at it. 

Tallow Olive Oil Balm

1/4 cup melted beef tallow
2 T. Olive oil
5 drops essential oil (use an oil safe to consume, and with properties that are pleasant smelling and with beneficial skin care qualities)

Mix together, and pour into a small container. When set, it will be softer than plain tallow.  This can be used for dry, chapped or chafed skin, dry lips, skin rashes and excema.

I very much wish my daughter lived still lived near me to test this - she has chronic skin issues, and it would be wonderful to find something that let her reduce her usage of corticosteroids. 

I put tea tree oil (an anti-fungal) into my test batch, because it's what I had on hand.  It was enough to mask the (very mild) 'meaty' scent of t he tallow.

I'll be picking up a few essential oils this next month, and want to make up a little in something more all-purpose and nice smelling.  I'm thinking, after reading the above, that a version with menthol (cooling), and one with capsaisin (heating), might make a good arthritis pain relieve salve, too.  I'm looking forward to experimenting more with this!

Also - it's been three days now since my frenzy of chopping the beef fat, and my hands are still silky smooth, and the bits I rubbed on my lips (mm tasty) have resulted in my lips not feeling crackly and flaky from winter for the first time in months.  And I did that one time, three days ago. This stuff is a real winner!

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  1. What a great post! Informative and so very interesting! I wish we had a source for this type of product...I have been making bone broth for a while now. I save all my scraps and veggie trimmings, keep separate bags of chicken and beef leftovers in the freezer and supplement with "soup bones" from the grocery store. $2.79 a pound is a bit steep, but I will pay it to get the benefits. It is amazing to make stuff that is so good for you from stuff I used to throw away. I am going to have to do some research to find a source for the fat and bones real soon. Thanks again for your post.

    1. Honestly, I've wanted to for awhile, but until we found a farmer I was *positive* was raising their cattle properly, I wasn't sure where to begin either. If you go to localharvest.com, you can find farms near you, and hopefully someone is selling pastured meat nearby. Farmer's markets, once they're in season are good places to find farmers (ask the veggie folks if no one is selling meat - they might know where to point you). If any small local stores are in your area, ask them where they get their meat. But really - the last place I lived had none of these resources, and I think that's the case in a lot of places. The online source I see most recommended is US Wellness Meats: http://www.grasslandbeef.com/StoreFront.bok - they are pricier than the farmer I go to by a lot, though.

  2. Wow, this is really amazing. I knew about the candles and soap but had no idea all the other uses for it. I love that you made a balm out of it and I think you're right about the arthritic pain relief one you want to do. I'll bet it'd be great.

    Are you going to send some to your daughter?

    Thanks for linking up to Making Your Home Sing Monday!

    1. I am debating that! She lives in a warm climate and I am not sure it will arrive unmelted.

  3. Very cool! I knew where tallow came from but have never tried it myself. Looks like something I need to try soon.

  4. Oh my goodness, I remember reading about tallow in the Little House on the Prairie books, too. What's even more strange? I have three HUGE bags of beef fat sitting in my freezer right now. We buy a side of grass-fed beef from a farmer friend every year, and I'd asked for the bones for stock, and the fat... though I didn't have plans for it. Now I know what to do with it. Thanks!

    If you haven't already, I'd love if you'd come join my How To Tuesday link party, too.


    1. How neat that you already have the fat on hand! I'd love to be able to buy a side of beef - we haven't taken the plunge on a deep freeze to make that possible, but I envy you for being able to! Thanks for the invite! :)

  5. Squeeeeeeeeee! I'm pinning to bookmark this post. I've learned all about the benefits of grass-fed, pastured meats and FAT through my exchange into the paleo/primal lifestyle. Peeps are always extolling the benefits of tallow but I never made it myself. I think I'll give it a try using my crock pot. Thank you so much for posting this and I'm glad I saw this on one of the blog hops!

  6. This is soooooo interesting! I really learned a lot from your post. I may have to give it a try. Hope you can stop by the enchanted oven to say hi.

  7. Great post! I've rendered both lard and tallow. We purchase 1/4 of a cow and 1/2 of a pig at a time and when I do I ALWAYS ask for the fat so I can render it and the bones for bone broth. I made my lard first and when it cools it is pure white. After I made my tallow and it was yellowish after cooling I was a little afraid. But, I quickly found out that was a good sign - proving my meat really was grass-fed and grass-finished!

    I learned a lot in your post! I had no idea you could use tallow for all of those other things besides cooking. Thanks so much for linking up with Wellness Wednesdays! I look forward to reading more of your posts :)

  8. Not sure I will be recreating this anytime soon mainly because I don't eat meat but I had to come and check out what you were talking about. I bet the dog was going absolutely crazy with the smell of the animal fat rendering.

  9. Newest follower here! I found you through the blog hop. You have a super cute blog! I look forward to reading more.

    You can find me at meandmr.com

    -Melanie @meandmr.com

  10. I found your blog through the Hookin Up with HoH #137. I LOVE little house on the prairie. You have a wonderful blog, keep it up!

    xoxo, Meg


  11. I can back up your wonder on skin issues~ this works amazing! I make tallow lotion for my daughter's healing eczema. She is going through some healing internally for it and sometimes the detoxing causes severe flare up, tallow lotion is wonderful for her skin. Use only organic grass fed suet/ tallow and organic everything else. For about $10 I can fill 6- 8 oz jars and lasts for months.
    For her recipe I use 8 oz tallow, 1 oz olive oil, 2 tsp calendula oil and about 20-30 drop (total) essential oils of sandalwood, helichrysum, chamomile and lavender.
    For my skin that I use on my face (yes...and it works amazing) and feet, hands, etc... use 8 oz tallow, 1 oz olive oil and 20-30 essential oils that I like when i make it.

    Hope that encourages more to make some like you!

  12. Great info! Thanks for sharing on The Creative HomeAcre Hop!
    Hope to see you next time at:

  13. Hi Lynda,
    This is a great post! Hope you are having a great weekend and thank you so much for sharing with Full Plate Thursday.
    Come Back Soon!
    Miz Helen

  14. GReat information! We pick up tallow from the grocery butcher -- most of the time they just give it to us free for the asking in small lots to feed the birds. Now that I know all these other wonderful things we'll be looking for a larger supply. Thanks so much for sharing on Busy Monday!

  15. Thanks for sharing this on The Creative HomeAcre Hop! I'm featuring this post today!

    I'm looking forward to seeing more posts from you this week!

  16. Thank you for your submission on Nourishing Treasures' Make Your Own! Monday link-up.

    Check back tomorrow when the new link-up is running to see if you were one of the top 3 featured posts! :)

  17. I had no idea how versatile this was. Thanks for sharing.

  18. Really interesting! Thanks so much for sharing this on Waste Not Want Not Wednesday. I've pinned it :)

  19. I had no clue it was used for so many things! Thank you for linking up on Foodie Friends Friday! Please come back this week to join us again!

  20. Thanks for sharing with us at Eco-Kids Tuesday. I hope you stop by again today! http://likemamalikedaughter.blogspot.com/2013/03/stamping-fun-at-eco-kids-tuesday.html

  21. Very informative! I learned something new! I didn't know about Beef Tallow! Thanks for kicking off a great party this week! Thanks for linking up at our Gluten Free Fridays party! I have tweeted and pinned your entry to our Gluten Free Fridays board on Pinterest! :)

    Thanks for linking back to the Gluten Free Fridays post!

    We have a giveaway this week! GFF will be live on Thursday night at 7:05 eastern! Let's get this party started!!

    Cindy from vegetarianmamma.com

  22. I hadn't thought of tallow since I had read the Little House Books. Thanks for sharing so much great info on it over on Tuesday Greens. Thanks!