In the coming days we will be seeing some incredible increases in the costs of the things we buy, especially food for the house, and yet our paychecks will remain substantially stagnant. We’ll be spending more money, but not making any more money. Economists call this inflation, and it has reared its ugly head in a big way this time around. If you’ve been able to do the smart thing and get started on your survival homestead you’ll be thinking of ways to reduce your food costs.

One of the aspects of food requirements is caloric intake, and we get that from many different foods. Fat is just one source of high caloric value, in spite of the bad press fat gets from the media. Fats that are leftover from our meals can be reused and utilized for other purposes. Let’s take a look at some of the sources of these fats, and how we can render and clarify them on the survival homestead and farmstead, courtesy of the USDA.

The further advantage of learning how to do this also allows you to begin preparations towards beginning your own distillery to produce biofuels from waste fats and oils from your small farm operations, allowing you to become more self reliant, and less dependent upon outside sources for your fuel needs. We’ll get into that in a later post, though.

SOURCES AND KINDS OF EDIBLE FATS.

Fig 1.—Composition of some common fatty foods.

The fats eaten in the ordinary mixed diet are furnished chiefly by such foods as fat meats, butter, milk, and cream, but are also present in smaller amounts in pastry, breads, eggs, cheese, cereals, etc. Fat meats like pork (including lard) and beef furnish about 59 per cent of the total fat in the average American diet, according to the results of about 400 studies as reported in an earlier publication of this office. The same investigations showed that dairy products, including butter, milk, cream, and cheese, furnish about 26 per cent of the total fat; cereal products, including cakes and breads, about 9 per cent; eggs about 3 per cent; and fish about 1 per cent. Some kinds of fish contain considerable fat and offer a means of adding it to the diet. One-tenth of the edible portion of such fish as the catfish, salmon, butterfish, trout, shad, and a smaller proportion of other common fish consists of fat.

The composition of some of the foods which are important sources of fat in the diet is shown in figure 1. The amount of energy supplied by these foods depends on the quantity of fat which they contain, the pure fats like lard or vegetable fats furnishing 4,080 calories per pound, and those containing other ingredients like water or protein naturally having a lower energy value.

Not many years ago the fats used in this country were obtained almost entirely from the two groups of farm animals, cattle and hogs. Butter and cream were the ordinary table fats, and it was the general custom for each family to obtain its own supply of lard, which was the chief cooking fat, from the pigs slaughtered on the farm. Beef and mutton fats, or tallows, as they were generally known, were used in cooking to some extent in the form of “dripping” obtained from cooking meats, but found a much wider use for candle and soap making.

Chicken fat was also used in a limited way. As the population began to concentrate in cities and towns, the introduction of central slaughterhouses and rendering plants made it possible to obtain both meat and fat separately in such ways as met individual requirements, and home rendering of fats quite generally disappeared except in rural regions. The increasing population created a demand which soon exceeded the available supply obtained from slaughtered animals, and this made it necessary to seek additional sources of edible fats.

Naturally, olive oil, used for food purposes in some parts of Europe and the Orient and less generally in the United States, suggested the possibility of the utilization of other vegetable fats, and as the methods of refining were improved cottonseed oil came to be very commonly used, and, to a less extent, coconut, peanut, and corn oils. At the present time there are also a number of vegetable fats on the market, some of which are simply refined and used alone or in admixture, while others have been treated by special processes designed to render them harder or otherwise changed in character.

RENDERING AND CLARIFYING FATS.

Beef or mutton suet and scraps of fat contain more or less muscle or connective tissue, which must be removed by rendering before the fat is available for most culinary uses. The household method of rendering generally consists in cutting the material into small pieces and heating it in an open kettle until the fat has separated out quite completely from the particles of tissue, which usually have become shriveled and browned. This tissue (called “scraps” or “cracklings”) is then removed by straining, being pressed to remove the fat more completely. The scraps or cracklings are utilized in various ways in different parts of the country, being sometimes eaten as such and sometimes used as shortening. Some housekeepers prefer to render their fat with the addition of water, since they believe there is less danger of burning. However, this necessitates heating the strained fat until the water is driven off to secure a fat of good keeping quality.

The following method of rendering fats, found to be very satisfactory in the laboratory of the Office of Home Economics, may be applied in the home. The fat is cut finely with an ordinary household meat chopper or sausage grinder and is then heated in a double boiler until completely melted. The melted fat is then strained through a rather thick cloth (medium fine huckaback, for instance) to remove the finely divided bits of tissue. The advantage of this method is that since the material to be rendered is finely divided the fat separates readily from the inclosing tissue at a temperature very little above its melting point, and there is no danger of scorching it as in the older open-kettle method.

This is of importance, since recent information shows that fats overheated in rendering do not keep as well as those which have not been heated too high. Also, there is no odor of scorched fat in the room during rendering. After the fat is rendered it should be carefully heated to make sure that it is free from moisture, and sterilized. This method of rendering fat is entirely satisfactory when the quantity of fat to be rendered is fairly small. The difficulty of using it on a large scale would depend chiefly upon the labor and cost of grinding the fat, for if a double boiler of sufficient size were not available one could be improvised by setting the kettle containing the fat in a larger kettle containing water. Pieces of wood or other material should be placedon the bottom 6f the outer kettle to insure a layer of water between the two kettles and prevent the fat from becoming too hot.

Fats which have been saved when meats are cooked, or which have been salvaged in some other way, must usually be clarified—that is, freed from objectionable odors, tastes, or colors—before being entirely satisfactory for culinary purposes. A common custom is to cook a slice of potato in the fat, and this may help if the fat is fairly satisfactory to start with. A fairly successful household method for clarifying fats is as follows: Melt the fat with at least an equal volume of water and heat for a short time at a moderate temperature, with occasional stirring. Let the mixture cool, remove the layer of fat, and scrape off any bits of meat and other material which may adhere to the underside. Rendering or clarifying fat with milk gives quite satisfactory results in modifying odors and flavors.

The procedure is as follows: To 2 pounds of fat (finely chopped if unrendered) add one-half pint of milk (preferably sour). Heat the mixture in a double boiler until rendered or thoroughly melted, stir well, and strain through fairly thick cloth. When cold the fat forms a hard, clean layer, and any dark material adhering to the underside of the fat may be scraped off. Sour milk, being coagulated, is preferable to sweet milk, since the curd remains on the cloth through which the rendered mixture is strained and is thus more easily separated from the rendered fat, which has acquired some of the milk flavor and butter fat.

Undesirable odors and flavors can be decreased in intensity or removed, if not too pronounced, by heating the fats with a good grade of charcoal, and the method is applicable to fats which could not be satisfactorily treated by the method first spoken of. To each pound of chopped, un-rendered fat add 12 pieces of clean, hardwood charcoal about the size of a walnut and render the fat in a double boiler, as described above. Allow the charcoal to remain in the melted fat for about two hours and stir the mixture occasionally. It is necessary to strain the fat through flannel or other closely woven cloth to remove all the fine particles of charcoal. Rancid odors, if not too pronounced, may be satisfactorily removed by this method. If the odor is very pronounced more charcoal is needed, and the mixture requires longer heating. It is interesting to note that the characteristic yellow color of the beef fat may be removed and a white, odorless fat secured.

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