Monday, November 24, 2008

Suet Cakes

Suet (/ˈsuː.ɪt/) raw beef or mutton fat,
especially the hard fat found around the loins and kidneys.

The house still holds a heavy smell as I return from a day away--a lingering left from this weekends’ project of making suet cakes. The lard bubbling on the stove, a chore best left for those days when a window can be thrown open to draw the heaviness out into the yard.

And, though I would have chosen to make them weeks earlier, here I am, just days before Thanksgiving, fussing to cook and clean—and render suet. I take it, as I can find it, though—happily emptying the grocer’s cooler and running home, victorious, with my stack of loot wrapped in plastic.
It has not always been this “easy”--

For, what I had thought to be a staple of the meat case, tucked dependably between ham hocks and beef tongue, no longer is there.
In fact, simply finding someone who understands the term "suet" can be a harrowing experience.

I have stalked many a wide-eyed stock boy through the darkened aisles of our supermarket, a lady determined to leave with the hard, white, beef fat essential for winter bird feeding. Gesturing, pleading my case, to one obviously not acquainted with the less popular parts of a cow--only to be handed a small chunk, the few trimmings he could find, priced far out of reason, and designated, "Specialty Meat."
An older gentleman emerged from the chamber beyond the swinging doors, wearing the white coat of the butchering profession, pleased that he'd filled a special order, and approached confidently, intrigued to meet the lady requesting such an odd product.

"Whatcha goana use it fer? Soup?"
"No,…bird food."

And the raised eyebrow above eyes that met mine clearly was of one who doubted if this game of, "Can you help me find what I'm looking for?" had been worth the trouble.

Blocks of suet, wrapped

The suet is often wrapped and for sale now.
And I’m sure to take every last piece, when I find it.
The understanding may never come, but at least I give partial credit—for effort.

Rendering Suet on stove

Mixing other ingredients into melted lard.
I use natural peanut butter, oats, cornmeal, unsalted sunflower seeds, and an assortment of stale bread and crackers, avoiding added salt and preservatives.

Mixture poured into muffin tins to cool.

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KGMom said...

So, Nina--might one say your cooking is for the birds?
Interesting that suet has disappeared from groceries--or almost. You would think Americans would be leaner for its disappearance.

Brenda@View From The Pines said...

Oh, you've got my vote! You go to far more trouble than I do. I admire your dedication!

nina said...

Kgmom--Yes, for the birds, as I have been saying for quite some time! :-)
I think lard is available in a plastic tub, like Crisco is--so, it's there, just not in the raw form anymore.
I just am in the habit of rendering my own--always have...

Brenda--actually, I got some cupboard cleaning taken care of with the cake-making. The tail ends of stale crackers and bread heels go into my suet cakes--I hate to throw good food away!

Mary said...

Awww, Nina. You use muffin tins. Bless YOU! Your description of the butcher in the background, laying his eye on you is sweet :o) I can picture it.

I think you put more effort into your special suet recipe than I do for holiday meals. LOL!

Leedra said...

Never made my own. Keep seeing on blogs, and am beginning to feel quilty. My birds don't have homemade....I do still make homemade biscuits for my family. Does that count?

Anonymous said...

Sounds good. I use the Zick dough recipe which calls for lard . . . easier to come by, for sure. :) I'll have to try your recipe sometime. We have two or three really good butchers in the area. I'm sure they'd know what suet is! :)

Toni said...

So that is how you do it! I just buy the lard in tubs.

I'll have to look for suet in the store.

Kallen305 said...

You know you are talented w/ a camera when you can make suet look nice and you did indeed do that. HA!

I was always curious about going to the store and buying the real deal, but have been hesitant due to the smell. I use lard but may be daring enough to try it your way later this winter.

KatDoc said...

OK, Nina, I give up. You win the "best bird feeder" award. Rendering suet is long, hard, messy work, and I applaud you for the effort.

As for me, I'll buy commercial suet blocks, and make Julie's recipe from tubs of lard. I just won't let my birds know that they could get home-cooking if they flew several miles north.

~Kathi, tired just from reading

Lisa at Greenbow said...

I understand your difficulty in finding suet. Where I used to live I could buy it real cheap. Here if they put it out at all it is priced like a "specialty" meat. I don't render it. I just put it out like it is. The birds still like it.

The grizzled but still incorrigible scribe himself! said...

Okay…now I feel like a real shirker buying my suet cakes pre-made from the feed store. But I'll have to find a supply of suet in my area before I can even begin to think about doing my own. And that might not be easy. Just the other day I decided to pick up some lard for biscuit-making and a mincemeat recipe I want to do for Christmas pies—and that turned out to be impossible, at least at my local Meijers and Krogers. Krogers didn't have lard, and Meijers had it in 12-ounce containers at nearly $4 a pop! I'm doubting either would carry suet.

Anyway, enjoyed the piece.

bobbie said...

Nina, you take the cake! so to speak.

I'm sure there's a special place waiting for you in heaven, with song birds flitting all around it.

kjpweb said...

Fun project - and so much better than the store bought stuff!
Cheers, Klaus

Deborah Godin said...

What a great story - and you should get some kind of avian culinary award, too! I remember when grocers used to give suet away free, but that's going back a while.

Wanderin' Weeta said...

I always intend to do that, and procrastinate until spring comes, and then, what's the use? Maybe this year. If it ever gets cold around here.


I have been infected with the 6 random things meme, and now I'm tagging you. The rules are here.


bobbie said...

Nina, please go to my site and find a small award.

NCmountainwoman said...

Hope the smell of the roasting turkey overpowers the rendering of the suet.

I have a special butcher who saves suet for me on the two occasions I use it. One is for an old-fashioned plum pudding for Christmas, and the other is for Yorkshire pudding to accompany the prime rib on New Year's Day.

The birds get store-bought suet cakes.

Dave Coulter said...

No way am I letting MY neighborhood birds see your blog...they'll expect me to upgrade the menu! ;)

Beverly said...

I had the same trouble when looking for caul-fat, the netting-like fat used to wrap home-made sausage. Yeah, when I brewed beer, I also made my own sausage.

A week or so ago, I asked for my local mom & pop store (which actually butchers meat) for some suet. What I got was a 5# block of what looked like frozen albino hamburger. When I left it to thaw, it got somewhat pinker and as I rendered it, I ended up with about a pound of ground meat in the bubbling fat. I paid just over $1/per pound for this stuff…not too bad I guess, when my dog got a couple evenings of ‘fancy dinner’ instead of plain ol’ kibble.

Still…I’m having a financial crisis that it doesn’t appear I’ll be bailed-out of, so I’m watching my pennies. It is NOT cheaper it seems, to make your own suet cakes than it is to buy them pre-made. I look for the stuff without added preservatives or artificial flavorings. I suppose mine might have tasted better, with oats and cornmeal in it and a mixture of various seeds; but the hassle is huge for the results…I made quite a mess, and I didn’t even add the extra expense of peanut butter.

So tell me, Nina…why is it folks make their own suet-bird food when I know I’m paying more than city folks for the stuff in pre-made blocks and I’m only paying $1.19 each square? (and it’s cheaper if I could order bulk). I’m a contents-reader…and the stuff I buy looks to be clean & healthy. Have I missed something?

And do butchers know the difference between suet and plain ol fat cut from edges of steaks? Would it matter?

Robert V. Sobczak said...

The food photos were making me hungry. It's a shame that the internet doesn't allow "smells" ... or maybe they have ... but you need a Mac.

Pam Croom said...

Thank you! It is nice to know I'm not the only one who can't find beef suet or people who know what it is! I can't find stew hens or hearts anymore either. I think all of it is going into processed-value added meat products now.

Folks are talking about using lard...pork lard? Can you give pork lard to the birds? Doesn't the little lard bricks in the store have some sort of chemical preservative or salt in it?

Naturegirl said...

Nina I applaude you for taking the time to make homemade suet for your bird visitors!! Mother Nature blesses you twofold I'm sure!
I take the easy way and purchase my suet already made up from seed stores.

KatDoc said...

Pam and "scribe":

I find lard by Armor, in 2.5 lb tubs at Kroger's in the baking section, near Crisco and the bottles of oil. It is soft, about the consistancy of peanut butter, and fairly easy to spoon into measuring cups. Beef? Pork? I dunno, better not to ask.


True suet is specialized fat, from the loin area and around the kidneys. A real butcher will know the difference between that and fat trimmed from the edges of steaks and roasts.


Rose said...

I've never known anyone who made homemade suet cakes before--fascinating! I bet they are much more tasty than the readymade ones in the stores as well. I can imagine what the butcher was thinking--you would think they would give it to you for free.
The birds should be flocking to your home all winter!

RuthieJ said...

Hi Nina,
I've never rendered my own suet, but read that it can be somewhat "smelly."
We still have a butcher shop in town where they sell suet--I usually just buy the frozen chunks and put them in the special "chunk" suet feeder I have--woodpeckers still seem to like it that way too.

The Tile Lady said...

Thank you for your wonderful suet recipe! It was interesting hearing about your difficulty getting the beef lard from the grocery store butcher. I have never done anything but buy the already-made suet blocks in the birdseed section of Walmart, so I know this is something I am going to want to try. Thanks....

Julie Zickefoose said...

Hi Nina,

I used to render suet on the stove but my family objected to our home smelling like a short-order hamburger joint for days afterward. Then, I tried heating it in an electric skillet on the deck outside, but it attracted feral cats. Nobody needs more of those. Then someone told me about rendering suet in the microwave, and my smell problems were over. It's fast, it's much cleaner, and it doesn't smell as bad for nearly as long.

Now, for my home birdie cookin', I use lard in the big tubs which I can only find at Wal-Mart. It's rendered pork fat and it has no salt or preservatives that I know of. It doesn't even need refrigeration. I melt it in the microwave, too--quick and easy.

Your suet cakes look so good I could be tempted, in a hormonal eating jag, to try one.

xo jz

nina said...

I'm sure you're right in your observation that commercially prepared suet blocks may be very competitively priced and contain many wholesome ingredients.
I'm not sure exactly WHY I make my own.
Partially, from habit, I suppose, from years of doing so before so many were readily available for sale.
But, partially, too, because it allows me to "recycle" many stale tidbits from my cabinets.
I was given 2 books years ago, "My Cooking is for the Birds, I & II," by Edna Cosgrove, suggesting incorporating different ingredients for attracting/targeting different birds.

I like feeling that my offering is somewhat "custom-ordered."
I also make Julie's Zick Dough, for a crumble to toss in my platform feeders.

Beverly said...

Thanks, Nina.

I just requested some 'suet' from my butcher again; only this time I specifically asked the guy if it IS, actually, suet. As I suspected... what I get is ground fat trimmings. I don't really mind, the birds love it. It's a lot like suet, but it's not suet. Seems these trimmings, ground or not, should be cheaper than actual suet...of which there would be much less per cow! I'm paying about $1 per pound for the stuff (down here in the boonies.)

I don't usually have stale bakery goods around...and while I do add birdseed, cornmeal and a little wheat flour, perhaps I'll try bits of fruit in some. You know; plumped up raisins and apple bits? I can't afford to feed them nuts; times are tough all over.