Last week, my industrious friend Lady Day invited me to spend a day at her home rendering the fat from two bear their family recently "harvested". I have no idea if the layer of fat on these wee beasties is at all indicative of the winter we will have, but they were both rather roly poly - one yielded 30 pounds of fat and the other (a much smaller bear) yielded an additional 15 pounds.
The important thing to remember when you are butchering an animal with the intent to render the fat is to allow the fat to congeal before you attempt to remove it from the carcass. If you don't give the fat time to cool it will be an oozy gooey mess you won't soon forget. You can remove the fat from the animal in large chunks and put it in the freezer until you are ready to render. This is especially useful if you will have multiple animals from which to render fat - you might as well save it and do it all at once.
To begin the rendering process, cut the fat up into roughly 1" to 1 1/2" squares. Make sure that you don't leave any hair in the fat (you want high quality oil, after all). Fill a large stock pot (or two or three, depending on how much fat you have to render) about 1/4 to 1/3 full. Rending fat will splatter so you don't fill your pot too full. If you are using a conventional stove you don't want to deal with the mess and if you are using your wood cookstove (as we did) you don't want to start a fire.
|Fat cut into chunks|
|Pots on high on the wood cookstove|
|Fat beginning to melt|
|Cracklings beginning to brown|
|Ready to strain|
As the fat begins to melt, the chunks will grow smaller and begin to brown. These are the cracklings (you know, the ones that Laura talked about in the Little House on the Prairie books). Some folks like them sprinkled with a little bit of salt and other people use them to flavor soup or corn bread. If you have no taste for cracklings your chickens will love them.
|Removing the cracklings from the oil|
|Straining the oil and pouring it into jars for canning|
After the fat has been poured into sterilized jars, cap them off and put them in your water bath canner and process for 20 minutes. That's it! That is all there is to rendering fat.
|A large roasting pan full of cracklings|
|Ready to use in place of shortening|
Rendering is a skill that every homesteader/prepper should know. It takes little time and the oil that is produced is worth its weight in gold.
*Please excuse the pictures - I took them on my phone!