SHTF cooking oil - Rendering Fat
A while back I was in a village in Afghanistan trying to win hearts and minds or something. Through my trusty interpreter I asked, “What do you want from us to make your life better?” Much to my surprise the answer was not flour, electricity, fuel or even “leave us alone”. They wanted cooking oil.
Imagine my shock that a democratic form of government, equal rights for women, or a working judiciary was never mentioned! I bring up this example from Afghanistan, one because I have spent way too much time there the last few years and two the rural villagers are hard, self-sufficient survivors - great examples for a Prepper like myself.
Back to the cooking oil. Before the SHTF, you can stock up on cooking oil, but shelf life for oil is 2 to 3 years at best (depends on the type – hint Extra Virgin Olive Oil has a long shelf life). Plan for 2 gallons of oil per person. But if you don’t have a press, you won’t be making any vegetable oil from scratch once you run out of stock or your stock goes bad. Eventually you will need to render fat.
A couple of generations ago our ancestors used lard, tallow or butter as the saturated fat for cooking. It has really only been fairly recently that we have come to rely on vegetable oils for cooking. While they are nice, it is fairly certain that when the SHTF most of us in North America will not have access to palm kernels, coconuts, olives or massive amounts of virgin grape seed to cold press. It is for that reason that you need to know how to render tallow and lard.
Fun Fact: Tallow comes from ungulates (cud chewers) such as goats, sheep, deer, moose and cattle. Lard comes from swine.
If you are so inclined there are any number of scholarly articles on the dietary aspects of tallow with references to stearic acid, omega-3, good cholesterol, bad cholesterol, cholesterol that seems bad but that is just because of the neighborhood it grew up in… This is a website about prepping for survival. We are not going into all of that.
For purposes of this discussion we will use venison tallow but most mammals will share many of the same anatomical features so you should be able to transfer much of what is written here to whatever carcass or road kill you should happen upon after the SHTF.
Does (female deer) will put on fat for the winter after they have weaned their fawns so late summer is the best time to take a fatty doe. Bucks will lose fat as they begin to rut (apparently the need to procreate makes them forget about eating – I can empathize with that). So as the Does get more curvy, the bucks get more lean. BLUF [Bottom Line Up Front]: deer will have the most fat prior to the weather turning really cold = October / November in North America.
First, if at all possible, get your deer as cold as possible as quickly as possible. The fat is much easier to work with when it is cold. But the fat can quickly go rancid if not cooled exposed to air (oxygen). BLUF: the faster you can get your carcass prepped and into refrigeration, the better.
There is more than one kind of fat on a deer. There is fat which is found around the entrails is sometimes referred to as caul and there is the fat that is found between the skin and the major muscles. The fat around the internal organs (like the kidneys) is called suet and can be difficult to render but is good for candles or soap.
Cut the fat into uniform chunks that are about one cubic inch each. This will ensure that all of the tallow is rendered at about the same time. When cutting up the fat, be careful to avoid hair, bone chips, meat or blood. We want to render the purest tallow possible. Inevitably some of this stuff will make it into the stock pot but don’t worry, we will refine it out later.
Place the fat chunks, one layer deep, in a large pot or turkey basting pan. The idea is to maximize the size of the heated surface. Do not render tallow indoors if you can help it. It takes a long time and your house is definitely going to pick up the smell. Add about one inch of water to the bottom of the pan; this helps prevent burning.
The key is low and slow on the temperature/time continuum. The fat should heat up until it is gently bubbling. You don’t want it to boil over. Stir occasionally. Cover the pot to keep out any airborne impurities. It can take several hours to render the fat from a deer. Patience is a virtue.
After a few hours most of the water will have been lost due to evaporation. The tallow (we can call it that now) can heat up very quickly at this point so keep an eye on it. If it begins to smoke it is too hot and you need to let it cool. When the tallow is completely liquified, carefully pour it through a metal strainer into another pot that is about half full of hot water. Bring this to a rolling boil for 10 minutes, then remove it from the heat and allow it to cool.
Your tallow will solidify into a solid, waxy block on top of the water. This is your refined tallow. You can pack it into Mason jars and seal them or you can heat it again until it liquifies and pour it directly into the jars (they won’t shatter). Seal the jars and store them in a cool place. You can even freeze tallow and it will keep for months but chances are, like the Afghan villagers you will be using it up well before then.
Keep on Prepping…