I knew that wild birds were abundant on this property because they were singing their merry little songs in the background of property video. When I visited the property, the birds were singing their merry little songs. The sounds of all the birds actually woke us up the first few mornings we were here!
If you have seen Eddie Izzard's Dress to Kill then you are familiar with the line "I'm an executive transvestite." (Wikipedia on Dress to Kill) Along a train of thought that might only happen in my mind, the wild birds here at 107 Garden Tennessee are Executive Wild Birds.
Mrs. P, the former owner and avid bird feeder/watcher had a bird feeding station with six feeders. She was kind enough to leave a couple small feeders. It took me a minute to figure out what strange thing she left in containers in the freezer..."Oh, it's suet for the birds. Duh!" Thank you, Mrs. P! It should have given me a clue about the Executive Wild Birds!
I happily took one of the suet cakes and popped it in the suet feeder. A week or so later I popped the second suet cake in the feeder. We were mile high in boxes and I had lofty ambitions to render some fat and mix in goodies from the larder, but I just didn't get the job done. So sad for the birds. Instead I picked up a couple of suet cakes at the store. Well.
Executive Wild Birds: Excuse me, these are not the suet cakes we are accustomed to. Mrs. P always made them from scratch for us. What's this weird ground up, cheap, store bought stuff? We just can't eat this stuff. We protest!
Me: Dale, they haven't touched the suet in over a week.
Me to myself: Damn, these are Executive Wild Birds.
With boxes stacked everywhere and plenty of tasks beckoning me, I ran out on the hunt for beef fat. I know, who does this? I went to not one, not two, but three stores on the hunt for beef fat.
I scored about ten pounds of beef fat. "Okay, Executive Wild Birds, I have the beef fat." I rendered the fat and feverishly searched for recipes online. Most of the recipes I found online called for things that I didn't have on hand or didn't seem quite right to feed to wild birds.
Later that evening, the suet cakes were solidifying in the fridge and there was extra fat in the freezer for the next batch. It felt like a major coup in the middle of everything!
I put the homemade suet cake in the feeder in the morning, BOOM!, the Executive Wild Birds were all over it.
Executive Wild Birds: See, she got that memo! That's right. Who's boss!
Me: I cannot believe that those birds wouldn't eat the store bought suet. They just love the homemade. These are Executive Wild Birds.
I have no idea if it is even possible that the Executive Wild Birds know the difference but I suspect that just like people, birds simply know the good stuff.
Executive Wild Bird Suet Recipe
I omitted things like sugar or super expensive ingredients. I've found that keeping up with our Executive Wild Birds means being flexible with the ingredients. Pecans, really!? I am going to feed the wild birds pecans? Umm, no.
To be clear, raw beef fat from around the kidneys is referred to as suet and rendered beef fat is tallow. But, suet cakes are made with rendered beef fat and often referred to as suet or suet cakes.
Rendering beef fat: The last batch of beef fat I rendered was about 25 pounds and took a couple of days to process. Buy the amount of fat that fits in your pot since it takes some time to process and it can be a mess to clean! I prefer to get it all done in one go! Yes, it can be stinky but we just put up with the smell. Remember: You can also use the tallow for cooking and soap making so it is a task that isn't just for the birds.
Over medium heat and under a watchful eye heat the fat and cook until the fat is liquified. Some water can be added so you don't scorch your pot at the beginning of the process. With a large batch, I leave the lid on and take it off later in the process. But, importantly, keep an eye on the pot! When it seems that there is no more fat to render, I strain off all the liquidfied fat that I can and put the remains in a crock pot. I then let it continue to cook down on low for as long as it takes to render all the fat. Since we don't have any chickens right now, I simply portioned the remains by half cup measure and froze it for our dog to enjoy later. Some folks prefer to fry up the cracklings and enjoy. I don't use baking soda or any other additives to have a more white tallow.
Once all the fat is rendered, strain it through a fine mesh strainer. I like to render it again and strain it again so it's nice and debris free and less likely to attract flies and generally create a mess at the bird feeding station. Rendering it again also allows any water to evaporate.
Update: Rendering the fat is much easier and faster in a crock pot. About 11 pounds of ground fat rendered down in about 8 hours and yields just a tad over 4 pounds of tallow. Strain off the fat through a strainer as it renders and then render a second time after cleaning out the crock pot. Ground fat renders about 50% faster so it might be worth getting that grinder or food processor dirty. I use a food processor to grind the fat and since texture isn't a concern I didn't freeze it before grinding. [8 May 2017]
Skipping rendering the fat. Keep in mind that you can simply grind fat and put it in a feeder which is certainly a ton easier than rendering fat. However, we didn't want to attract animals or drive our dog nuts. In the summer this can be a bit messy! You can also save fat from cooking too! Strain it and pour it in a canning jar that you have in the fridge or freezer. We do both, render the fat and save fat from cooking.
- 4 pounds rendered fat
- 6 cups cracked corn
- 6 cups rolled oats
- 2 cups dried fruit
- 2 cups peanut butter
- 2 cups peanuts
- 2 cups mixed wild bird seed
Simply put a large empty container on a scale and add 4 pounds of melted rendered fat. Don't forget to use up any fat that you have tucked away in the fridge or freezer or from a previous batch. Continue adding ingredients to the fat until it weighs about 11 pounds. Pour into container(s). The mixture will be a bit sloppy but it will firm up as the fat(s) cool.
Containers. I inherited two old tupperware containers from Mrs. P. and I continue to use those along with a stack of super inexpensive plastic containers that hold 2 cups. I've tried parchment paper in and it seems to just make a mess of things and I cannot reuse the parchment. I've tried glass containers and it's just a mess to get the suet out. Shallow metal baking pans worked fine for me and I simply cut the suet into the needed sizes. I would use the small stainless steel dishes that I have but I don't have nearly enough. One batch of suet requires 10 or 11 2-cup containers. I have a few favorite feeders and one of them is the Hexihaus. It's a large enough for two 2-cup suet cakes, it's easy to clean, and it has a cover to protect the suet from rain and snow.
Modify the recipe based on what you have on hand. If you want to use less or more of an ingredient or omit entirely, that's fine. Feel free to experiment and change ingredients based on what you have on hand and what makes sense in your situation!
[Update] Some modifications I've used. I've found that 4 pounds of fat plus 7-ish pounds of add-ins works fine. The mixture should be sloppy and if you use too many dry ingredients then the suet cake will fall apart.
- Skipped the peanut butter and used bacon fat instead. I've not used more than 2 cups of bacon fat so I don't know how the suet cake will hold up in the summer heat with most or all bacon fat.
- Skipped the dried fruit and peanuts and used all mixed wild bird seed instead. I bought a huge bag of mixed seed and the birds generally hate it so I've been using it up in suet. The birds seems to love it when it is coated in beef and pig fat!
- Skipped the cracked corn and replaced with a bunch of bits of this and that from cleaning out the pantry. Like that cup of buckwheat flour that got lost, split peas that suffered from "failure to cook." It's a thing, look it up! If you ever had split peas that simply never softened, now you know. [8 May 2017]