Dragon Flower Farmhouse Feed

Chewing the Fat... About Fat

Demofat

Trigger warning: If you're a vegetarian, or the type of person who likes sausage but doesn’t want to see how it's made, you might want to skip this particular post. Today I'm handing the blog over to ol' dusty buns (AKA Anthony Valterra, the other half here at the Dragon Flower Farm). He's going to talk about how to render fat. 

Here's Anthony:

First of all, why render fat? Well, fat is a substance that the human body is accustomed to absorbing. In fact, if you take in too little fat, it can have numerous deleterious effects on your health. It can lower your hormonal levels, make your skin dry, encourage you to overeat, mess with your body's natural temperature regulator, and cause mental fatigue. Now, that does not mean you have to eat animal fat. But if you are a meat eater anyway, it is certainly one of the easiest ways to make sure you are getting enough fat in your diet.

Rendered fat is fat that has been heated so that it melts the fat and makes it easy to separate the usable liquid fat from the proteins and other “waste” materials (although those materials don’t need to go to waste–more on that later). If you are rendering pork, the rendered fat is called “lard,” and if you are rendering beef, the result is called “tallow.” The process is the same, but just for clarity’s sake, we are going to be talking about making tallow. 

Tallow makes a fantastic frying pan lubricant for cooking just about anything. It also is great for providing a bit of flavor and helping the cooking process in a slow cooker, or "Crock-Pot" (which is a brand name, and we actually use one of those). You can bake with the rendered fat, season your iron skillets with it, and even make candles. It is high in vitamins A, D, K, and E and can be stored in a cool, dry shelf (refrigeration is not necessary although in the summer months when every place in the house is hot, we will toss our tallow into the back of the fridge). 

The first thing you need is a large chunk of cow fat. We buy organic, grass-fed beef in 1/4-cow quantities from a local rancher. When we make that purchase, the rancher throws in the fat for free. But we go through the fat faster than we go through the beef, so we end up buying single bags of fat separately between beef orders.

Pictured below is the last one-fifth of a $28 purchase, the last round of rendering we did from this chunk of fat.

Fat

As you can see, the fat comes in a large mass. It can’t be rendered in this state as the liquid fat needs to be able to pass easily through the fiber and protein holding it together. In a perfect world, if I had a meat grinder, I'd first grind the fat and then render it. But I am still looking for a good cast iron hand-cranked grinder, so until then, I just dice the fat into small cubes.

Cutfat

Our Crock-Pot holds five gallons, and I typically render about 3 or 4 cups of fat in a batch. I suppose you could render more, but the process of getting the fat out of the Crock-Pot is tricky enough with this amount. More would be a bit too much of a process for me.

Here is the Crock-Pot full and ready to go. I don’t put anything into the Crock-Pot with the fat. I’ve seen some sources that recommend a bit of water, but I have not found that to be necessary.

Crockfat

I start the Crock-Pot on high and set the timer for about two hours, but in reality, I check the pot about every 30 minutes and give the fat a quick stir with a silicone spoon that can handle high heat. This will be the first of a number of warnings that fat can get really hot and is very slippery! Those are two of its wonderful qualities. You can cook with very high heat with tallow or lard and it will smoke very little, and it creates a great non-stick surface. However, those qualities can make it exceptionally dangerous to work with. So be very careful that you have heat barriers and that you handle everything like you would a slick water eel.

Rendering

Once the fat has given up some of its liquid, and you can see it in the bottom of the Crock-Pot, you can turn the heat to low. Now you can check on it about every hour. You are waiting for it to separate into two distinct parts. First the clear liquid–that is the tallow; second, the brown, crinkly remains–that is what we are going to call “the crackling.” Once the crackling is uniformly shrunken and brown, you have probably pulled as much tallow out of it as you can. Turn off the Crock-Pot and unplug it. Now comes the tricky part.

Funnel

You’ll need a jar that you can seal, and I highly recommend a heat-safe funnel. To be very safe, I recommend that you put the jar with the funnel into the sink and have the Crock-Pot next to the edge of the sink. Everything is very hot and very slippery. The Crock-Pot, tallow, the crackling, and the jar itself will be hot and coated in fat. Using a heat-safe ladle, ladle the crackling out of the Crock-Pot and into a heat-safe container, leaving the liquid tallow behind. I use a second spoon to squeeze the crackling to get as much tallow out of the crackling as I can. 

IMG_0152

Once you have emptied as much of the crackling out of the slow cooker as you can safely manage, you can start ladling the remaining liquid into the jar. I can get the vast majority of crackling out of the Crock-Pot, so it is fairly easy for me to get just liquid into the jar with no tiny floater of crackling. But in the end, you will likely need to use a cheesecloth over the funnel so that you can get the last of the liquid separated and into the jar.

Cheesecloth

Be super careful. Have I mentioned how hot and slippery fat can get? If you knock over the jar, don’t try to grab it. Just let it be, and take the loss. No use getting burnt over spilt tallow. Don’t splash cold water on the jar–it will likely break from the temperature change. Carefully put the lid on the jar (not real tight as the fat is cooling and will cause a suction) and use oven mitts or other protection. Everything will be very slippery–the jars, the slow cooker, your utensils, the funnel, likely the counter that everything is sitting on. Be careful.

Once it cools, it looks like the tallow you can buy in jars at the store. Here's ours, in repurposed sauerkraut jars.

Done

This is what we got from about $6 worth of fat: one 25-ounce jar full and another half full. Call it 37 ounces. On the open market (or Amazon in this case), beef tallow for consumption goes for about 58 cents per ounce, so for $6, we made about $21.46 worth of tallow. Not bad. And what about those cracklings?

Cracklin

Weirdly enough, they make a decent snack food. They look much more appetizing when they are dried out–sort of like pork rinds. For me they are not like potato chips where if you eat one you have to eat the whole bag. A handful of cracklings with some salt, and I’m pretty good for a long time. But they are, essentially, fat, which is very filling, so that is not really surprising.

Rendering your own fat is a good thing that can save you a great deal of money and provide a very useful cooking ingredient. But remember: everything is slippery, everything is hot…

OK, now I can hear the problem with that phrase!

By the way, here's the Crock-Pot that we use.

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A Peek Inside the Dragon Flower Farmhouse

Balloonball

Our house turns 115 this year, and that's something to celebrate. Built in the year of the iconic St. Louis World's Fair, she's a solid, sturdy old gal with a few frills and flounces that tell you her history. Let me give you a tour.

The first thing you notice are the ball finials flanking the front porch. They're original to the house; in the above photo you can see them in relation to a hot air balloon, as I took it last fall during the Great Forest Park Balloon Race. The finials are definitely conversation-starters. Recently I was out front conducting spring yard cleanup and a passerby started talking to me about them as if she were continuing a conversation we'd left off previously. They're painted white to match the white vinyl siding, and let me speak on that topic for a moment. We hate the vinyl siding, though it's conveniently maintenance-free, and the porch itself is recycled plastic. Since we can't paint either of those, the big white house will remain so, but the wooden ball finials can be painted, and painted they shall be, along with the front door, which for now is brown.

Yeah, there's a lot of brown in the Dragon Flower Farmhouse. If this were the brown of wood, either left natural or stained, we wouldn't mind at all. But it's brown paint.

Someone--a previous owner or perhaps the contractor who flipped the place--streak-painted brown on top of a dark (and from the looks of it, ancient) wood stain. The overall effect isn't good.

We think this persistent brown paint situation is partly why we were able to get the house for a good deal in a neighborhood that has strongly appreciated since the real estate recovery. Since there are no windows on one whole side of the downstairs due to the close proximity to the neighboring four-family flat, and the hardwood floors are also a dark hue, the brown paint makes for a dim living room experience. 

Livingroom

It's everywhere on the first floor, except for the kitchen, thank goodness. Some of the previous reno upgrades were good choices, as kitchens really make or break a home.

Kitchen
A pic I snapped during our viewing tour, so not our decor, but the dark floor is a great contrast to the white here.

The other reasons we got a good deal? 1) We purchased in November, when the market starts to cool, 2) the basement showed signs of serious leaking, 3) there are train tracks across the street (we see this as a plus, honestly, but others might not), and 4) there's an apartment balcony overlooking the yard, which I've already discussed here a lot when talking about the big fence project.

Apartment Side

Besides the potential for a good deal, which was really important to us when buying a house here in (late) middle age, the house captured us with her charm. Her issues could be solved. But the period details and overall great shape she was in despite her age drew us in. My husband said, "This feels like an old farmhouse," and that was it.

You already know about the outside victories--the fence and the French drain. We haven't had a lot of time for the inside, but honestly, we're lucky in that there's not that much to do, and we've already begun to tackle the brown problem. Here are before and afters of the front door and living room windows.

Front door before and after
Before... And after!
Livingroomwindowsbefore
Before...
Livingroomwindowsdone
And after! Yippee! Side note: The drapes are better, too, because they're no longer high-watering at the sill. But we hung them just a bit too low. I'd rather see them just "kiss" the floor.

Other than that, we've been enjoying decorating both generally and for the holidays. The old girl lends herself well to holiday decor, and even though that's not something I did very much during my long sojourn in the Pacific Northwest, I've picked it back up here in the Midwest and might have even gone a little bit berserk (at least by my standards) this past Christmas.

Halloween

Bookcasexmas

Chandelierxmas

My decorating style is what you might call "eclectic." I love mixing old and new, and I love color. Apparently, I can never get enough turquoise, and orange is firmly in my wheelhouse. I once painted the entire exterior of my house orange, back when I lived in Tacoma. I never could figure out why people insisted on drab house paint when the drool-y grey skies made me ache for something more vibrant. The coup de gras was the sunburst pattern on the mid-century modern ranch home's garage door.

OrangeTacoma
This might not be your cup of tea, but I still think it looks fab. And check out the thrift store lantern I repurposed with copper paint and a bamboo pole!

My husband Anthony is present in all of the home decorating decisions. He often comes up with spot-on solutions I can't see. I believe our styles have come together and melded into a new version that is very collaborative. One of my pet peeves is going into someone's home and seeing one half of the couple totally absent in the decorating presentation. Usually with hetero couples, that's the guy. It's not always her fault; dudes tend to check out when it comes to how to make a home. But I've also seen the male vibe completely squelched by too much lady vision. Maybe it's cool; he's got the man room and doesn't really care, but I think it's a little sad? I just prefer to engage with the person I'm planning a life with and really make a life together. My ex-husband (of the orange house era above) and I did this, too. He's an artist, and in his case it meant taking some colorful risks that didn't always work out, like that time we painted a ceiling slate grey and the walls marigold yellow. :) But that's OK. You gotta try, right?

My current evolution is considerably more restrained, as evidenced by this pop of orange in the stairwell.

Orangestairwell

Anthony and I are a much more mature (and, um, compatible) couple, and the Dragon Flower Farmhouse reflects that. He's encouraged my more historic, classic, antique-loving side, and I've opened him up to exciting color combinations and a general modern aesthetic. I love introducing a few more pieces with a fantasy feel to appeal to my beloved gamer geek, such as an antique brass candlestick shaped like a cobra or an original ink print of a raven queen. I won't insist on anything he totally vetoes, and he will defer to my judgment about design rules when they're important.

This pink-themed mantel in the photo below is one triumphant example, as it's built around a painting his mother, A. Grace, bequeathed us when she died. The '60s glass holding feathers is from a thrift store, and it bears Anthony's sun sign, Capricorn. There's the cobra candlestick I gave him for his birthday, which, second-hand, cost me less than $45, but I've seen it in a pair on eBay for $500. The green vase was an antique mall find and is signed by the sculptor, and the mounted print block on the far right I got for about $10 on clearance at World Market. The green bowl is a great example of Japanese kintsugi, a treasured gift from Anthony, and the small chest is his. We found the conch shell buried in our backyard, and the pink bloom grew in the front. While I'm styling the mantel according to design tips and principles, what's important to me is the meaning of each piece. 

PinkMantel

Speaking of design rules... I feel it's only right to pay tribute to my rule muse, Emily Henderson. I've been fangirling this amazing designer for a few years now, and the bit of balance and good styling you do see in the photos above are to her credit. It's not that I was a total design dweeb before I discovered EHD, but good rules of thumb can really make a difference, explaining, for example, how to style a mantel, the proper way to hang curtains, or what height to place your art. I'm much more into color than Henderson is (she hates orange!), and I at first rejected her blue-trending aesthetic, but everything she says makes so much sense. When I make a point to follow her rules, I get great results. I've even started introducing more blue into my life and am considering painting the dining room some blue hue. It helps that it's one of Anthony's favorite colors.

I first came across the EHD blog through a search for images of "gold" used in a bedroom. I'd found a mint-condition mid-century modern laundry hamper in an amazing gold lamé-like material but didn't quite know how to make it work. Here's the EHD photo that stopped me in my tracks at the time.

130405_EmilyHenderson05583
Image credit, David Tsay for Emily Henderson.

I tried to use this as an inspiration on my much, much more limited budget. I think the biggest stumbling block was the lack of funds for those gorgeous gold silk drapes. Faux silk wouldn't work because it's unlined and too sheer, and the light-blocking compromise I made ended up looking more mustard-y than the gold I was shooting for. And tragically, the gold hamper that started the whole thing was a casualty in our big move from Washington state to Missouri in the fall of 2017. The best-laid plans... But that's OK. I still liked the room.

Bedroom
It was fun to play a bit with pattern, from the drapes to the artwork to the etchings on that lovely vintage 60s Italian lamp.

Bedroomcorner

It's all good. I didn't want an exact copy of EHD's room anyway and had been using it mainly for inspiration, which is how I feel about the interior design world as a whole. I like to learn the rules and take inspiration from everywhere but then decide for myself what I can do, given my budget, and what I want to do for my own enjoyment.

UPDATE: I sent a draft of this piece to EHD, and team member Velinda Hellen (loved her tiny kitchen makeover) sent me a nice note back, saying:

Thanks so much for sharing images of your home. You've done a beautiful job.

I was surprised to get a reply at all, as I'm sure they receive like billions of emails a day, so that was a graceful, nice thing to have happened. I'm still blushing from the compliment!

We've rearranged rooms to accommodate a home office since I took these photos, so it's changed yet again. I'll show those later on. 

Thanks for sticking with us here as we plant a butt-root in Midwestern soil. We've both had pretty nomadic existences as adults, so we're looking forward to feelings of permanency and seeing the long-term fruits of our labors, both inside and outside.

Where does your design inspiration come from? Please share your favorite blogs, websites, books, and other sources below! We're always looking for more.

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