Ma Ingalls makes suet

I think most at-home mothers have Ma Ingalls moments, when they quite like the idea of airing the quilt from the trundle bed, churning butter and sewing calico dresses by firelight in the evening while Pa cleans his rifle.

I consider myself a modern-day Caroline when I make salmonberry muffins for the kids, or plan how to fill our cellar. Or when I make suet, as I did today.

Red-breasted nuthatch - February/08

Discarding bacon or hamburger fat has always struck me as wasteful. I'm not quite willing to do as my Oma did, and spread bacon grease on toast or saute vegetables in it, delicious though that was to an eight-year-old. But I couldn't think of any other use for it until we ran out of store-bought bird suet recently.

"We're not bird people," I reassured a house guest this past weekend. 

Throughout the afternoon, our conversation was interrupted by Pete and I commenting, "Check out the one out that side window," and "Hey, is that a goldfinch? Wait, no - it's too big. Where's the book?"

Our friend finally asked, "So, you're only birders from the comfort of your own home?"

"We're 'Don't call us, we'll call you' birders," affirmed Pete.

Hairy woodpecker - March/08

We have a suet feeder hanging in front of the living room window, and while at times it does strike me as strange that we would choose to have a brick of fat interrupting our view of Indian Arm, I do love the constant stream of visiting birds. And I like the challenge of trying to photograph every species that drops by.

So the Ma Ingalls in me wanted to whip up my own suet, and an Internet search (like Ma would have done) yielded several recipes. I've been saving every spare ounce of fat in a container in the freezer for a few weeks now.

This morning I melted down two cups of the salvaged grease in a pan, and stirred in a cup of peanut butter, a cup of flour, a handful of oats, some stale hazelnuts and some crumbs from the bottom of a bag of tortilla chips. Pete was not nearly as excited about this whole process as I was. If only I got this much pleasure from cooking for my family.

I poured the concoction into an 8 x 8 baking pan and put it in the freezer to set. Two hours later I carved it into four squares of suet, perfectly sized for a standard feeder. Pete was quick to point out that when suet is a dollar or two at Canadian Tire, this exercise is not exactly cost-saving. That didn't deter me for a moment.

It's pouring out, and the birds are nowhere in sight, but I'm sitting on the couch knitting and drinking tea and waiting for the first visitors, feeling very satisfied with myself. Tomorrow's project on the homestead: headcheese.