Rendering the Fat (Homestead Cooking)

Rendering the Fat

I tried my hand at something new for homestead cooking. Making bear lard. Andrew saved me a bunch of fat he trimmed from the bear meat we sent him from Craig last spring. I planned to use the fat in making deer sausage, but we already had a lot of pork fat in the freezer, so I researched how to render it into lard for baking and sautéing.

I diced the fat into about 1 inch chunks, cutting away as much of the straggling meat as was practical. I knew I wanted to heat the fat only till it turned to liquid, and to be careful not to burn or fry the cracklins – which, I found out, is the fat and any meat that would not render – if I wanted the best product.

Several articles recommended a slow cooker, but I could not make Sara’s mom’s ancient slow cooker work right. So, I transferred all the fat to an enamel cast iron pot. I put the stove flame on low, and soon, the fat started to “melt” to oil. I looked up what was happening during the rendering process, and found heating the fat drives off the water from the fat, leaving behind the oil that makes lard.

After several hours, I had a pile of cracklins in the center of a growing pool of liquid. The cracklins were soft and looked chewy. I thought maybe they were supposed to be drier and crisp, but after looking at the online images, I saw they looked just like cracklins were supposed to.
I ladled all the liquid I could. It was a slight orange color, so I had not been perfect, as a clearer yellow color was what I was shooting for. I waited a few hours longer for more oil to render, and didn’t see much more fat turning to liquid, so I removed the remaining oil to let it cool. I had about filled the 6 quart pot with bear fat at the start, and it yielded about a quart of oil.

I strained the oil first through a metal mesh strainer, and then through cheesecloth. The liquid had a rather strong, gamy smell. I thought it might not be usable, but I’d gone this far with the hours of cooking, so had to try it.

I poured the cooled oil into a quart sized yogurt container, put the lid on, and put it in the fridge to solidify.

The next day, I was putting together dinner, and had some brussel sprouts to use. I took out the lard, and it looked like it was supposed to – the same consistency as “bacon grease”. It still had a strong odor. I put a spoonful in the pot, and watched it melt. As it melted, I noticed no smell.

I tossed in a handful of quartered sprouts in the oil, and sautéed until they were slightly browned and had softened. I tentatively tasted a quarter. And it was good. No discernible gamy taste.  I threw the rest of the sprouts into the pan and sauteed the rest for dinner.  I’d see if Sara noticed anything when she ate them. She did not.

So, my lard wasn’t perfect, but it was edible.

This morning, I thought I’d see how biscuits tasted using the lard. I don’t remember ever making biscuits before. I found a simple recipe that didn’t involve a lot of chilling this or that.  Just mix together flour, baking powder and salt with lard and milk. It made a dozen little biscuits in a cup cake tin in short time.

The biscuits weren’t light and flaky like they may have been if I’d made the kind you roll out and then use a cookie cutter, but like the sprouts, they were edible. And no gamy taste from the lard.

Tonight it’s going to be some gravy made with the deer sausage I made last week over the biscuits. My guess is Sara will like this, too.

January Boating with Barry

I had a session with Ketchikan scouts as a snow sports merit badge counselor all lined up for Saturday evening.   Then Barry called.  Can you crew with my son and I to take a load of drinking water to Angoon.   
We were to leave at 530 am and be back about 7 pm.  That would work for me to keep my appointment with the scouts.  There were 180 cases of bottled water to offload in Angoon, where their drinking water supply was on the fritz due to problems with their public water system.  Sure I said.
Normally, he might not ask for another crew on such a trip.  But it’s the middle of winter, the load would be near the maximum for his  boat, the cases of bottled water had to be offloaded by hand on the beach, and an extra deckhand would be an added safety measure when there might not be any other boats on the water for the ~ 100 mile trip to Angoon.   Plus, it would be an adventure in an otherwise somewhat idle time here in the archipelago
I knew, and Barry likely knew, full well, based on just about every prior trip, that things would not go as planned.  We would never be back by 7 pm.  But we crossed our fingers and hoped for the best.
We left right on time from downtown Juneau.  That was the first flaw in the plan.  If the boat was first sailed to Auke Bay and loaded their instead, we could save 4 or 5 hours.  But, here we were.
The trip was relatively uneventful at the beginning.  Yes, the boat was loaded to about it’s maximum capacity.  But, the seas were fair and the temperature was above freezing.  We noticed about 5 hours into the trip that we were shipping water through the front drop bow seam, and the water was collecting forward.  The water was not casually exiting the scuppers aft of the bow as it should have, and the bow would not raise further with the trim tabs to get the leaky seam out of the water.
When we started bucking some choppy seas from a southeast wind, things seemed to get a little worse.  We tried turning with the wind to get the water holding on deck to escape out the scuppers.  We tried some turns, as well, to shed more water from the deck.  When the deck was dry and the water shipping through the bow got to be in equilibrium with the water exiting the scuppers, we continued on to Angoon.
We arrive near dusk, having not seen a single boat on the water all day.  I handed over the helm to Barry, and he easily navigated the entrance to Mitchell Bay.  I’d fished the area in the Dutch Master years ago, and never had the courage to transit through this entrance, with its mighty current.
Once inside, a crew of lads from Angoon met us on the beach near a dock, and we began unloading the 180 cases of water.   Barry’s son Matt and I helped the Angoon crew while Barry stayed at the helm, and soon we had the pair of pick up trucks loaded.   We offloaded the rest of the water on the beach.  Barry had to stop us from offloading a couple times so he could back the boat off the beach and reposition so as not to get beached on the outgoing tide.
When all the drinking water was offloaded, we tied up to the nearby dock to inspect the bilges before returning home.  By now it was getting on to 4 pm, but I still thought maybe I could make it back by 8 to help the scouts.
When he popped the deck hatch that was directly under the load of water, the hold chamber was full of sea water.  The water shipping on board was going in this bulkhead below decks, and that was what was weighing the bow down further, and why the bow could not be raised with the trim tabs enroute.
Barry got to work checking wires and bilge pumps.  By now, I knew I wasn’t getting back to Juneau in time, so I texted the scout leaders and rescheduled tomorrow.  As they, too, are from an isolated community in this country, the reschedule was not unexpected.
I pulled up the Buffalo Bills home announcer broadcast on the XM radio app on my phone to joyfully listen to the Bills beating the snot out of the Patriots.   I sent and received texts to old college friends who are a successful business family in Buffalo and help one of the Bills players with his charity.  So surreal to be in the middle of nowhere with some invisible signal that allows me to pull in a game out of the ether and correspond with friends 5000 miles away.
As Barry continued with purging the bilges of seawater and the Bills continued running the Patriots, the afternoon turned to evening and darkness.  We had planned returning to Juneau when Larry finished, as the weather was fair.  I then overheard Barry’s son talking to his mom.  His son said “yes mom, I know what your vote is going to be.  The same as it’s always been after dark”.  That gave me a good laugh.  Barry’s wife was voting we stay put in Angoon and come back in the morning. Which made perfect sense, of course.   Why return in the dark when we could return in the morning.
We found a room, the driveway to which was located not 50 yards from the top of the dock ramp.  The place was a fishing lodge in the summer, and the owner had the caretaker warm up our room.  By the time we got there 10 minutes later, it was already toasty warm.  Matt and Larry took the queen bed, and I slept on the floor in a sleeping bag.   Larry returned to the boat to finish wiring the bilge pumps, and Matt and I were soon settled in and asleep.
We awoke at 6 am.  Barry went down to start the boat while I made coffee.  We were underway about 630.  It was past “nautical twilight”, which is a term Barry had introduced me the day before.  It’s the time before sunrise, but when you can see the horizon.  You can see alot on the water several hours before sunrise, even when it’s cloudy.   
We made our way out to Chatham Strait and headed north and home.  It was flat calm.  Barry’s wife was right.  We got a good night’s sleep, light was only going to increase, and seas were flatter than they were the night before.  And we saw no boats on our trip til we were near Juneau several hours later.
Barry calculated we should be able to make the Auke Bay fuel dock with about 25 gallons to spare.  That was kind of cutting it close, but not too bad.  Our options were few as fuel docks in Angoon and other small towns are generally closed on Sundays.  Especially in the winter.   
We made it to Auke Bay in about 3 hours.  We’d polished off the dozen doughnuts I brought for the trip yesterday, and that was all the food I’d brought.   Luckily, Barry had brought a package of dried salami and wedge of cheese, and I put those on stale triscuts for breakfast to go with our coffee.  
As we neared Auke Bay, we saw a few folks out trolling for king salmon near town.  We took on fuel, and  then made the rest of the hour plus trip around Douglas Island and back to Harris Harbor.    I arrived home grateful for another Alaskan adventure, especially in the dead of winter, with Barry and Son.

Skating Rink Day

Well, we got a foot or more of snow yesterday, and now we’ve got raining coming daily for a week, at least.  The whole town is a skating rink.  Glad I shoveled off the roof a few days ago when the snow was like sugar, just to be safe.
I was supposed to be on my way to Minnesota ice fishing today, but cancelled the trip when I was exposed to Covid at last week’s scout meeting.   After spreading Covid around myself less than a month ago to about 12 others, I wasn’t taking any chances.  I was in self quarantine through today – the recommended 5 day period.
After looking at the weather forecast, I thought this is a good time to grind up the venison burger.  I ground everything up yesterday.  My 1950’s monster Kleen Kut meat grinder gave up soon after I started.  The end of the auger that holds the cutting knife has rounded off again.  My friend Bob should be able to weld me up a repair as he did last time, but as I was already started, I switched to old faithful – the kitchen aid with the meat grinder attachment.  
I had microwaved the frozen blocks of deer meat until I could just cut through them with all my might.  I cut the blocks into chunks that I could feed into the big grinder.  When I had to switch to the kitchen aid, I had to start cutting all the chunks I’d already cut into smaller pieces so I could feed them into the throat of the grinder hopper.  No big deal.  It’s snowing like crazy, and I’m not going anywhere, and not in a hurry.
It took me a good part of the mid day to grind everything.  I’m guessing it was about 40 lbs of meat or so.  I plowed the driveway a few times to take a break from grinding.
After everything was ground, I wasn’t too enthused to get cracking on processing the burger further.  So, I covered the bowls of meat with plastic wrap and put the bowls in the truck.  It was right at freezing, so just right for overnight chilling.
Today, I decided I’d process two full canner loads – 30 wide mouth pint jars – and then make sausage out of the rest.  I filled the big roasting pan with meat, and put it in the oven and heated the oven to about 430 degrees.  As the meat was browning in the oven, I got out the jars and the pressure cookers.  
I pulled out the roasting pan every so often to stir the meat, turning the browned meat on the outside to the middle and the raw meat on the inside to the outside.  
As I got the jars together, I realized I didn’t have any canning lids, so I ran to the store.  Big surprise.  A dozen wide mouth lids are now $7!  I know that’s a big increase from the last time I bought some.  I wouldn’t know if almost any other commodity in the grocery store had increased alot, but somehow I do for canning lids.  But what do I care?  I’m gonna can.  So gotta have the lids.  I grabbed 4 dozen, and a package of licorice for the short ride home.  The store is just over a mile from home.  I would not have wanted to drive further on the roads.
I rinsed about a dozen jars, and put a tsp each of salt and pepper in the bottom of each jar.
When the meat in the roasting pan was sufficiently browned, I started packing the jars.  I filled each jar with browned burger, and then used the tamper from Sara’s espresso machine to pack the meat tight about an inch below the top.  I decided to add a bit of water this year, as the last batch I did, the meat is dry at the top of the jar.  Not that it detracts much from the end product, but I thought I’d see how adding a little water works.
After I filled a dozen jars, I put about 4 inches of water in the bottom of the canner, and started loading jars.  I found I could put 14 in the canner, so I got a few more jars to fill up the Mirro canner.
I was so satisfied with filling the canner, I decided I might as well double the fun.  I filled up the roasting pan again with deer burger, and got more jars and the second canner from the garage.  The other canner is an All American canner of almost identical size to the Mirro, but somehow it holds 16 jars.  I kept browning meat and filling jars til I had the second canner full, and now I had two full canners on the stove, heating up.  
I sat down by the wood stove and had a couple cups of coffee while the canners were heating up.    One canner finally started steaming, and I started the 10 minute count down.  I put the canning weight on after 10 minutes, and some time later, the second canner was ready, too.  When both weights were rocking, I got to work on sausage.
I had just shy of 20 lbs of burger left.  I went to the freezer and retrieved a 5 lb package of pork back fat Sara had bought at a farmer’s market last time she was down at Gail and Mark’s in Seattle.  I also grabbed packages of devils club buds, beach asparagus, and ground bull kelp stipe.
The fat can be cut right out of the freezer, so I got to work grinding that.  When I had it all ground, I hand mixed it with the deer burger for a good long while until the fat was uniformly mixed with the meat.
I weighed out the meat mixture into four, 5 lbs portions.  I looked up my past sausage recipes, and decided I’d make kelp, maple, Polish, and African spice batches.   About this time, the national championship football game was starting.  So, I measured out spices and mixed the different batches during commercials of the football game.  I was rooting for whoever was playing Alabama, and this year, it was Georgia.
I thoroughly mixed each sausage batch, and when I was done with one, I let it sit in it’s bowl as I moved on to the next.  By halftime, I had mixed all four batches.   The game was a good one, with both defenses holding the other’s offense to field goals.
As the second half started, I began filling 1 lb chub bags with the sausage mixtures.  I used a yogurt container with the bottom cut off and a slit up the side that I rolled up and slid into the chub bag.  Then I dropped sausage mixture through the yogurt container and into the bag.  I packed the bags tight by twisting the top from time to time.   I worked during commercials, and by the fourth quarter, I had filled all the bags and taken them to the freezer.  Once the tubes of sausage freeze, I’ll vacuum pack them in another larger bag.  By freezing them first, they hold their shape and allow me to cut off silver dollars of breakfast sausage.
By now it was getting on past 6 pm, and luckily Sara was still at her office.  The kitchen was a disaster.  Stainless steel bowls with pork fat and deer burger remnants everywhere.  Several cutting boards covered with the same, as well as remnants of kelp, devils club buds, and beach asparagus.  Just about every ingredient covered the floor.  30 jars of deer meat were cooling near the stove.  The kitchen aid grinder was caked with pork fat.  Time to get to work.
I started at one side of the kitchen, and moved items either to the dishwasher or the sink.   I washed bowls, knives, and grinder parts during commercials in the 4th quarter, as the game was coming down to the wire, and Georgia clung to a 1 point lead.  Little by little, the kitchen got cleaner.  And little by little, Georgia pulled away.  First a long pass for a touchdown to go up by 7.  Then an interception returned for a touchdown to go up by 15.  Game over.  And the kitchen was almost to clean when Sara walked in the door.  
I’d pulled back a little bit of each back of sausage for us to taste test.  Sara made 4 patties and fried them up, and made salad from the local hydroponics farm we just joined as a CSA member.  I was happy that each of the sausages were pretty good, as I forgot to taste test each to see if a batch needed anything more before I packaged them.    
2+ cases of deer canned, 20 lbs of sausage done, and Alabama loses the football game.  The end to a perfect day.

Life just above zero

It’s been hanging around zero degrees here.   If you don’t live on the coast, that might not seem that cold.  But trust me.  RIght on the ocean, it’s cold.  Especially with gusty winds in some places.  It’s even colder – below zero – out in the valley north of town.
I continue to be impressed and amazed at the miracle of a heat pump.  Even at zero degrees, the unit is still putting out warm air.  I still don’t know how it can take zero degree air and make it warm.  We’re fairing fine in our little house with the heat pump going full blast and the wood stove helping keep things warm.  
Been hard to get my butt away from the recliner right next to the toasty wood stove.   Today, I finally got my act together and went skiing.  It wasn’t bad at all.  I only got in a couple miles and the snow is squeaky and doesn’t give much glide but beautiful in the sun lit woods.  
I should have been skiing more since I got out of covid isolation, but procrastinated and did some projects on my 2nd generation Dodge Ram 3500.  You Tube is man (and woman’s) best friend. First, I replaced the solenoid that powers the engine preheater.  I then repaired the 4wd that wasn’t working by bypassing the vacuum system and permanently locking in the front axle.  The solenoid job took about 45 minutes and the front axle job about 30 minutes, so I didn’t get cold before I got them done and could scramble back to my chair by the wood stove.   The two jobs took not much more time that it took me to watch the you tubes on them.
Before these two jobs, I was looking at putting in a plug-in engine heater, and when I you tubed that, I found out my truck had one already installed as a stock item.  Which I didn’t know.  I popped the hood and sure enough, there was the plug.  The truck starts up at 2 degrees in an instant when it’s plugged in.
Only one little vacuum item left to make the brake light go off, and will probably have to find the part in a junk yard.   Sure is nice having the 4wd back and knowing it shouldn’t be a problem again.
I conducted further procrastination last evening to avoid skiing by finally getting the brown bananas out of the freezer and making a bunch of small loaves of  banana bread.
So, with only one other job left – to shovel off the roof before rain comes later in the week – I went skiing to avoid that today.  After the 2 measly miles, I got back and started in on the roof.  I finished half today and will finish the other tomorrow.  The last part will entail throwing snow in the driveway, but now that I have a plow on the truck that I installed during isolation, I won’t have to move it by hand twice.

Winter Tales

Went skiing today.  Saw a whale in Fritz Cove on the way there.  On the trail, I saw deer tracks, marten tracks that wandered around on one side of the trail disappeared through a culvert under the trail, and reappeared again on the other end of the culvert.  I also saw mouse tracks  near the trail, at the end of which was the mouse, apparently dead in the snow.  Could not see other tracks of anything that would have killed it.   While skiing back to the road, a friend from my former work place skied up towing a small sled, with some extra clothes and a cased rifle strapped in.  He said he was going to the end  of the trail, then drop down for a 10 minute walk to the beach to see if he might see any deer.   He said he’d gone to the same spot recently and camped over night in the snow, and had a pair of wolves walk 20 yards away from him during the night.   Tomorrow is our last day of deer season.

Night Run

Larry called at 11 am. Do I want to run with him to the mine with a piece of equipment. With isolation over, of course I did. I love being retired.

I put on my red union suit underwear and carharts, cased my rifle for hunting the beaches on the way, filled my coffee thermos, packed a bag with extra gloves and fur hat,  and met Larry at the dock a half hour later.

We loaded a big diesel pump on a trailer. It weighed 4000 lbs. We untied from the downtown dock and I idled us down the channel as Larry tied down the equipment. It was sunny and calm. We’d throw a tarp over the unit if we ran into any chop.

We rounded Douglas  doing about 12 kts. It was a beautiful day. If only Larry would get the damn heater installed. I was extra glad I’d dressed warm.

We motored up the backside of Douglas Island. The sun beat down on the snow covered beaches. I could see deer tracks and otter slides here and there in the snow. But no deer.

As we passed Fritz Cove, we could see the lingering blow of the humpback whale that’s been there for a month now.

We continued on up past Auke Bay and into lower Lynn Canal. We reached the mine dock about 430, and it was just about pitch black. A few lights from the mining activity shown, and as we approached the beach landing we assumed was our designated pick up site, there came a zoom boom down to the beach. Right on time.

Larry took the helm from me to keep the boat in position against the beach as I worked with the beach crew to off load the pump. I took the lifting strap loop and shackle and attached it to the pick point on the trailer. The zoom boom tried, but could not lift the heavy pump with the boom fully extended. So, we dropped the bow and pulled the trailer forward. Then, a huge loader with forks appeared and took over.

The zoom boom driver and I got the lifting straps in place with the loader. Alot of my practical lifting safety principles from working on the north slope came back. I thought ahead as to how I could get hurt, and then made sure I was not in a position for it to happen. The big loader lifted the trailer off Larry’s boat and down to the beach. I pitched off the pump hose and wheel chocks to the zoom boom driver, and we idled off the beach.

Now it was dark. Really dark.

Larry and I switched places. I idled out into Berners Bay as he winched up the bow and secured it. My hands were cold from offloading the pump, and the cabin’s slight warmth felt good. Soon, Larry was back inside, and I handed over the helm to him. It took awhile to adjust our eyes for night vision, but soon we could see the mountainsides and the stars. There’d be no moon for us, but otherwise it was clear and fair seas.

We beat it back towards home. As we left Berners Bay, we thought we’d go all the way around Douglas and back to downtown to take advantage of the weather. But after less than an hour into the run towards Auke Bay, we agreed it was dark. Really dark. And that’s with lots of town light to see by. We pulled in to Auke Bay, and Larry called his wife to come get us.

As we entered the harbor, there was mist over the water. It was cold. As we idled to tie up, I stepped out to a foot of snow on the bull rail. We loosened up the frozen lines to tie up, and walked up to wait in the warm harbor bathroom for our ride to arrive.

A great day out after 10 days of Covid isolation.