↓ Archives ↓

Posts Tagged → meat

How to render bear fat into usable grease

We take a break today from our more usual political commentary and slide easily over into rural culture. Specifically, how to render your luscious bear fat into a usable grease.

Why, you ask?

Because at one time, bear grease was considered a very close substitute for whale oil, which was such a cool product that literally every kind of food, medicine, and flame was made from it. As whales are rightly protected, and bears are bursting at the seams everywhere across America, making a bit o’ bear grease is a neat way to reach back in time.

Many people will use their bear grease for baking, and I have heard and read it is delicious for that purpose, provided it is rendered down carefully. My purpose was and is much more utilitarian: bear grease is going to be a new leather preservative and a lubricant for the patched round balls in my flintlock rifle. I am going to experiment with this unique grease as it was primarily used until the 1880s, when bears were in short supply from unsustainable market hunting, and more modern substitutes, mostly synthetic oils but also including whale oil, were more widely available.

Here are some photos of the simple process I did, using about five pounds of fresh and then immediately frozen fat from a young male bear.

The fat started out as mostly well trimmed, with only slight slices of meat on it. I left those on to see how those slices and the grease would turn out, and if the meat would impart a smell\flavor\aroma to the grease. What I have read is that any meat left on the fat will leave a meaty aroma and flavor to the grease after rendering. Based on the sniffing results of my snoot’s sharp capabilities, I think that is true. That is, meat left on the bear fat will definitely infuse a meaty smell into the grease.

If you intend to cook with the bear grease, then whether or not the meat is absolutely all removed is a question of what you intend to cook in the grease. If it is vegetables and other meats you will be frying in it, then my opinion is the aroma of the bear meat is pleasing and it will not ruin your cooking. If, however, you wish to bake pastries, pie crusts, and breads with your bear grease, then all of the meat ought to be removed. That means every scrap, shaving, and hint of meat should be sliced off the fat.

The fat should be clean, free of debris, leaves, twigs, pine needles, etc. Wash it well. You do not need to dry the fat when you go to render it, as a little water will only help you. It will not be a problem. Cut it with a knife into small chunks. The smaller the better. Some people process their bear fat in a meat grinder, breaking it down into a gooey mess that has no bonds linking the globules. Which makes the fat break down much faster. I think if I had ground up the bear fat, then it would have rendered out in the boiling water in a couple hours.

At first I steamed/ boiled the fat chunks in a second metal bowl immersed in a boiling cauldron over a propane burner. My goal was to be gentle, go slow, and not burn or even cook the fat. For cooks, burned or fried bear fat will definitely impart a certain taste or flavor to the grease. Depending upon your cooking goals, that “cooked” flavor might not be a bad thing. It is a savory smell, and will not go well with pies or sweet pastries.

After six hours on the water, the bear fat had barely begun to melt. So I turned up the heat. The higher the heat under the water, the faster the fat melted. But it was still taking way, way too long. So with about a third of the fat rendered, it was removed from the water and put directly on the lowest flame possible. A little water was added to keep the fat from immediately scalding. Some people put in a lot of water and render the fat on top of it, skimming it off. I did not try that, and it may work better than what I did. It would also be messier.

Direct flame under the pot definitely caused the fat to begin to cook down much faster, and it also began to fry a bit as time went on. The chunks and bits of bear fat began to turn a golden brown. For those interested in rural cuisine, these are called chittlins, much like various types of fried animal fats from Down South. And not just hog skins. Be a bit more creative in your imagining.

Think Larks’ tongues, Wrens’ livers, Chaffinch brains, Jaguars’ earlobes, Wolf nipple chips, Dromedary pretzels, Tuscany fried bats, Otters’ noses, Ocelot spleens, and a host of other fancy Roman cuisine listed in The Life of Brian.

Comparatively speaking, bear chittlins are right up there in that “unusual and fancy” category.

For me, the goal was to maximize the amount of bear grease rendered from the fat, and to minimize the cooking smell or odor imparted to it from the rendering process. This meant reaching a balancing or tipping point where the fat chunks were clearly cooking down substantially, but not completely. Because at completely rendered, the fat is really hot and it is cooking itself. As I wanted to avoid the grease having any kind of food smell, this meant I prematurely ended the whole process, before all the fat was completely cooked down, or even close, to avoid scorching the fat and making the grease smelly.

As you can see from the photo, about 36 ounces of bear grease was obtained from the several pounds of bear fat. Not a bad conversion ratio.

The first photo below shows double boiling; you can see some of the grease appearing. The second photo shows the grease after six hours. Clearly not much progress, even with higher heat. The last photo is after the pot was put directly on a very low flame, with a small amount of water added. Even after this care, the pot had some fat cooked (not burned) onto the bottom. This did give a faint food smell to it. The last photo shows the grease in a refrigerated wide mouth glass pickle jar. It is easy to access in the big jar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The bucks in my stew

Despite a fabulously successful hunting season in two states, I am still driven to keep going, to hunt more, get out more, sleep under the stars more, freeze my butt off more, adventure more.

Such is that 150,000-year-old drive to hunt that was perfected by our Paleolithic ancestors. It can be all-consuming.

“Why I hunt” has been described a thousand times before, by writers and hunters better than I, and I will not do a good job of describing in turn why I, too, hunt.

All I can say is that we have been a hunting species for 150,000 years, which is much longer than our 5,000-10,000 years as agrarians, 300 years as industrialists, 150 years as communicators, 75 years as eaters-from-tin cans-and-styrofoam, and 25 years as effete metrosexuals too pure to shed blood either to eat or to defend ourselves (our Paleo ancestors survived the harshest conditions; on the other hand, the effete metrosexuals among us will either be speaking Chinese in 25 years or they will just be wiped out for the incoming Chinese colonists).

Hunting is literally in our blood, and yes, I do have that “cave man blood type,” identified as the most primitive of human blood types.

Our teeth are designed to eat meat. I feel best when I eat meat and vegetables, and also when carbohydrates, gluten, and sugary foods are excluded from my intake. Every year I make a lot of jerky, and it lasts me for months. By the time I have eaten it all, I have usually lost between ten and twenty pounds.

Meat is good for me, and it is good for you. Good meat, that is, not abused slave animal meat full of hormones and antibiotics and food colorants. You know, the “meat” most Americans buy at supermarkets. All that crap in the meat is the high health cost of having cheap meat readily available and generically packed.

So accustomed to buying this junky meat have most Americans become, that I regularly hear from old friends that they cannot believe I hunt, because it is so “cruel.” While they post photos to FakeBook of their most recent bloody gourmet meat meal.

As if having someone assassinate their meat for them exonerates of the animal’s death.

So despite killing a bear estimated between 500 and 600 pounds while on a solo wilderness hunt in a very remote designated wilderness area, and having killed three deer during the rifle season, the urge to hunt is still powerful.

My mother kindly sent me some lamb stew last week. It resembled in many ways what the Bible describes as Eisav’s meal prepared for Isaac: Pottage. Which is to say, ragged lumps o’ meat and vegetables.

Tasty stuff.

And all I could think of while eating the delicious lamb stew was how the lumps of lamb reminded me of venison, and how I needed to get back out and score my buck for the season.

So here I was, having a most civilized meal, eating the most tender animal, and all I could see were images of bucks prancing about in my stew when I bent down to take another spoonful.

 

 

 

 

An outdoor lifestyle, halfway through the season (to hunt is human)

Most of the readers who visit this blog are not outdoors folk. Feats, exploits, and the inevitable tales of woe, cold, and misery from the field would naturally bore, or at best morbidly fascinate, the non-hunter.

Nevertheless, here we go, for the first time here, on a midway retrospective of a singular hunting season still unfolding.

Hunting for most hunters is a way of life literally built into our genes. We do what humans have done since the rise of Homo Sapiens upon Planet Earth: Hunt animals that we eat, wear, and admire. While the Pleistocene ended only 20,000 years ago, it is marked by the full arrival of adept hunter-gatherers who had spent tens of thousands of previous years perfecting their lifestyle.

Humans have been hunters and gatherers for 100,000 years, or 60,000 years, depending upon how long one believes Homo Sapiens has been human.

We have been agrarian for what…10,000 years at the most generous definition of the sedentary lifestyle, but closer to 5,000 years for most humans.

After that, the most modern, most technologically advanced, most “civilized” humans have lived through the Industrial Revolution (400 years), the Technological Revolution (150 years), the Information Revolution (50 years and ongoing). Combined, that’s a total of 600 years out of a total of 60,000 years.

At our core we are all hunter-gatherers. Scratch our civilized surface, and right underneath we are all spear-toting, skin-clad hunters.

To hunt is innately human. Hunting makes us human.

In other words, although many people today look at our current effete, energy-intensive Western lifestyle and think of it as being the peak of human civilization, some of us see this civilization as becoming complacent, detached from the reality of natural resource management necessary to support this modern lifestyle, hypocritical.

When someone believes it is morally superior to have an assassin kill their meat for them than to kill it themselves, you’ve got an unsustainable logical break. Similarly, people want “the government” to protect them, and they want to prevent citizens from protecting themselves, and those same citizens cannot hold the same government accountable when it fails.
Western civilization is full of this weak thinking. In my opinion, Western society is becoming hollow, a shell, full of contradictions.

The hunting lifestyle is a powerful antidote. It is a dose of reality inserted into a cloudy drugged up dream.

So far, this season has been marked by time afield in the most beautiful places in several states with long time friends, new friends, my young son, other kids, and by myself. Like our Pleistocene ancestors, the feeling of the pack on my back and the game-getter in my right hand is about the most natural and satisfying feeling possible.

A number of deer have fallen to various firearms, a Fall turkey, a colorful pheasant; there’s a bunch of photos commemorating the times for the results-oriented. My best moment was late at night, checking a trap with my boy, and finding a large bobcat. There for about four hours, it had really no taste for humans and represented the wilderness in all its wildness.

Catching a bobcat is a real achievement in the world of hunting and trapping, and I confess it was with great mixed emotions that we dispatched it and brought it to Butch at Blue Mountain Taxidermy. Even if a bobcat is again in one of our traps during the short bobcat season, we will release it. One is enough for a lifetime.

One bobcat trophy represents a lifetime of time afield, or 60,000 years.