Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Illuminating Hunt


This year I went deer hunting for the first time. Growing up I never had any exposure to hunting or venison, but after several delicious meals featuring venison served by Moriah's parents and an invite to go hunting, I decided to try it out. For two days I sat in the cold mostly watching squirrels playing in the woods but on the third day I finally shot a 100 lb doe. It only took twelve phone calls to my father in law, but I finally got the deer cleaned, dragged through the woods, and hung up to cool. We processed the deer a few days later and filled our freezer with steaks, chops, stew meat, and sausage, but there was still plenty of leftover parts that were headed for the garbage.

Raw deer fat

I did some research on uses for the fat, hide, tendons, and hooves. I found plenty of info on tallow candles and soap. Moriah and I love burning candles and lamps, but most of the commercially available options are made from paraffin, which is a product of crude oil processing. While burning a few candles only gives off a small amount of fumes, they are still toxic and the artificial colorings and scents are no better. I decided to process the fat into tallow for candles.

The first step involved cubing the fat into small chunks so the oils would melt out faster. I did a second batch using a meat grinder that made the job a lot easier. The fat was cooked with a little bit of water on medium heat until I was left with oil and cracklins. Cracklins are the leftover pieces of gristle and meat and can be mixed with peanut butter for bird food.

Strained cracklins and pure liquid tallow

The oil was poured through a coffee filter to strain out all of the cracklins and I was left with beautiful amber tallow.

Left-mostly cooled. Right-piping hot.

Wick and mold

Candles can be poured using different methods that produce a variety of shapes and designs. I chose to make pillar candles. Pillars are made by running a wick through the bottom of a metal mold, sealing the bottom hole with plumber's putty and tying the wick to a toothpick at the top. The liquid tallow is poured into the mold and left to cool. I learned an important lesson about pouring temperature after the first few times I watched the tallow rupture out the bottom of the mold and spill all over the kitchen counter. I was pouring the wax when it was over 250 degrees instead of the more appropriate 120-180 degrees. After the mold is filled to the top and allowed to cool, the tallow shrinks away from the opening and a second finishing pour creates a clean, even surface. The candles cooled for about 8 hours at room temperature. A quick stop in the freezer and they were ready to slide out of the mold.

Rendered tallow from one deer

The first two hours of burning went well, but after that the melted tallow began to pour over the edge and made a mess on the plate and table. My next attempt will probably be a container candle so I don't have to worry about overflowing oil. I have much experimenting to do with wick size, candle diameter, and burn time before I'm a pro, but I'm content with these first two. Even better is knowing that I was able to use more of the animal and waste less. From my one deer I rendered enough tallow for two 9 oz candles plus an additional 50 oz for soap and more candles. In future posts I will hopefully talk about making soap from the tallow as well as using the hooves, tendons and hide for other projects.

Tallow behaves just like any other animal fat when heated and should be kept away from direct contact with the stove burner as it will ignite. Careful attention should be paid when cooking tallow to keep the temperature well below 509 degrees which is the flash point of tallow and can cause a grease fire even if no direct flame contact is made (burning the wick of a cooled tallow candle is safe). Take care not to splash any tallow while pouring.


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