Here is another good entry by Darlene in our writing contest highlighting a practical skill.
“Waste Not, Want Not” is one of my mama’s old sayings, and women from generations past were great at using things that they had to make the things they needed. When animals were butchered, the fat was rendered and the resulting lard or tallow was used to cook with, make soap, or make candles. Back in the day, women slowly simmered animal fats in large pots over an open fire until it liquified and strained through a cloth to remove small meat particles. Without electricity, we would have to resort to a similar rendering method, but for now—-I’ll use my crock pot!
A local man who butchers and processes steer, pigs, and venison for folks GAVE me a large bag of beef fat. I kept it in the freezer until I got around to this little project, then pulled it out to thaw. It was still quite cold when I diced it into small pieces to speed up the melting process. I was careful not to put pieces containing meat into the crock pot as I wanted as clean a melted fat as possible. Here’s a photo of the pot before melting:
I set the crock pot on low and went about my day. Every hour or so, I stopped and stirred the contents to make sure nothing was sticking or scorching. Once it was 95% melted, I strained the contents through cheese cloth into a stainless steel pot to remove the remaining bits of fat and any other small particles.
Once the fat cooled to about 100 degrees, I added some lemongrass essential oil to give it a nice, clean smell. Yes, it still had a pretty strong beef-fat aroma at this point, but I was hopeful that it would go away once it totally cooled. The wicks I used were purchased through Amazon–they only cost about $10 for 96 of them, including shipping. You can use canning jars, recycled candle jars, or any other glass jar you want for the candle. I had a bunch of 12-ounce gravy jars that I just couldn’t bear to throw away. That meant the fat was FREE, the jars were FREE, and the wicks only cost about 10 cents a piece.
Before pouring the tallow, I had to get the wicks to stay put in the center of the jar. For that, I used two pencils and a few drops of melted candle wax. I put a few drops of melted wax on the bottom of the metal tab of the wick and gently pressed it in the center of the inside bottom of the jar. Then I laid two pencils across the top of the jar with the top of the wick in between them to hold it steady. Pouring slowly, I was able to keep the wick where it belonged! Once the candles had cooled to nearly room temperature, I put them in the refrigerator to finish cooling.
I’m happy to report that the candles burn beautifully, do NOT smell like burning fat, and they last a long time. Here’s a photo of one of my first tallow candles:
Now I realize that this seems like a lot of work just for a few candles. But, there just might come a time when we have a lot more time on our hands and a lot less money for the things that we need. And being able to make candles from beef fat must might come in handy…