Fanny’s Frugal Food Hacks

Fat Fancy…

the benefits and techniques of collecting and reusing bacon fat.

Perkins house Liverpool, NS Photo courtesy of the Nova Scotia Archives image # NSIS 11439

It wasn’t that Fanny was mean or miserly she just couldn’t afford to be wasteful. For Fanny wasting food now, meant going hungry later. Fanny had the ‘know how’ to assure maximum benefit from food which entered her kitchen. She didn’t really have to learn the skills, she absorbed them, from the experienced women around her.

Of course Fanny had to adapt and change as new foods, new tools and techniques arrived, which they did regularly. Some old habits she cast aside, but some habits Fanny never lost. Tried and true, she kept the techniques which continued to make sense even with modern alternatives. Sure some of the techniques required an investment in time, but Fanny continued to use them because they delivered superior flavour or other benefits.

Buckley Family Nova Scotia Archives -1985-386#192 c. 1960

I think when it comes to food resources Fanny’s frugality, makes more than a little sense, especially today. With the cost of food rising beyond the budgets of many, the challenges of a changing plant and the rising human famine associated, it is the least we can do. A little more frugality in our kitchens will help keep money in our pockets, deliver benefits in food security, minimize negative social and environmental impacts of food waste.

Here is the first of Fanny’s Frugal Food Hacks…Fanny’s Fat Fancy!

I don’t use a lot of bacon, it is not the healthiest choice and since the price has increased more than 30% in recent months it’s less affordable. When I do use bacon I make sure nothing gets wasted. The practice of discarding fat and purchasing it in other forms is neither sustainable nor frugal, so I look to Fanny to guide me. Her advice is clear reuse don’t waste.

Photo courtesy of Our Miramichi Heritage Family – Child and sows, c. 1940.

Of course Fanny didn’t worry about fat clogged pipes of either variety. To Fanny, fat had real value and was not wasted. Although butter was the preferred fat for cooking and baking, it wasn’t always available, and did not keep as well as its most common alternative, lard. In the early years Fanny helped her mother render a variety of animal fats, mostly pork fat. Animal fats were important because it was used for baking and cooking but also for making candles and soap.

Mama cow and her baby, in Middle Sackville, NB c. 2021. A single cow can not produce milk 12 months of the year. Photo: F. Elizabeth Morrison

For cooking and baking, Fanny preferred butter’s taste over the less intense flavour of lard. Lard had less taste but it’s other properties delivered differences in texture too. Fanny used a combination of lard and butter (when she had it) in her pastry, as does the My Mother’s Cookbook pastry recipe. The higher melting point of lard, when a mix of butter and lard is used creates both a tender and flaky crust. So Fanny reserved some fats for specific purposes, because of their flavour or other beneficial properties.

Of course there was Chicken fat, duck and goose fat, today these fats continue to be used in traditional cultural cuisine, i.e. Duck fat in French cooking and Schmaltz in Jewish cuisine. I can say with some confidence Fanny didn’t use goose or duck grease in fancy preparations like duck comfit. Goose grease was saved for health remedies. Fanny used what she had, so duck grease, chicken fat, beef tallow and lard were all used to prepare and preserve food. Although Fanny probably reserved the silky and flavourful duck grease and chicken fat for her ‘potted meats’ when she could.

Miramichi Woman and Chickens c. 1890 Photo courtesy of Our Miramichi Heritage Family Facebook site.

Fanny used unrendered animal fat in many recipes too. Unrendered pork fat, both salted and fresh, was found swimming in molasses and bean filled crocks across New England and Atlantic Canada, including Fanny’s. I still prefer to use fresh pork in my Saturday night baked beans. Fanny used suet, unrendered beef fat in rich holiday puddings and pie fillings. My Mother’s Cookbooks plum pudding and mincemeat recipes both call for suet.

Fresh pork, beans and molasses, in a traditional (1940s)bean crock. Photo – F. Elizabeth Morrison. 2021.

Fanny eventually stopped rendering her own animal fat, preferring instead to purchase soap and the much cheaper, machine moulded candles. However, collecting and reusing bacon fat Fanny continued, because it brought important flavour to her table and delivered savings to her pocket book, it can do the same for you.

Fanny’s Frugal Food Hack for collecting and reusing Bacon grease:

Cooking bacon, rendering, and storing Bacon grease:
1. Place bacon in a single layer in a large frying pan, cover the bacon with cold water;
2. Place the frying pan over low/medium heat and bring to a slow boil, reduce heat to a low simmer;
3. Once the water has evaporated, allow the bacon to crisp to your preference;
4. Remove the bacon from the pan and permit the fat to cool about 4 minutes;
5. Strain the bacon grease through a fine meshed strainer filter in to a clean glass Jar and refrigerate.

Reusing Bacon fat:
1. Bacon fat has a higher smoke point (400oF) than butter, it can be used to replace other fats for frying, and roasting, everything from burgers to veggies.
2. Replacing a portion of butter and other lower smoke point fats with bacon fat can help prevent other fats from burning when frying.
3. Replace olive and other oils with bacon fat in salad dressings. i.e. Caesar salad dressing.
4. Solidified bacon grease can be used to replace up to 75% of butter / lard in savory baking. i.e. Scones, corn bread, biscuits.

Bonus Recipe!

My Mother’s Cookbooks (Bacon grease) Cornmeal muffins :

Ingredients:
3/4 c. yellow fine cornmeal
3/4 c. plain yogurt
1/2 c. milk
1 c. all purpose flour
1/3 c. granulated sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1 egg
2 Tbsp vegetable oil, all oil add 1/4 tsp salt.
2 Tbsp cold bacon grease


Instructions:
1. Preheat the oven to 400oF
2. Combine cornmeal, yogurt and milk together in a bowl, set aside to soak;
3. In a medium bowl sift together the flour, sugar and baking powder;
4. Using a pastry blender, cut the oil and bacon fat in to the dry ingredients to pea sized pieces;
5. Add cornmeal mixture and fold to combine, assuring no dry ingredients remain, but avoid overmixing which will cause the muffins to toughen;
6. Spray muffin tin with cooking spray or line with papers;
7. Fill the tins (3/4 full), place in the upper middle rack of the oven:
8. Bake until the muffins springs back to the soft touch of your finger, and is just slightly browned on top.

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