Thursday, January 8, 2015

Suet Cakes are for the Birds

I have always been a bird watcher. I love having a bird bath and feeders outside to draw these winged creatures To my back and side yards. I have at least a dozen bird houses on my property which always have tenants living in them throughout the year.

This time of year, it's very hard for the bird to find sources of fresh water and food. Recently, I decided to make some suet cakes from scratch for them because they have been going through the loose seed very quickly now that the weather is colder.

Here is what I did. I went to the grocery store and talked to the butcher. I asked if they had any beef fat or suet that I could buy to make bird suet cakes. He looked at me and asked how much I wanted as he stood there by a giant container of hunks of fat he has just rimmed from various cuts. I asked for 2-3 lbs. he put it on a foam tray, piled it high wrapped it and handed it to and said "Happy New Year, No Charge!"

I took my free fat home and chopped it finely, placing them into a big frying pan. I sautéed them slowly on low heat and used my kitchen scissors to chop the bits up even finer to cook faster. Slowly the beef gave up its liquid gold, the basis for the suet cakes.

While the fat was rendering, I pulled together the other ingredients and placed them in a very large stainless steel bowl.

Home made suet cake recipe uses:
3 lbs beef fat

1 bag fresh cranberries leftover from the holidays. (Okay maybe not soo fresh, but perfect for the birds)
4-5 cups of bird seed mix That included black oil sunflower seeds, millet, corn, etc.
2 cups of flour
1/2 cup oatmeal
1/2 cup red pepper flakes (to discourage squirrels)
2 TSBP cayenne pepper
3/4 cup of shelled pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup peanut butter
2 cups of leftover crackers, crushed

As the fat rendered out it's suet, I added it to the seed mixture in the bowl, stirring it as I added it. The whole process took about one hour. Once the fat was pretty much rendered down to crumbly little brown bits and the liquid added to the bowl with the suet seed mix, I tossed it to ensure everything was well mixed. It was the consistency of thick cookie dough.

I took two jelly roll pans and lined them with parchment paper. Then I spread the suet dough into them evenly with a spatula and popped them into the fridge after they had cooled just a bit. 1 hour later, they were solid and ready to be cut into suet feeder size squares. I also put them in upcycled Shallot and garlic nets that I hang from tree branches and my back awning.

Each jelly roll pan made 12 large suet cakes. The extra cakes can be stacked with the parchment paper in between and stored in a ziploc bag in your freezer until ready to be used. I saw one person uses cardboard oatmeal cans and makes round cakes to store hers! Next time I am going to make little birdie Bundt cakes with my mini BUNDT cake forms.

Total time was 1 hour prep, 5 minutes cutting and wrapping, 10 minutes clean up. Ingredients cost < $6 in total but I already had everything on hand that I needed except the suet which was free. Commercially available suet cakes are anywhere from $.99 To 4.99 each depending upon where you purchase them. If you divide $6 by 24 that's about 25 cents per suet cake. I know the birds love them and they have no chemicals or bad mysterious ingredients in them.

Now that the weather has turned so frigid out (it was -6 this morning), I am glad to have these on hands to put outside as needed to feed my little feathered friends.

Notes: I do not use raisins in my seed cakes because of my two dogs. Raisins can be harmful to dogs if ingested. Many recipes for suet cakes call for the additions of raisins for the birds. I choose to exclude them since my dogs will be in the same areas as the birds. if you don't have dogs, then go ahead and add raisins and other dried fruits to your recipe. Alternatively, you can use a mixture of lard (crisco), bacon fat, meat drippings that you collect in a can until ready to use. Coconut oil can also be added. Cornmeal can be substituted for the flour.

#homemadesuetcakes #birdfoodrecipes #suetcAkerecipes

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