Friday, March 1, 2013

1 March 1951 “Keeping & Using Fat and Drippings”

girlinpan Today I thought we could talk about keeping drippings and fats. The lovely leftover from cooking meats is in fact kitchen gold and is a great low cost but high quality way to aid your kitchen endeavors.

Keeping fat has long been the norm. It was only recently, after the First World War, that new products began to be made that would be an artificial version of such fats. But, even well into the 1960’s, saving fat was rather a normal household occurrence and jars and canisters existed solely for this purpose. And such a jar, rather bought our reused coffee tins or canning jars, often sat on the counter near the stove for easy access of pouring in new and taking out old with which to cook again.

Let’s look at some darling dripping and grease containers.

drippingjar1With my own love of sailboats, including having a red sailboat in my kitchen window, I would love this drippiings jar. And indeed it is for sale, but it is $54 and a bit out of my price range for something I can easily use a canning jar for. But, I may find one one day while at a tag sale.

 greasejar1 This jar seems to have been part of a set.

drippings30sThis lovely Anchor Hocking version is from the 1930’s. This version as well as the pink lidded can be found at Ruby Lane.

greaseset Here you can see that often a Grease/drippings jar was included in a canister set it was such the norm to keep fats and drippings.

Storing and saving fats/grease/drippings is not hard. It is cost effective and really no trouble at all and your subsequent dishes will be the better for using such saved fats. You can strain them before storing and in fact some of the 40’s and 1950’s version of grease containers had a lift out strainer at the top, as seen here:greasejarstrainer 

I had been using cheesecloth, but recently at my part time job, I was lucky enough to come into some paper coffee filters. The rules of the day dictate anything that hits the floor for a second gets tossed out. You would not want to even know the amount of stuff that simply gets tossed. But, being the odd little duck that I am, most at work now know to save any damaged or out of date food for me and my chickens. And I often find a use for most things that ‘hit the floor’ and are ready for trash. They make new grease holders with pouring spouts like this one which can be bought for $14 here.newgreasejar I am not affiliated with this nor do I get any money for it, but thought it’d be worth to share the link.

This is how I came into possession of a stack of large round paper coffee filters. They make straining easier because they are very fine and then you toss them away. But, I suppose one could consider that these white filters may very well contain bleach, I don’t know. When I have exhausted my supply I will simply return to cheesecloth. I keep a few specifically for the job and they get soaked in hot water and hand washed and hung to dry. Otherwise I find they get shredded in the laundry. But, the main point is to strain your drippings/fats. Any food stuff left in is what will become rancid and spoil your kitchen gold. However, with that said, my Bacon grease I do not strain. It contains little bits of the bacon and really I like it that way. It goes into the ice box, so no worries about rancidity. And it is my most oft used fat, so it gets replenished more. Some day, when I can have land, I will raise a pig a year and that lovely creature will provide for us all year. They say the only part of a pig you don’t use is the squeal. But, were I to raise one, maybe we could record its delightful little squeal as a cell phone ring or some such. One does hate waste so!

Back to drippings, the shelf life for fats I found by investigation seems to be 6 months in the ice box/fridge and 9 months in the freezer. I have almost no freezer space, so my precious freezer space is kept for other things. I simply decant mine in canning jars and put in the fridge. I usually keep some on the stove (Bacon fat usually) in a little container this time of the year. And during the warmer months in the ice box. My old house has an unheated kitchen so many foods can be left out in my kitchen that a more warmer heated kitchen may not be privy too.

When you store your fats in clear glass jars you can see that when they settle you have that lovely bit of congealed fat on top, that actually acts to preserve and seal out air form the drippings below. This is similar to the process of canning where one aims to restrict oxygen from the food, as in the case of sealing wax on top of jams and preserves or when the air is removed from a canning jar. Oxygen gives life to bacteria and restricting it allows food to last longer. Add Chemist and Scientist to the ongoing list of ‘jobs’ a Homemaker must master.

Often when I cook a big roast or chicken I let the fat and drippings congeal in the pan. If you are worried you can let this happen in the fridge, but I let it happen on the counter. I figure I use my fat in a hot state so it is reheated to a safe temp to kill any harmful bacteria. Also, as previously mentioned, my kitchen is quite cool in the winter months. After the drippings have congealed, you can see the layer of thick white fat on top. I will scoop this off as best I can and put in a jar separate from the drippings. Underneath you will see a lovely clear brown/yellow (depending on the meat) gelatin/Jell-O/jelly. You can pick it up in sections and like the old jell-0 commercials, ‘watch it wiggle’. I will take these “Jell-O” shots and put them in a glass jar separately. These are kept in the ice box and are added, as you would the mixed fat, to soups, stocks, etc. I find that this clear form of the drippings are good for soups, not making them greasy, and for dropping into rice while cooking, and on vegetables when you roast them.

Therefore, my general rule is when I cook or roast fowl (chicken goose duck game birds), I let the fat settle then keep the grease (white stuff) separate. This can be used for anything from greasing pans to simply frying an egg. The gelatin I save separately, as this pure dripping is perfect for soups, stocks, adding to veg and rice while cooking and so on. But, with bacon I save it all together and do NOT strain it or separate it. A simple scoopful from the jar to grease muffin tins, or spread some on a cookie sheet before roasting vegetables will give it a bit of a fry up while in the oven. Just 400 F for about 45 minutes, flipping once toward the last 10 minutes will really impart that lovely bacon flavor.

One can even save drippings/fat from cooking fish. And as a curmudgeonly old penny pinching New Englander, I also save the water I have boiled lobsters in, the water used to steam mussels, clams, etc and I have been known to boil the leftover mussel shells a second time to add to a stock for seafood stew/soup/or chowder. This you would want to use right away or toss. It would quickly spoil and make your kitchen smell rather bad.

The general populace today may view saving fat and grease as a sort of ‘low class’ or working class endeavor. While, in fact, the best chefs know that to achieve high art cuisine one will often use fat and drippings and never things such as simply processed oils or shortenings. In fact Goose grease is considered the ultimate in fat/drippings. And Duck Confit, made in drippings and traditionally stored in its own drippings for preservation, would be considered today rather high brow or gourmet.

Let’s consider the confit. This is one of the oldest ways of preserving food and originated in Southern France. Today, Duck Confit would be considered gourmet food and to make it, one would need to buy duck grease which can be, literally, upwards of $40 dollars to make a proper confit. These are often made with duck and sometimes goose as well, and usually the legs, slow cooking on low heat in the oven in its own fat. This creates a lovely flavorful meat with a crispy skin.

However, a confit is simply cooking a meat (and this can be poultry, and pork as well, but to the French if it is not duck or goose than it would be pork en confint that is in confit) and then storing it sealed in its own fat. This is in a sense a Jell-O mold holding the food and was an excellent way to store food before there was refrigeration. You see again we keep out oxygen and it is hard for bacteria to get through the gelatin to the stored meat. Science and chemistry at work before we knew it was such a thing.

The main point is this: experiment. You cook your own food and you see there is something left over. You make other foods that require fats so the connection happens. Many people are simply tossing away a wonderful chemical preservative free item. A product far superior to what they spend money on at the market. You save money and are more in control of what you are using and eating, so it is really win win. I think much of what we view of as icky or gross today is simply the result of propaganda of some sort whether through advertising or views imparted by TV shows.

Many a person may turn their nose up or be disgusted by saving fat from your home cooked food to use again, yet have no issue eating over processed foods and fast foods. If many people were allowed to see what actually happens to make ‘food’ in factories, from margarines to the processed way ‘mechanically separated meats’ are made for nuggets, patties, etc, they may see what truly is disgusting and also rather not very healthy. But, alas, I have come to realize that such general views are not for me to change or worry about. I haven’t the money nor the endless media outlets to get my own points across, but am happy opening the eyes of a few people here and there who may stumble upon my blog and think, “Hmmm, I didn’t consider that”.

And, I don’t feel I am being too ‘pushy’ in my suggestions, as I have come to realize these things myself. Prior to 1955 I happily cooked very little, ate from microwave and plastic bag foods, and never thought twice about, well, most things. We can choose, in our lives, how much we wish to discover and control in our daily actions. Some may only want some change while others may want to evaluate every aspect of their life. Either way, we do live in a time when there are endless sources of information literally at our fingertips and so we need only bother to ask ourselves, ‘Why” and then to begin to search for the answer. We may find that we are happy the way we have been doing something or that our actions are not new but really old ways still being done. And sometimes, as often I find, we see new Old ways of doing things that make more sense and cost less. This was the case with drippings and grease. And if you are uncertain of saving fats, try it once. Take a tiny bit of your leftover bacon grease and use it the next day to cook your eggs, make your pancakes or simply pop some popcorn in a pan on the stove with bacon grease and you will be hooked. The more we can make our own the more control we have over what we eat. And if one is going to the bother of cooking and roasting food, then why throw out one of the best parts!

I would love to know what other ways you store your drippings and what recipes or ways of using it you may have, lets hear it!

Happy Homemaking.


  1. Thanks so much! I will be giving this a try this week! Is it possible to substitute this for vegetable oil and shortening? I'm not a fan of hydrogenated products, but I wonder if this would work as a good replacement for the Crisco in my homemade tortillas? Wonder if it would work in a bread recipe? Bet the hubby would like that: meat-flavored wheat bread!

  2. Yes, it would work for those. I make my own tortilla's as well. And you could replace the fat in bread recipes. I basically use the top layer fat in lieu of butter/shortening when I choose. And the clear bit at the bottom (or kept separate depending on how you like to do it) is great for gravies, soups, stocks, added to rice and noodle dishes. I sometimes will take the gelatin bits and cut and place them on a roast or chicken so as they warm in the oven, the meat flavor imparts into the new meat you are cooking.
    I have been told in the Depression, the white bit of fat spread on bread was a treat.
    And when we read in 19th and earlier centuries of beef tea being given to the ill, it was often this type of drippings heated. Many poor people survived on drippings and bread to dip in. It has many uses.
    I am going to attempt my homemade mayo with bacon grease and will share that success or failure.

  3. Oh, and I had also wanted to mention to one of my Austrailian followers who asked me about low costs food here compared to there. She mentioned how our farmers can afford it.
    I have been trying to do some research to give a proper answer, so if she reads this I hope she realizes I have not forgot her, but simply need to find out more. Sometimes a simple question like that runs me up against a brick wall and I really have to dig. I have an inkling I may not like the answer, but we shall see.

    1. I was the one who asked the question, and I am very grateful that you are planning a reply. I guess there are two sides to every issue, and with cheap food somebody has to pay, whether the farmer in lost revenue or the taxpayer in the form of subsidies.

  4. What a coincidental post today! Just this morning I pulled out the beef fat I'd been saving in my freezer, to brown some flour in, & get a pot of beef-barley soup started!

    I do not know how I would cook, truly, without saving my drippings. Bacon is my favorite, & resides happily in a can in the fridge, while I usually freeze my beef fat & chicken fat, for particular uses later on. But bacon fat....well, it's just the best, all around culinary helper. I can hardly imagine making fried potatoes without it, greasing pans, & more.

    As for saving grease being "lower class"...I have to smile at that. This, as well as other once common habits in the kitchen, which are discarded as old-fashioned, or even rather disgusting, brings an unhealthy consequence to our eating that doesn't have to be. It removes our children from some of the realities of the cycle of life, making them suspicious & fearful of certain foods, & it makes a negative impact on the home budget.

    Bring back the humble grease container! Ladies, give it a special spot in your refigerator!


  5. My grandmother said that her mother would say, "Goose grease is good"--but she would imitate the thick accent. Not only for food preparation, but also as a rub for the chest if one had a cold. My grandfather (on the other side) always had a little pot of bacon grease on the stove, and very melty in the warmer months and my dad and aunt worried that he might sicken himself, but he never did.

  6. I'm a fat saver too. Don't have a fancy container just use a mason jar and a small sieve to filter. I didn't know that saving grease went out of fashion, I guess I never thought about it. It was just something that was done when I was a kid that made perfect sense and delicious biscuits.

  7. I entirely agree! I think 'fat' has gotten a bad reputation in our obsessive food culture. Fats, in moderation, are good and healthy for you. It still boggles my mind that people throw out something that you essentially get as a 'free' added bonus when you buy meat.

  8. I do this now too, and there's something so fun about it for some reason! Glad I'm not the only one who has 'discovered' this. Every time I tell my Grandma about things like this that I do she is so pleased - she grew up in the Depression where of course saving your drippings would be second nature.

    I strain bacon grease and save it. I was just using it for pancakes and eggs, but I had a bunch and was making a pie crust for a beef pot pie (made from leftovers from my roast the day before) and I thought, "Hmmm..." Apparently it was the best pie crust I have EVER made (and I make a dam' good crust) - my husband still talks about it. It was flaky and browned beautifully, and had a smoky flavor that was out of this world. I didn't tell him my secret ingredient though - he probably would have had a fit! I bought a block of lard the last time I was at the butcher's - I want to see how it compares.

    I roast chicken breasts to take in my lunch during the week (two last me all week) and save the pan drippings (unstrained - they have bits of rosemary in them). When I pack my lunch, I put a dollop of fat and gelled broth in the bento section with the chicken. Not very pretty, but delicious when I'm eating my chicken over rice and veg. Microwaves dry chicken out a lot - this makes it taste much better - moist and juicy, almost as good as when it first comes out of the oven.

    When I make stock the beef or chicken fat is rendered naturally in the process I use. Last time I used the beef tallow to make suet cakes as little gifts for my mom's and grandma's birds - I wrapped them in wax paper and tied with jute twine. They looked pretty, and with the birds they were a hit! The tallow comes out so firm, clean, and pretty though, I've considered trying to make candles. So many different things to try! The kitchen is such an interesting place!

    Sorry this was so long - Robyn V

  9. I really need to start doing this. I have often used bacon fat to cook pancakes, eggs, and other breakfast items, but for some reason I never considered saving any leftovers..... Always love your interesting articles! Now I'm off to search my local thrift store for a drippings container. :)
    Robyn V- can I persuade you to share your method for stock? I have just gotten into making my own, and I'm loving trying different methods.

    1. It's good to add a splash of vinegar to the pot when you're simmering the bones. The addition of vinegar helps to draw out more of the minerals from the bones and makes it more gelatinous as well. You don't taste the vinegar.


  10. When I got married one of the things I got as a gift was a fat saver can that looked like the one for sale in your post. I saw another old one at a used store recently and bought it straight away!! I also use the bacon grease when cooking green beans then add some crunchy bacon to it too. Also use lard I buy by the pound at the butchers for many uses. I won't buy the lard already packaged by a food company as it is not as good. I hear suet mentioned being used in cooking in 1900 cook books,...any one know about this? I used to keep my grease as did every housewife I knew way back, on the stove in a container ready for use. Now I keep it in the fridge. I have noticed several blogs are mentioning using grease like this now and also lard. We are coming full circle in some ways and hopefully smarter again!! :) Sarah

  11. Anonymous/Sarah,

    Suet is beef lard (sometimes also from mutton) found in large quantities around certain organs (like the kidneys). I have several late19th/early 20th century cookbooks, and suet was often used if a good quantity of animal fat that doesn't impart much flavor (unlike bacon drippings) was needed. For example, many English and early American baking recipes used suet. This was before shortening (hydrogenated vegetable oils) was commonly available (or accepted by home cooks). Getting suet to a usable state for the home cook required work: cleaning it of blood and bits of flesh, followed by rendering it, staining it, and finally letting the fat congeal again. But you do get a great deal of usable fat from the process.

    My personal favorite type of animal fat is leaf lard: large, leaf-like fat deposits around the kidneys of pigs. It is one of the highest quality lards you can acquire. It doesn't have the subtle pork flavor that fatback lard (often the kind sold in commercial tubs). It is excellent in baking the flakiest pie crusts and biscuits. Leaf lard has a high smoking point so there is less concern of it burning too quickly. Unfortunately, in today's market, leaf lard is difficult to locate unless you know a pig farmer.


    1. This is where I get my leaf lard. My next order is going to be their beef tallow. The easiest way to render it is to put it in the crockpot on low until the fat completely melts and separates from the solids. I know some people may not want to pay the money for it, but to me it's worth it. It's high quality.


  12. In a WWII cook book I read that to clarify fat, you boil your drippings in water then allow to set in the fridge. You will end up with a layer of clean white fat on top and the liquid underneath can be discarded. This method removes the water from the fat so it can be used for frying without spitting.

  13. Funnily enough, I use suet every Christmas season for my Christmas/plum pudding. In that case I use it direct from the butcher chopped up.
    You can render your own lard and another reason for the removal of water is then it keeps. If the water were left in until needed, it would go rancid faster.
    I was thinking our next post should be stock making and lard rendering and for any who are reading this comment, I am putting a call out to share your stock making recipes and tips and questions in that blogs comments.
    I do wish I could get back into my old forum so I could control it again, but alas I have been unable to contact the support for it. I am loathe to start it over again.

    1. I only make soup from my own stock. I find turkey has the best bang for the buck, as just the bones alone make a good stock. I have used clams, chicken, rabbit, beef, ground beef --for a quick two hour soup, and fish. The fish was not successful, because of aroma rather than flavor. My family objected. I used the head and bones after the fish monger fileted it!

      In my opinion, soup stock does not need any special recipes. I rarely make stock and freeze it. I make soup or gravy from it. I limit my soups to about 8 quarts as the children are grown and have families of their own. Only one is at home. My husband and remaining child take dinner with them for lunch, and soup is preferred!

      My basic soup recipe: I cover the meat with water and add generous amount of chopped onion and garlic. In general, the stock is ready when the meat is cooked and the water looks and smells flavorful. If uncertain, I salt a couple of tablespoons in a cup and taste. Some meats take longer than others. Start to finish ground meat only takes about two hours. Once considered a flavorful broth, I let it sit to cool down a bit. I remove the meat and add enough water to the "water line," when the water rose up to before removing the meat. I then add a filler/thickener such as (washed) dried lentils or more likely(washed) dried barley. I add enough to make a thick broth. After the barely is cooked I add chopped carrot, and just before serving, a generous amount of green vegetable such as green beans, spinach, kale, etc. I add salt and pepper to taste and serve with home made biscuits...made with lard purchased from an old family butcher.

      Ground beef soup is one of the easier soups to make. Cook the ground beef loosely, making sure it caramelizes as this adds more flavor! I then add generous amt. of chopped onions and garlic, stir, and when onions are translucent, add water. When broth, add (one)barley, lentils or butternut squash! Bake the squash, sliced in half and on jelly roll pans until soft, cool and scrape and set aside. Add to the beef and broth, adding water until it is the consistency you desire. When hot and bubbling, I add chopped spinach or kale. Salt and pepper to taste. (And no, I do not brown any other meat before adding liquid. I don't think it makes much of a difference.)

      Ground beef can also be used for beef tomato soup as well as cabbage soup..although ham may be used for that as well.

      I would be remiss if I didn't mention using stock for gravy. Using less water, I cook the meat in water only to cover. Remove the meat, and measure the broth. Six cups of strong broth will make a very flavorful gravy. The gravy can be used for biscuits and gravy meal, or stew.

      Putting meat in a crockpot without any liquid, adding chopped onion and garlic, will result in a stewed meat with a rich liquid. This liquid, especially with beef, will be so rich that you will be able to make six cups of gravy with only one cup of broth.

      Overall, my biggest tip is to **not** skimp on the meat! The amount of meat you use reflects how flavorful the broth/stock is.

      My secret ingredient to all soups and gravy is....butter. If the soup needs to be kicked up a notch, and you have added enough spices and used enough meat for the amount of water....add butter! I have been known to add up to a stick of butter! Not only does it add mouth feel, but also adds much needed flavor.

      I have given you two of my most secret tips on soups and gravy making. I am known for both! And don't forget to glaze the Thanksgiving turkey pan for a rich liquid to make a great gravy!

      Hope this helps a bit,
      Mother and grandmother

  14. Dear 50's Gal:

    Greeting! I LOVE your blog and have been reading it for a long time. I would like to say you have helped me in my home making journey. We have received news that my husband may be laid off for the next 6 months and I appreciate all your tips and advice in saving money and stretching your dollars. Thank you for you hard work!!!!

    Mrs. B


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