Friday, September 3, 2010

A Recipe For the Birds

Someone asked me the other day to share my recipe for suet cakes, and was only too glad to oblige! 

Now, technically, suet cakes are made from rendered beef fat that theoretically can be purchased at a butcher or sometimes found in the meat department of the grocery store.  But in Real Life I've found that when I am able to find suet, the birds don't care for it as much as what I make myself.  Pre-made, pre-packaged suet cakes  can be purchased at the dollar store for - guess what - a dollar each, or you can make them very frugally at home with leftovers. 

For us, making our own suet cakes involves my best parenting skills, some homeschooling lessons and satisfies a portion of our entertainment budget - birdwatching.

For starters, begin to collect the following:
  • "edges" off of PB&Js (<---parenting skills!)
  • freebie bran cereal that gives everyone tummy aches if they eat it (coupons!)
  • stale cheerios (coupons again!)
  • forgotten fruit including skins and cores
  • lumpy grits
  • spilled oatmeal
  • stale bread
  • heels of bread - but only after you've made enough bread crumbs
  • raisins that get spilled in the pantry and are too dirty to eat
  • stale cookies
  • peanuts that the 3 year old sucked the salt off of and tried to put back in the jar (!)
  • mushy blueberries that no one will eat
  • etc., etc.

Store these items in the freezer.  I use a bread bag and just dump the stuff in as it collects, tie it off loosely and replace it in the same spot every time so I know what it is. 

See?  Bird stuff on the right, hot dog buns on the left.
Next, getcha some shortening.  Not the all vegetable kind, either.  You're going for the artery busting stuff - Manteca - the animal byproduct, gross-out staple of the Southern Pantry. 
Mmmm, mmmm! 
Seriously, though, the birds need fat to convert to energy so they can fly.  Have YOU ever tried to fly?  Its tiring stuff.  You need manteca.  Well, THEY need it.  YOU need Omega-3s, but that's another topic.

Melt that stuff down.  Scoop out a couple cups of it and put it on the stove top, stirring, watching carefully, because it will burn.  And start a BIG hot fire.  I know these things.

Then, get out one of your jars of $1 or less peanut butter - from a good Kroger sale where you stocked up on 22 jars of it or from where you found it at the Dollar Tree.  Scoop out a cup or so of that, too and put it in the pot to melt along with the shortening.  Yummo!

Now, why I don't have a picture of this next step is beyond me.  But I think you can figure it out without the visuals.
  • Dump the aforesaid bread-bag-full-of-scraps into a giant metal or glass bowl.  If you want to keep the squirrels and chipmunks away, add a generous few dashes of cayenne pepper.  No harm to the birds, but mammals don't like it.
  • Pour the peanut butter/shortening mix over top of the scraps.
  • Mix with a spatula very well so that all of the scraps are covered.  Beware: its hot.  If you're using this as a homeschooling lesson, let the kids know to stir carefully so they don't burn themselves. 
  • If you need more shortening and peanut butter, go for it.  I use a ratio of about 3:1 with shortening and PB.  You just want the PB there for the taste mostly.
  • Pat it all out nicely into a cake pan:

Slice and serve!

Store the unused portion in the freezer.  Again, it would be a good idea to label the container.  You don't want Daddy-o getting his hopes up for a freezer pie and then having them horribly dashed when he takes a bite of that gross stuff.

Oh, and if you look really carefully in the picture above you'll see a blue snowflake-looking sequin where the cake slice was removed.  That's from where I swept up something - probably cheerios - off the floor and just dumped it in....!

Now, go take that chunk-o-suet-cake and put it in your suet feeder that is hung alongside your other bird feeders and watch the show.  You'll enjoy woodpeckers, various sparrows, tufted titmice, nuthatches, and even cardinals.

Here's a little downy woodpecker....
...all of 5 minutes after I put the suet into the feeder!
Homeschooling lessons:  Identify birds using a field guide or the Internet and talk about the varieties of birds and animals that God created for our enjoyment.  Discuss which birds prefer seeds, which prefer suet, which are foragers on the ground under the feeders.  Of course, in making the suet cakes there are dozens of lessons on food, measuring, heat, solids vs. liquids, etc.

Enjoy the birds!

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