|A perky little Carolina Wren on my homemade suet|
Animal fat (such as raw beef fat, raw pork fat, bacon drippings, or collected drippings from browning unspiced meats)
Peanut butter (either creamy or chunky)
Birdseed (mixed seed and/or sunflower seed)
Bits of dried fruit (optional)
Cracked corn (optional)
A pot large enough to hold all the fat with extra room for the other ingredients
Spoon or rubber spatula
Knife to cut cakes apart
Pan to hold suet mix while it chills
Plastic container, large plastic zip-close bag, or individual plastic zip-close bags to store suet cakes
Waxed paper to keep individual cakes from sticking to each other during storage
I signed up for Project Feederwatch again this winter. To keep lots of interesting birds coming to my yard, I have three seed feeders and two suet feeders. But since money is a little tight right now, I decided to see if making my own suet cakes would be any cheaper than buying them pre-made.
First off, you need animal fat. I’d been saving beef and pork trimmings for months, thinking I might make homemade stock. I also added the drippings from cooking a pound of bacon, and the grease poured off from browning some ground beef earlier this week. If you haven’t been saving fat scraps for months like I did, you can sometimes buy chunks of raw beef fat (suet) from the butcher’s counter at your grocery store for fairly cheap. Of course, you could also just cook up a few pounds of bacon in order to make suet, yum! The birds get suet and you get bacon. Not a bad trade, if you ask me.
|Chunks of fat starting to melt in my pan|
Put all the fat in a pan over medium heat to render it. If you use fresh trimmings like I did, you’ll have chunks of meat and gristle to spoon out periodically as the fat melts off them. These could probably be used later to make stock or broth, or as treats for very good pups or kitties. :-)
Eventually, the fat will all be melted, or rendered. While the fat is still warm, add peanut butter (about half the amount of the animal fat) and stir it in til it’s all melted. As I mentioned in the ingredients list, you can use either creamy or chunky peanut butter, whatever you have on hand already.
|Gobs of peanut butter starting to melt into the fat|
When the peanut butter is melted in, turn off the heat and add your dry ingredients. I had about 2 cups animal fat and 1 cup peanut butter, so to that I added 1 cup each of cornmeal, oats, mixed birdseed and sunflower seed. You could use more or less of the seeds, or you could add other seeds you might have on hand that are safe for birds to eat. Just don’t use anything that would be invasive, and don’t use seeds that were sold for gardening as they may have been treated with fungicide or something else that’s not good to eat. You can also use dried fruit cut into little bits. This is a great use for hard, ancient raisins or dried apples that might have been forgotten at the back of your pantry! Some people like to add cracked corn to their suet cakes too.
Mix everything in the pan fairly quickly, as you don’t want it to solidify there. Pour the thick mixture into a pan to set. Most suet cages allow for a block about one inch thick, so keep that in mind when selecting your pan. You could also use smaller individual molds if you like. In that case I would recommend using molds that are flexible: either thin plastic containers, or super-cheap metal pans that are flimsy enough to be twisted a little. This will help you pop the cakes out later.
Set your pan(s) in the freezer to solidify. I left the house for a few hours so don’t know exactly how long mine took, but I would guess after an hour it should be solid enough. When the suet has hardened, cut it apart into cakes that will fit your suet cage or pop the cakes out of the individual molds.
|Basically energy bars for birds!|
If you’re storing the cakes in one big container, layer them with waxed paper so it will be easier to get a single cake out when you want it. You could also put each cake in its own box or bag if that’s easier for you. Store the cakes in the fridge or freezer.
Fat is very high energy, so it’s great for feeding wild birds in the cold wintertime. I wouldn’t use this recipe to feed birds in the summertime, though, for two reasons. For one thing, summer heat means the fat will go rancid fairly quickly. Also, if nesting birds get the warm fat on their belly feathers, they could transfer it onto their eggs, smothering the chicks developing inside. Frigid wintertime is perfect for suet cakes though!
|Such a fuzzy belly! I don't mind squirrels eating from my feeders, their antics are so amusing.|
My suet was super popular with the birds and squirrels in my yard. The whole batch lasted only one week. I also made a mini batch again after the first batch was gone, using trimmings from just one chuck roast plus peanut butter & the dry ingredients. Keeping the proportions of two parts animal fat, one part peanut butter, one part cornmeal, one part oats, and one to two parts seeds/dried fruit/cracked corn, you can make as big or small a batch as you like. Using scraps you'd otherwise discard plus ingredients you probably already have on hand means these cakes are way cheaper than buying the pre-made ones from the store. It’s actually a lot of fun too, and feels really good to see the birds enjoying my handiwork.
Do you put suet out for your backyard birds? Let me know what birds you see at your suet, in the comments below. Have fun!