Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Fat and Offal

 Guest Post by Stu Crawford

I've recently found myself spending a lot of time processing dead animals, and I've been learning things that I definitely should have already known.  I thought that some of you might be interested, so I took a few pictures and wrote up an article.

One of the dead animals was a deer that I shot, the other was a goat that I was given to use for an anatomy class with the elementary school in town.  So, I canned, dried, and froze a whole lot of meat.  I also had a lot of non-meat items to deal with.  Some things, like spleens, are inherently tasty and require no special attention.  Other things require a bit more knowledge and effort to transform them into a useable product.

I ended up with 20 lb of extra fat that I had to do something with - the deer was pretty fat, and the goat was obese.  And when I dissected the goat with the elementary class, we opened up its digestive track to look at all its stomachs.  This reminded me of all the tasty tripe that I can't buy in Haida Gwaii, so I decided to try processing my own.

There is a lot of information on the internet, but some things are underrepresented.  There was very little reliable information about rendering fat, and none about processing tripe.  So, I've documented my efforts.  I've been contemplating putting together a webpage for ages, and someday I might actually get around to doing it, but until then, here's my article.


There are a variety of different types of fat, which I will divide into three categories.  

The hardest fat is the stuff around the kidneys, which is called suet if it is from a cow, and leaf lard if it is from a pig.  Cow suet is rendered into tallow for making candles and soap, and used for deep frying.  Kidney fat has a higher smoke point than other animal fats, about 200°C, which is really hot.  Suet and leaf lard are often the preferred fats for a lot of baking.  The pot on the rear right burner has goat suet.

Various kinds of fat ready to be rendered: goat omentum (left), goat suet (rear right), and deer back fat (front right). S Crawford Photo

The second most preferred fat for cooking is the back fat.  I would expand this to include any subcutaneous or intramuscular fat.  This is the bacon fat, and of course it is pretty tasty.  The pot on the front right burner has deer back fat.

The other significant fat is the abdominal fat, which is sometimes called caul fat.  This fat isn't loose in the abdominal cavity, it is contained within a fatty membrane called the omentum, which drapes over the organs.  This is the least preferred fat for cooking, although some people suggest wrapping a roast in the omentum before baking it, which sounds delicious, because it's basically a giant fat blanket.  The pot on the left has the omentum fat from the goat.

In case you are wondering, that's about 80,000 calories of food cooking on the stove.  It's not every day that you can cook a month's worth of food all at once.

I rendered the fat in water, which meant that I didn't have to watch it as closely to prevent it from burning.  I added 2 cups water per lb of fat, and then let it simmer for a long time.  The pots with 3 lbs of fat in them took 5 or 6 hours, and the pot with 6 lbs of fat took 9 hours.  Eventually all the water boils off and you are left with little deep-fried pieces floating in pure fat.

Early stages. S Crawford Photo
Final stages. S Crawford Photo
The picture on the left is after it has been boiling for a few hours.  The fat chunks are starting to break down, but there's still water in the pot, so the temperature is being held at right around 100°C.  The picture on the right is after about 8 hours.  The water has all boiled off, so it looks more like a sizzling deep fryer than a boiling pot of soup, and the temperature is now starting to increase.  I had best results when I boiled it until it hit 125°C.
Rendered fat cooling in jars. S Crawford Photo
The yield was roughly one pint per pound of fat, but it depended on the type of fat.  The back fat had the lowest yield, probably because it had more impurities.  I ended up with a little over a gallon and a half of product.  The jars on the left are still warm and liquid, they will turn white when they cool.  The jars on the far right are the deer back fat, which ended up being slightly darker in color.

Ground deer suet. S Crawford Photo
I didn't render all of my fat, I also ground some of the suet for use in baking.  The bowl on the left is goat suet, the bowl on the right is deer suet.  I froze the chunks first so they could go through the meat grinder.  I baked the biscuits using the ground deer suet instead of lard.  They were delicious!  I don't know how different they would have been if I had used the rendered suet instead of the ground stuff, it's something that I'll have to test out.  I also need to compare the fats from different locations on the animal, and from different species.  Lots of eating to do. 
Suet biscuits. S Crawford Photo.


Towel Trip. S Crawford photo
The first stomach is the rumen, which is the picture on the left.  As you can see, it is substantially larger than all the other stomachs put together.  It is also called towel tripe, but I have never actually seen it for sale.  Apparently it doesn't taste as good as the other kinds.  The second stomach is the reticulum, which is called honeycomb tripe.  This is my favorite type of tripe.  There is a common dish at Chinese restaurants called gnau tou, which is honeycomb tripe in a dark marinade with ginger and some other spices.  It is delicious, and I wish I could get a recipe for it.  The third stomach is the omasum, which is also called leaf tripe or book tripe.  It is hard to tell from the photo, but those aren't just folds in the stomach, they are actual partitions that stick into the space.  This is the type of tripe that is used for gnau ba yip, another common dish in Chinese restaurants.  It is usually only very mildly spiced, and is pure white.  The fourth stomach is the abomasum, which is the true stomach.  I have never seen this for sale.  It has a very different texture, because it is lined with glandular tissue (it is the only stomach that secretes digestive juices).  Apparently it is called reed tripe, and isn't very highly regarded.
Honeycomb (left 2), leaf  (center) and reed (right) tripe. S Crawford photo.
Obviously it is important to wash the tripe very thoroughly.  It actually washes easier than you might expect, and you can see that my tripe is all quite clean, no specks of green stuff.  However, you also have to remove the lining.  Tripe that you buy in the store is bright white.  The brown lining has been removed to reveal the off-white colored tissue underneath, and that is chemically bleached to make it pure white.  I don't really care about bleaching it, but it does seem like I should remove the lining.  Unfortunately, there is very little information available on how to do this yourself.  A few people suggested boiling it for a long time, which I did.

Boiled trip. S Crawford photo.
This is the boiled tripe.  As you can see, it shrank.  However, the lining has not fallen off.  After hours of tedious picking, I succeeded in pealing half of the omasum (front right).  The reticulum has resisted all attempts at pealing.  Obviously there is some trick that I'm missing.  I'm currently trying an acid bath.  Any suggestions would be welcome.

Stu Crawford is a Canadian ethnoecologist, lichenologist, and forager who lives on Haida Gwaii.
Pin It submit to reddit

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Quercus lobata- Manna of California

On our way back north through the Central Valley, I kept my eye out for Valley Oak (Quercus lobata) and was lucky enough to find a few trees only a short distance from the highway near Cottonwood California.

This fine grove has been pruned of their lower limbs
Valley Oaks are the largest of our North American Oaks often reaching 100 feet tall and more than 5 feet in diameter. Open-grown trees have widely spreading, gnarled branches and rounded crowns, giving the tree a silhouette that is often wider than it is tall. The branches on older trees have a noticeable drooping quality near the tips. The bark is light to dark grey with long braided fissures (more widely spaced than those on Blue Oak bark) that break up into a smaller mud crack or alligator skin pattern (like Garry Oak bark) in large specimens. Leaves are deciduous and are typically 2 to 4 inches long with deep rounded lobes. Both surfaces are densely covered with soft fuzz; the top is green and the bottom is much paler. Their range is limited to the Central Valley and Coastal California below about 2000 feet in elevation where they thrive in deep alluvial soil in places with access to year round moisture.

A few remaining leaves in early winter
Acorns typically arise singly but occasionally grow in pairs, and are 1.5-2.5 inches long and ½-1 inch wide, making them among the largest acorns in North America. Caps are warty and cover the top ¼ inch of the acorn. The cap scar is typically ¼ inch wide, from which point the acorn tapers out abruptly, reaching its widest point in the upper ¼-⅓ of the acorn, and then tapering gradually to a long point. The acorns lack symmetry on a longitudinal axis. Those acorns which are not consumed will sprout during winter rainstorms. Shells are thin and crack the length of the acorn as the hypogeal growth pushes through the shell and roots deeply into the ground, and it is not unusual to find a few acorns shells that have pealed completely off of the nutmeat. Valley Oak acorn nutmeat is a light buttery yellow color with a surface that is frequently stained pink, red, or purple where it has been exposed to the air. The nutmeat around the sprouting tip may also be stained green or brown.

Moderately sized Valley Oak acorns (scale in cm)

Valley Oak acorns are a traditional food used extensively by California Native Americans. The large acorns are collected in the fall and stored for use throughout the rest of the year to make bread, soup, and mush. As with all acorns, the tannins must be leached from the nuts before they can be eaten and the California Native Americans did this by grinding them into flour using a mortar and pestle, and then leaching them with cold water.

Victor Chestnut (1902) documented the traditional use of Acorns by the Native Americans living in the Mendocino County area. He observed that Valley Oaks were among the most prized of the many acorn-bearing species in the area, due to the high fat content, large  acorns, and the shared preference by both human and nut to grow deep roots in the fertile valley bottoms.

Chestnut alluded (pg 334) to the use of leaching pits in which whole acorns are buried in a sandy place with grass, charcoal, and ashes, and then flushed with water from time to time to remove the bitter tannins from the acorns. However, most of his account detailed the process of pounding the acorns into a very fine flower, spreading the flour on a bowl-shaped bed of compacted sand, and gently deluging the reservoir with water, which upon percolating through the acorn flour over the course of a few hours, removes the tannins.

A Hupa woman leaching acorns by a similar method. Photo from Goddard 1903, plate 15.

Evidently, any sand that may mix with the acorn flour is not an issue when the flour is used to make soup, as the heavy sand settles to the bottom of the cooking basket where it can be avoided. When bread is being made, a layer of leaves or more recently, cloth, is sometimes spread over the sand before the flour is laid out. Acorn bread is made by mixing in roughly 5 percent clay by mass. With moderate success, Chestnuts investigated the effect of iron oxide rich clay on the remaining tannin in the bread, and also suggested that the clay absorbs oils that would otherwise be lost, gives the bread an agreeable color, and adds beneficial minerals to the diet.

Terminology related to Valley Oak acorns
Pä’·önsh (Yuki): Bread made from Valley Oak
Sē-pä’ (Litle Lake): Valley Oak acorn
Skin’chön (Wailaki): Valley Oak acorn
Kī-yäm’ (Yuki): Valley Oak acorn
Lō-ē’ (Concow): Valley Oak acorn

Acorns comprised a large part of the traditional diet of California Native Americans. Chestnut observed that a single family would collect about 500 lbs of acorns for the year. In 1986, DA Bainbridge reported that a single Valley Oak trees is capable of producing as much as 2,000 lbs of acorns in a year (see “Use of Acorns for Food in California: Past, Present, and Future”).

In less than five minutes I was able to collect about a quart of moderately sized Valley Oak acorns to use for my own culinary experiments. Back home they are now drying on a large baking sheet in my small apartment. They constantly remind me of the life-sustaining promise that has been endowed upon the many landscapes throughout the Pacific Northwest. Not only is each nut edible, but each holds the potential to produce hundreds of tons of food.

Pin It submit to reddit

Monday, January 14, 2013

Paloverde and Acacia, the peas of Painted Canyon

Catclaw Acacia (foreground) and Blue Paloverde (background). Katrina Poppe Photo

An icy gale scoured the stony landscape at Joshua Tree National Park and our dreams of bounding across boulder tops through a sun saturated Seussian landscape were chilled. Fearing the same frozen fate as Service’s “Sam McGee” (albeit in a desert of a much different sort), we sought refuge further south and several thousand feet lower at the Salton Sea.

Climbing stairs in Painted Canyon
We worked our way around the perimeter of the lake seeking out birding hotspots, exploring dry-land edibles and interesting landscapes. We camped in the Painted Canyon, near Mecca on the north end of the Salton Sea and enjoyed a spectacular evening of star gazing around a warm campfire. In the morning we hiked into the Painted Canyon wilderness area and were taken by the colorful geology plowed by the San Andreas Fault and eroded by countless flash floods into a labyrinth of slot canyons amidst a matrix of badlands.
The Painted Canyon in the glow of our campfire

Catclaw Acacia growing along a narrow wash
Blue Paloverde (Parkinsonia florida) and Catclaw Acacia (Acacia greggii) grow abundantly on the sandy washes and canyon floors. Infrequent flash floods likely obliterate these shrubs, but the grinding of floodwaters, laden with sand and a healthy seed bank, scarifies the Paloverde and Acacia seeds and enables a flush of new seedlings to germinate in the moist soils following the flood. The seeds of both Blue Paloverde and Catclaw Acacia are edible and traditional foods of the Inviatim (Cahuilla), Akimel O’otham (Pima), and other desert dwelling peoples (Moerman).

Mature seedpods on the blue-green twigs of Blue Paloverde
Blue Paloverde is a tall deciduous shrub to small tree that reaches 35 feet tall. The stems are blue-green and have thorns that arise alternately along the new growth in the leaf axils. Leaves are bipinnately compound with 1-3 pairs of blue green leaflets per pinna and 2 pinnae per leaf. Seed pods are 1-2.25 inches long and hang singly from a 0.25 inch stalk. Each seed pod typically contains 2 grey brown beans that are 3/8 of an inch long and slightly narrower with rounded rectangular outline.

Seed pods and beans of Blue Paloverde (scale in cm)
When parched on a pan with a little oil, I found Blue Paloverde beans to be very crunchy but with a flavor similar to black beans. The Inviatim traditionally ground or pounded the beans into a flour and mixed them with water to make a porridge, or further dried the mixture into cakes. The Pima traditionally eat the green pods raw during the summer.

Leaf, seedpod, and bean of Catclaw Acacia
Catclaw Acacia is also a large thorny deciduous shrub or small tree that reaches 35 feet tall. Twigs are light brown with dark streaks and recurved thorns. Leaves are bipinnately compound. Leaflets are ¼ inch long or smaller, grey green, and arranged in pairs of 5-9 along the pinnae. One to three pairs of pinnae comprise a leaf. Seedpods arise singly or in clusters on long stalks. Pods are 2-6 inches long with constrictions between each of the beans. Beans are 3/8 to 1/2 inch long with an oval outline.
Raw Catclaw Acacia beans (scale in cm)

Parched Catclaw Acacia beans
The Catclaw Acacia beans pop when roasted as the seed coat splits away from the cotyledon. My only experiment eating a single mature roasted bean was not pleasant. While the roasted cotyledon initially had the flavor and texture of a roasted pine nut, the aftertaste was acrid and continued to burn the tip of my tongue and the back of my throat for several minutes. What little literature I can find on traditional preparations indicates that young beans are preferentially harvested. Once dry, the beans are ground, mixed with water, and made into cakes that can be stored for later use. I can only speculate that early season harvesting may be a way of avoiding acrid chemicals, and that dry storage and soaking in water might serve as a means of volatilizing or leaching what acrid constituents remain. It will probably be a long time before I can get back to the Desert SW to pick the immature beans, but in the meantime, I welcome comments from anyone who has eaten them more successfully. According to “Tamalpakh, Cahuilla Indian Knowledge and Usage of Plants” by Bean and Saubel (1972), the young pods can also be eaten fresh.

A young Date Palm plantation
A nice cluster of dates
Along the shores of the Salton Sea near Mecca, large plantations of Date Palms (Phoenix dactylifera) can be found.
Pin It submit to reddit

Friday, January 11, 2013

Christmasberry, A Holiday Migration to California

Christmasberry or Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia)
Like most people, Katrina and I wanted to spend the Holidays with family and this year we arranged to enjoy Christmas with my sister Rachel, and her growing family, then continue southward to Morro Bay to meet the rest of my family, and then to San Diego and Atwater to visit both sets of Katrina’s grandparents early in the New Year. Flying is far too restrictive for such complicated travel arrangements, and besides, we wanted to explore wild foods, bird watch, camp, and adventure along the way.

Armillaria sp. in Eugene, OR

We started our trip with our sights set for Northern California, hoping to cross the Siskiyous before darkness and falling temperatures would deteriorate the driving conditions. A brief stop in Eugene to visit one of Christian’s friends was the only stop we made aside from necessary pit stops. 

A fully laden Christmasberry in Northern California
The passes had recently been cleared of the deep snows from the day before. Near Redding, we began to see the bright red fruits of Christmasberry or Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia) along the snow carpeted hillsides. Toyon has a native range restricted to California and Baha growing along the coast from Humboldt County, CA southward to San Quinta, Mexico and then in isolated populations all the way to Cabo San Lucas; inland populations are found in the foothills near Lake Shasta southward along the periphery of the Central Valley to Bakersfield. It prefers oak/pine woodlands, oak savannahs, chaparral, and especially the coastal sage scrub community. It is commonly planted in street medians and hedges in California.

This large Toyon was about 7" in diameter and was planted near San Diego
Toyon is a medium to large shrub in the Rose Family that can reach 25 feet in height. The waxy evergreen leaves are 2.5-4 inches long, 1-2 inches wide, and have subtle to prominent holly-like serrations along the margin; the upper surface is dark green and the under surface whitish green. Young twigs are colorful and range from pink to reddish green or yellowish green, but mature to a dark grayish brown after several years. Small white flowers arise in early summer in crowded corymbs. The fruits are green when young and mature to a bright red in the late fall and endure through the winter (hence the common name Christmasberry). The fruits are typically 3/16 to 3/8 of an inch in diameter.

Toyon berries are traditionally eaten by many Native Americans in California. Danielle Moerman reports in Native American Ethnobotany that Toyon fruit are a traditional food of the, Karuk, Yurok, Yuki, Nisenan, Pomo, Ohlone (Costanoan), Payomkowishum (Luiseño), Iviatim (Cahuilla), and Kumeyaay (Tipai, Diegueño), and probably others with access to the fruit. Traditional preparations include eating the berries fresh, parched in ashes, roasted over a fire, wilted next to the fire, boiled, or dried. In Plants Used by the Indians of Mendocino County, Victor Chestnut (1902, pg 355-6) writes that Toyon berries are most commonly eaten by “roasting a bunch of them over red-hot coals, or by tossing them about with hot coals in a basket.” He goes on to describe how cooking changes the flavor from a “disagreeable acidic taste to a sweet one.” Chestnut provides the following names for the bush: mil-kö’-ché (Yuki), but’’-zä-zä (Pomo), and kī-yï’ (Yokia).

The immature fruit pulp contains cyanogen (a cyanide-producing compound) and should not be eaten, but the mature fruit pulp has little to no toxicity (see Burrows and Tyri, Toxic Plants of North America, pg 1081). Seeds in the mature fruit contain cyanogenic compounds, and should be spit out of the raw fruit. Since cyanogen volatizes at low temperatures, it is advisable to dry or cook Toyon fruit before eating. The leaves were used to treat stomachaches and dress infected wounds by a few Californian tribes, however, the leaves have high cyanogenic levels (especially in the late winter and spring) and expert advice should be sought before attempting these preparations.

Note the leaves and berries that resemble Holly
Toyon leaves and fruit resemble holly and are frequently used to make wreaths and other Christmas decorations. From the frigid mountain snows near Shasta to the sunny shores of San Diego, the ripe red berries of Toyon decorated much of the rest of our holiday season journey.

Pin It submit to reddit