The Bacon Fat Jar

Bacon-fat So many fun discussions in the comment section today. Somehow, my post about the local food movement has transitioned to a conversation about what our grandparents did with bacon fat. 

When I first married my husband, he also kept the jar of bacon fat in the fridge. He didn't use it. Just saved it up, until it got full and then he threw it away. I was very mystified about this practice and chalked it up to a weird Midwestern thrifty habit. Now I learned from my commenters that this was a common practice among their grandparents. 


Question of the Day: What weird, gross foods did your grandparents eat? 


60 thoughts on “The Bacon Fat Jar

  1. Buttermilk and cheese curds.
    I actually now like the cheese curds.
    And I save the bacon fat. Sometimes I use it in recipes, like my mom’s potato soup one, but yes I usually end up throwing it away, too.

  2. So is the point of saving bacon fat to avoid either pouring it down the drain (which I’ve been told will cause all of your pipes to clog in about four seconds) or putting it in the trash where a ripped bag would cause a huge mess?

  3. My mom’s point in saving it is using it to cook with as a flavour enhancer for anything fried.
    Buttermilk is one of those things that they ate that I still like…that and pickled herring, red cabbage.

  4. Growing up here in KY we always had the bacon fat in the fridge. My mom kept it in the freezer in a soup can. We did it to avoid pouring it down the drain and clogging the pipes. When it was full you chucked it in the garbage right before pickup.
    As for eating weird things, my great-grandmother was born in Appalachia at the turn of the century. When times were really tough they would occasionally eat lard sandwiches out of desperation. 90 years later she would still eat one a couple of times per year. It seems you can acquire a taste for anything if you eat it enough…

  5. We keep the bacon fat to keep it out of the pipes but also sometimes put a bit into our rice and beans.
    My grandparents had a thing late in their lives for the bologna with the macaroni and cheese in it, whatever that’s called. Ew.

  6. My grandmother was Slovak, so I’ve got a list. Unlike my two sisters, my brother and I weren’t so picky—we’d eat the halupky (filled cabbage) and babalky (dough balls in a savory poppyseed sauce) without much complaint.
    But the thing we all agreed was absolutely disgusting was the traditional Easter cheese called Cirak (pronounced “sidok”). It looked like a big yellow brain and tasted like cold, hard scrambled eggs that had been put into a compactor (’cause that’s basically what it was). To make matters worse, it hung on the back porch dripping all day, reminding you of what was coming at dinner.

  7. they would occasionally eat lard sandwiches out of desperation
    Is a lard sandwich really that different from buttering bread?

  8. My grandma, the only grandparent I can recall, used to make all kinds of simmer-all-day Italian sauces. If I managed to like my grandma, I’d be healthier than I am now, but I might gain some weight.

  9. Ok, so what do you non-bacon-grease-jar people DO with the bacon grease?
    My great-great-grandfather was a grocer in north Jersey, and one of the things he sold was pickled eggs and pickled mussels, which were bought by the local tavern owners as bar snacks.

  10. Ok, so what do you non-bacon-grease-jar people DO with the bacon grease?
    We cook bacon in a sheet pan lined with foil. When it cools, we throw in the paper towels we used to drain the cooked bacon, seal it, and toss it in the trash.

  11. Wow. I love my bacon fat — I use it in soups and stews. Lovely way to saute cabbage. But, yes, I’m from the south.
    Also good for cast-iron skillet cornbread.

  12. My mother does that exact same thing with bacon fat, for that exact same reason–to prevent clogging the pipes. I try and do it too, but my husband finds it disgusting, and throws it out before much bacon fat collects. If something calls for lard and I have bacon fat in the fridge I’ll use it. I once made biscuits with bacon fat, but they were a little too bacon flavored for my liking.
    Probably the most disgusting thing my grandparents ate is lutefisk, one of those ethnic foods everyone likes to make fun of. They also occasionally ate black pudding, which is the same as blood pudding. My mother loves headcheese, something I never was willing to try as a kid. I did grow up eating pig offal though–liverwurst, leberkäse, all sorts of sausage.
    My family also eats tons of butter. Growing up I was taught that if you don’t eat lots of fat–pig fat and full fat dairy, you will not make it through the winter. That might be true in Scandinavia and northern Minnesota, but isn’t really the case in the Pacific NW. Anyways, I ate lots of butter and cheese and drank milk at every meal. (My grandparents were slightly offended by peanut butter, since it contained the word “butter” without being the real thing. They did not get peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but the few times they did make them for me they always put a generous layer of real butter on as well.)
    Finally, Mike at Big Stick: Relatives of mine still own the family farm in northern Sweden, and when my parents went to visit in the late 70s, they were served spiced lard on bread, with a large glass of vodka (this was 10 am). They made the rounds visiting distant relatives, and everywhere they went they were served a glass of vodka. By early afternoon, they were completely sloshed.

  13. We’re like many of the other commenters–we drain the bacon fat into the jar, to make sure it isn’t going into the pipes primarily, and then throw it away when the jar is full. We’ll very occasionally use the bacon fat when frying or cooking something, but 9 times out of 10 we’ll just use butter, when we think has a better taste than bacon.
    As for weird foods: bread, milk, and cheese. Tear up pieces of bread (any kind), cube some cheese (usually cheddar, but again, could be anything), drop them in a bowl, add milk, and eat with a spoon. My father tried endlessly to convert our mom and us kids to this dish, in our early years growing up (early to mid 70s), but eventually gave up.
    They did not get peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but the few times they did make them for me they always put a generous layer of real butter on as well.
    One of the unapologetically gross things that I love to eat are peanut-butter/butter sandwiches. Delish.

  14. My grandma is a traditional American cook of Midwestern/Southern extraction, so she does a very good breakfast, excellent fried chicken and exemplary pies. The most questionable dishes she serves are probably the jellos–I believe some may contain both shredded cheese and shredded carrot. My mom (her daughter-in-law) represents a different WASP culinary tradition. Her gift to American cuisine is a variety of casseroles involving white rice, hamburger (cooked without onion) and Velveeta (there might be some tomato product in there, also). I don’t cook THAT, but I don’t cook much else, either.
    The least appealing foods that I deal with in my family circle are my husband’s beloved pickled herring and the salmon roe paste that they sell at the IKEA food store.

  15. I’d rather have a sardine or something, but pickled herring isn’t actually bad in my experience. I’m not sure about salmon roe paste. I’ve only used salmon roe as bait for trout and wasn’t aware you could eat it.

  16. I have a hard time getting past how the herring looks floating in the jar. IKEA sells a dill-flavored salmon roe paste that might be OK.

  17. Amy P
    You wouldn’t do well in our family, we LOVE pickled herring. In her ambitious housewife days before having kids, my mother apparently pickled her own herring, but now she buys it in a jar. I had a very small wedding for which my mother did all the catering. We served 4 different types of pickled herring. My mother didn’t get a whole lot since she figured not that many people liked it, but we ran out halfway through. The guests were complaining that there wasn’t enough herring. I do have to agree on the salmon roe paste though. My mother kept a tube in the refrigerator but I could never bring myself to try it.
    Russel Arben Fox: Actually, I think peanut butter and jelly with butter is pretty tasty too, though I don’t think I could make it for myself. I can’t actually bring myself to make one for myself though.

  18. Oh god, the peanut butter and butter sandwiches. My grandma would make these where the butter was the star of the show and I found it so revolting.
    I do collect bacon fat, something I learned from my mom, but I do use it rather than throw it out. Why throw it out? It is so delicious and wonderful.

  19. What bacon fat is good for: sauteed greens (kale, chard, mustard greens, etc.), any kind of long-cooking dried beans (I put in a spoonful to deepen the flavor), browning the stew meat in before putting it in the crockpot. And it lasts quite a while in the fridge.
    Personally I keep it in a pie tin with foil on top. We use it up more often than I cook bacon so a pie tin is big enough.

  20. What my grandparents ate that I wouldn’t: a salad of just iceberg lettuce dressed with Miracle Whip (it does say salad dressing on the jar…).

  21. This post reminded me of years ago in college, when my flatmate asked me why on earth I was saving bacon grease in a jar (being Jewish, she hadn’t come across this custom growing up). I straightfacedly told her that once it was full, I was going to render it into soap.
    After I finally threw it away, she admitted that she hadn’t realized I was joking and had been waiting for an opportune moment to have A Talk with me about my plans to turn the apartment into a rendering plant.

  22. The only recipe I cook with bacon fat is apple stuffing from the Fanny Farmer Cookbook (Marion Cunningham edition). We don’t eat enough bacon to have bacon fat on hand, so I fry up bacon for fat in December.
    I collect most animal fat in jars, but dispose of it in the trash. I have heard that it will clog the pipes.

  23. Laura, I will eat a whole bowl of your jello and olives, in return you only have to eat one serving of Gram’s jello salad. It’s that bad.
    MH…It was foamy green, it also had cottage cheese and probably something that made it carbonated, maybe sprite?
    She used to bring it to family potlucks. I made a beautiful paella once, and she poked at the seafood and said “Is anything in there edible?”. She was standing next to her foamy green nightmare. I just looked at her and said “You’re kidding, right?” Then took a big helping of her’s so I didn’t hurt her feelings.

  24. Mind you, I took the helping, but I didn’t eat it. You learned not to eat that stuff by about age 11. Then you kept silent about how bad it was to those younger than you, so you could mock them when they tried it.

  25. “MH…It was foamy green, it also had cottage cheese and probably something that made it carbonated, maybe sprite?”
    That sounds like a good stand-in for “The Jar” in the Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode where a backwoodsman becomes attached to a mysterious jar he bought at a carnival.

  26. Depression-era relic that survived in my family: mustard sandwich.
    In South Louisian, where I grew up (but isn’t where my people come from), folks will eat pretty much anything that isn’t moving.

  27. I made a beautiful paella once, and she poked at the seafood and said “Is anything in there edible?”. She was standing next to her foamy green nightmare. I just looked at her and said “You’re kidding, right?” Then took a big helping of her’s so I didn’t hurt her feelings.
    And with that, I hope we never have to hear that silly “eat only what your grandparents would recognize as food” bit again!
    Jello salads of varying degrees of nastiness seem to be a specialty in Mormon families, but this one really does sound awful.

  28. My husband grew up as a kid in Poland on delicious (he says) beef tartare (that’s raw ground beef, dear readers). I was looking at the Wikipedia page for it, and a favorite Parisian serving method is to crown it with a raw egg. Wikipedia claims that in French, beef tartare is steak “a l’Americaine” which is one of the more bizarre naming misfires I have seen.
    My husband also grew up in Poland with a spread for bread consisting of lard and bits of bacon.

  29. I had a huge traffic surge yesterday, partially because you all have a big interest in bacon fat jars. You people are making it very hard for me to write serious blog posts! And I’m a very serious person, dammit!
    BTW, aren’t you impressed that I found an image of a bacon fat jar to use in this post? A surprising number of people take pictures of their bacon fat jars and put them on the internet.

  30. aren’t you impressed that I found an image of a bacon fat jar to use in this post?
    And I was thinking this was a photo of Steve’s old bacon fat jar that you’d saved. I feel so used.

  31. Matt, B.I. I’m sure it came from a recipe from some sort of Mormon cookbook or friend. We weren’t Mormon, but in heavy Mormon country. Lot’s of influence. I have her recipe box, I’m almost positive it’s in there, but have never looked.
    She LOVED it by the way. The last few years of her life she hardly cooked at all (lived in a retirement complex where she didn’t have to) but she still made that to bring to family dinners.

  32. So why did gel cookery come in style and why did it go out? Was it purely a technological/aesthetic thing (i.e. they did it because they could) and then, it was bad so they stopped eating it?
    I still think jello fruit salads can be beautiful and I think I once made something with jello & fruit & whipped topping (the non-dairy kind — what’s that called) that I liked as a teenager.
    I do not believe I have anything of offer up to this thread (and think that means that without animal products one is playing this game at a serious handicap).

  33. “I do not believe I have anything of offer up to this thread (and think that means that without animal products one is playing this game at a serious handicap).”
    Quite right. Normally, Laura/Geeky Mom’s jello with olives should have been a very strong contender, but there’s no way she can compete with green jello with both dairy and meat.

  34. Speaking of animal fats, when I lived in Russia, it took me a while to clue into the fact that the locals weren’t serving bread with fat slices of cheese. It was actually bread with fat slices of butter. That was pretty good, actually, particularly with tea.

  35. Did you eat Sala (SP? Maybe Saula?) in Russia, Amy? I hated it so rarely did, but did also laugh at some of my colleagues who thought they were being served raw bacon at first. (Sala is salted [and sometimes a bit smoked] pig back fat (I think) that looks a bit like the least lean raw bacon you’ve ever seen- mostly fat with a tiny bit of meat, often very garlicy. It’s a favorite in Russia, especially w/ Vodka, but even w/ vodka I couldn’t choke it down most of the time.)

  36. I heard about salo many times, but managed to avoid it. It’s supposed to be a particularly Ukrainian thing.
    Wikipedia may be pulling our legs:
    “When salo has been aged too long, or exposed to light, the fat may become oxidized on the surface and become yellowed and bitter-tasting. Then it can be used as a water-repellent treatment for leather boots or as a bait for mouse traps or simply turned into homemade soap.”

  37. While dairy and meat in jello is disgusting, I have heard of similar disgusting combos (e.g. tuna salad in jello). I think what makes Lisa V’s dish a homerun is the canned chicken. The thought of eating chicken from a can makes me nauseous. I bet it’s all slimy. Eww.

  38. Canned chicken isn’t slimy. It’s poached, shredded chicken. I had a recipe which called for it.
    Has anyone had Underwood deviled ham? I remember eating it as a child, and it’s still in the stores. I should try some as an adult.
    Does anyone know where I could buy some lard? (Serious question.)

  39. Cranberry,
    Don’t they sell it at your grocery in big tubs labeled “manteca” (that’s Spanish for lard)? (Although not everybody thinks the grocery store kind is good enough.)
    Here’s a discussion between some online lard snobs:
    In Russia, they’d sell lard wrapped up in cubes like butter in the US.

  40. My husband has a list of recipes he’d like to make, “if only we had real lard.” Thank you for the links, Amy P. I may be ordering some lard from Pennsylvania.
    I must look closely in the grocery store. It’s not in the cooking fats section. Perhaps it’s in the ethnic foods aisle. By the way, here in the Boston area, “imported” foods include Irish delicacies. Marmite, anyone? The local grocers ran specials on corned beef and cabbage last week.

  41. For lard, I’d suggest 1)ethnic food stores, 2) a real butcher, if you have one (i.e., not the grocery store butcher or the like.) Even Boise has at least one or two real butchers, so probably most places do, too.

  42. Best reason to keep bacon fat is to fry your goetta in it. It’s also great for scrambling or frying eggs. Goetta is mixture of pinhead oatmeal and ground sausage, pressed into a loafpan, then chilled, sliced and fried until crispy. Seems to be unique to Cincinnati area, but have heard it’s similar to scrapple.

  43. I’ve got a late entry to the grandma stories. As a widow, my great-grandma had a small cabin built on her land outside of town and replicated the homestead lifestyle of her girlhood. She had geese, a few sheep, some calves from a dairy that she was fattening for sale, a dog and a cat, fruit trees, currants, blueberries, raspberry bushes, strawberries, potatoes, parsnips, etc. As a tween, I spent a lot of free time working for her for $1 an hour on various projects (picking strawberries, digging potatoes, executing garden slugs, etc.) She also had a supply of canned goods (peaches in heavy syrup were a favorite) and a freezer packed with frozen quart cartons of milk and Le Menu frozen dinners, which I would fix for our lunches together. She lived until 91, which seems to be the outer limit of longevity for my family so far. Her son, my grandpa, is 89 now. I talked to my grandparents this afternoon and they rather sheepishly confessed that they’ve finally bought a ride-on mower for dealing with their huge lawn. It’s quite a chastening thought that I may easily have 55 years of life ahead of me, and so I ought to get into better shape.

  44. Except for one, my grandparents have been quite long-lived (fathers’ parents died at 92 and 88, mother’s mother going strong at 91), more in spite of, rather than because of, what they ate I would say.
    But anyways, I have a late disgusting food entry, except it is actually a disgusting beverage, so maybe that’s why it slipped my mind before. In his mid 80s, my grandfather read that drinking a glass of red wine every night was good for your heart. Although he hadn’t been a wine drinker, he decided to take it up. He bought the largest (and my guess, cheapest) jug of red wine he could find, and then every night before bed, he would pour a juice glass half full with red wine, and then fill the other half up with milk. The mixture was a kind of sickening pale burgundy color, and the milk slightly curdled. In high school when I lived with them for a bit he offered to fix me a glass too, but I declined the offer.
    To add to the grossness, he would eat potato chips with his wine, and he would use whipped butter as a potato chip dip. It’s amazing that he made it to 92 and died from causes completely unrelated to diet. (Mesothelioma caused by asbestos exposure during WWII. I wonder if he hadn’t caught asbestosis 60 years before his death if he would have made it to 100)

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