Kickin’ it Old School: In which Jordan tries to find an ingredient no one has ever heard of…

I’ve picked the recipe with which I’d like to start off this blog. I’m not going to share too much just yet, but I’ll maybe gross you out a little give you a hint by telling you that it’s a dessert and the recipe (a pretty old one, circa 1930!) calls for beef suet. I’ll be cooking tomorrow and you’ll get all the details then. However, I didn’t want to spend all your precious recipe reading and picture viewing time tomorrow with a tutorial on “What is beef suet?” So, I’ll just give you the lowdown in advance so that tomorrow we can carry on with the business of cooking. Sound like a plan? Good.

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Beef suet is fat that comes from, as you might have guessed, a cow. More specifically, from around the loin and kidney part of a cow. When we think of beef, and cows, we imagine savory things. It’s counter intuitive to think of it as a dessert ingredient. However, in the “olden days,” beef or mutton suet was used for lots of things other than getting a good sizzle out of a steak…candle making or bird feeders, as well as the fat component in pastries, puddings (steamed, bready things of which the Brits are so fond, not the Jello instant kind), and pies. Many mincemeat pie recipes call for beef suet, even to this day. 

Why wouldn’t I just use butter or shortening? Trust me, I Googled “substitutions for beef suet” and every other iteration of that little query. A few sites gave me permission to use another type of solid fat, agreeing that if you’ve never heard of beef suet until trying to find it for a recipe it might seem a little… well… weird. However, even the articles I read that reluctantly agreed that there could be a substitution cautioned that whatever I made would absolutely not taste the same. If I skipped the suet on the first try, I would never know the difference, and therefore probably never know what I was missing. 

That idea is not comforting to me. I wanted to know what I was missing, dammit! So, as I often do when I need some weirdo ingredient no one ever actually uses anymore, I paid a visit to my local Whole Foods. It took me three tries, but eventually I found a nice guy back in the meat department who knew what i was talking about, totally got why nothing else would work, and promised to order some beef suet for me. Hopefully, I’ll have it tomorrow and I can tackle this recipe armed, not only with all the right ingredients, but the peace of mind that comes from knowing I’m making the recipe exactly as its original author intended. 

Fingers crossed that by this time tomorrow I can update with a little show and tell on my foray into the wonderful world of “American Cookery” (another very obscure hint)… and also, dessert that doesn’t taste like a hamburger. 

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