I think that you will agree that mutton fat is not the most attractive form of “kitchen stuff.” “Kitchen stuff,” according to the OED can mean:
- Material used in cooking; requisites for the kitchen.
- The refuse or waste products of the kitchen, spec. dripping.
I am sure mutton fat does not fit into the first category, except by default. It smells and tastes distinctly mutton-y, which is why, I suspect, that it was not the fat of choice for quality pastry and puddings in the past.
Mutton fat more often falls into the second category, although this does not mean it was acceptable to waste it. Some would have been used for cooking, there is no doubt, but fat has many other uses in the world too. Perhaps the most important is, or was, soap-making, of course. In World War II it would have been gratefully received by the dripping pot beside every stove, to be turned in to the butcher who then turned it in to whoever was responsible for recycling it as an ingredient for explosives. Mutton fat has probably been used for all sorts of other non-food applications not relevant here, but such things as greasing wheel axles and saddles perhaps?
I had not thought of its use as an artistic medium until I read a report of a cookery demonstration and competition in London in 1885. The Times reported the work of one entrant:
Mutton fat would not by the uninitiated be thought a promising material for artistic manipulation; … It is of suet that the genealogical tree designed by Mr. Louis Cebat, [?] chef at the Freemasons’ Tavern, is made. Each branch of this arborescent adipose biography bears a dated label, and, in miniature, some dish invented by a cook whose school may be traced to the master on whom he modelled his style. The tragic end of Vatel, who is represented to have slain himself with his own sword in a fit of despair at the failure of the expected supply of fish for dinner, is symbolised by a broken branch. The menu presented suggests “darnes de saumon à la Vatel: petits poulets printaniers à la Carême; timbale d’ecrevisses à la Thiou; pain de volaille à la Guipièro; estomac de pintade à la Chandelier; côtolettes d’agneau à la Benoit; aspic de foies gras à l’Eliot; chuadfroid de cailles à la Tavenet; turban de filets de soles à la Guignard; queues de homard à la Duglerêt; mauviettes en caisse à la Vincent la Chapelle; and crème de crabe à la Francatelli.” Under this fateful tree, oxen, sheep, ducks and poultry, game and small birds disport themselves, and fish, just caught, lie on the green borders of a transparent stream of isinglass.
Does not that inspire you to go out and roast a sheep, just to get some fat to carve? No? Then let us revisit the idea of using it for cooking after all. I did not for a moment think I would find recipes specifically for mutton fat, but a nice little booklet called Mutton and its value in the diet (US Dept. Agriculture, 1913) came to my rescue.
Sour Butter Sauce for Mutton and Cabbage-leaf Rolls.
1 tablespoon chopped pickle
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons mutton fat (savory or plain rendered)
3 tablespoons vinegar (spiced vinegar from pickles preferable)
Salt and red pepper to taste
Beat the butter and mutton fat with a spoon until smooth, then beat in the vinegar until the sauce looks light colored and the vinegar has been taken up. Add 1 tablespoon of finely chopped pickles and 1 tablespoon of chopped parsley.
Oyster Sauce [to serve with boiled mutton.]
2 tablespoons butter or mutton fat.
1 tablespoon flour.
½ pint oysters.
1 tablespoon flour.
½ pint oysters.
½ cup of the liquid in which the mutton has been boiled.
Drain the oysters and heat and strain the liquor. Wash the oysters, add them to the hot oyster liquor and cook until they are plump. Remove the oysters and keep warm while making a sauce of the butter, flour, oyster liquor, and mutton stock. Add the oysters and season with salt and pepper.