If you’re lucky enough to kill a bear, as my husband Kevin was, do yourself a favor and pack out as much of the fat as you can. Spring bear or fall bear, I’ve had both and can confidently say both are delicious. Though many will insist that fall bear fat tastes the best, the only thing I can say for sure is that fall bear will yield more of it.
Bear fat is pure gold. It will give you the flakiest, best tasting pie crust for sweet or savory pies, and it makes a darn good biscuit. I’ve heard that doughnuts fried up in bear fat are pretty fantastic, too, but I’ll have to wait till we have more in our freezer to test that one. Here is how my husband and I render our bear fat. We’ve also included a pie recipe, which you can adapt to accommodate whatever fruit might be in season in your area.
Rendering Bear Fat
The process for ensuring quality bear fat for cooking begins in the field. Keep the fat as clean as you can and don’t let it sit for more than 1 or 2 days before processing it. Keep it somewhere cold. Semi-frozen bear fat is much easier to cut.
- Cut bear fat into 1-inch cubes. Trim away any off-looking parts (bits with hair, dirt, blood or that look excessively, well, smooshy.
- Set a wide, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-low heat and pour in just enough vegetable oil to cover the bottom. This prevents the fat from scorching as it melts.
- Layer the fat cubes in a single layer in the bottom of the pot. As the cubes start to melt, add more. Continue adding cubes in this fashion until all of the fat is in the pot. You don’t want the fat to scorch, so make sure the pot is not getting too hot. Depending on your pot size and the amount of fat you have, you may need to process your fat in more than one batch.
- After several hours all of the fat should be melted. There may be little cracklins, bits of fat with skin attached, left behind. That’s normal. Take the pot off the heat and let it cool slightly.
- Strain the melted fat into mason jars or other containers of your choice through a fine mesh sieve. A nut bag or coffee filter will also work.
- Store bear fat in freezer until ready for use.
Straw-beary Rhubarb Pie
We don’t think it’s a coincidence that spring bear season begins in April, right around the time strawberries and rhubarb are starting to come up. This pie crust tastes good on just about any sweet pie, so use it for making pies with fall fruits or berries. In the early days of spring, however, it only seems right to make strawberry rhubarb pie.
Pie Crust Ingredients:
Yield: 1 double pie crust or 2 single pie crusts
- 2 ½ cup flour
- ¾ cup bear fat (frozen)
- ½ cup butter (frozen or very cold)
- ⅓ cup cold water
- 1 tsp salt
- Mix flour and salt in a bowl. Grate frozen butter and fat into the flour, then mix with fingers until combined into coarse, pebbly texture.
- Slowly pour in water. Mix with a fork until mostly combined, then mix with hands until dough comes together. Do not overmix or knead. Cover in plastic wrap and chill the dough in the fridge for at least 1 hour until ready for use.
- 4 cups rhubarb (1/2-inch slices)
- 3 cups strawberries (hulled and halved)
- 1/3 cup brown sugar
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- ¼ cup cornstarch
- 1 pinch salt
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- ½ tsp nutmeg
- 1 tbs lemon juice (fresh is best)
- 3 tbs unsalted butter (chopped into small pieces)
- 1 egg whisked with 1 tbs water (egg wash)
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Combine rhubarb, strawberries, brown sugar, granulated sugar, cornstarch, salt, vanilla extract, nutmeg and lemon juice in a large bowl. Mix until strawberries and rhubarb are coated evenly. Set aside.
- Divide pie crust dough into two even balls. Keep one ball in fridge wrapped in plastic wrap until ready for use while rolling out the first ball.
- Roll out your first dough ball into flat, circular shape wider than your pie pan. Put the dough circle into a deep-dish pie pan and trim any excess, but be sure to leave dough on the pie pan edge for the crust. Prick the entire bottom of the pie crust with a fork (this will prevent crust bubbles). Brush the bottom of your crust with egg wash (you should have some left over – be sure to keep this). Store the crust in the fridge until ready for filling.
- Get the second pie crust ball from the fridge and roll out into a flat, circular shape. This will be the top of your pie, so you leave the pie crust whole and cut out shapes/vent holes after placing on top of the filling, cut strips and create a lattice top or get fancy with your excess dough and make shapes.
- Take the pie pan with crust out of the fridge. Your filling may have some liquid pooling at the bottom of the bowl at this point. Scoop out a few spoonfuls of the liquid and discard.
- Pour the filling into the pie pan. Top with the second crust and crimp edges. Brush the top of the pie crust with the remaining egg wash.
- Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes, then lower oven temp to 350 degrees F. Bake for another 45–55 minutes until filling is bubbling. You may want to cover the crust edges with foil if they are getting too brown. Tip: While baking, put a cookie sheet under your pie pan so that any filling drips onto the cookie sheet instead of the bottom of your oven.
- This is the hardest part – take the pie out of the oven and LET IT SIT for at least three hours. You can certainly cut into it before then, but you will have a runny pie and I told you so.
- Best served with ice cream. If you really want to impress your friends, make some of Tom Healy’s homemade custard ice cream and bear fat brittle to go with it!
Photos by author