Suet—the hard fat around beef kidneys is bird food to most Americans. In England, however, it's well thought of as enrichment for the meat puddings which the British enjoy with their solid winter meals.
You can buy kidneys, with the fat on, at a frozen-food locker plant for almost nothing . . . or from most meat markets at a somewhat higher price. Be sure to tell the butcher you want the organs for puddings, or he may sell you refugees from his garbage can.
The suet you cook with should be fresh and free from membranes. Remove the stringy tissues as you cut up the fat, and discard any red areas and bloody material at the same time, or the fat will spoil.
Chop the suet fairly fine and mix it with a little flour so it won't stick together in a mass. You can then store it in the refrigerator (where it'll keep for months) and use it as needed in the following suet recipes.
Suet Mix for Puddings
1 1/2 cups suet
2 cups flour
salt to taste
This mixture is combined with cold water to form a stiff dough which serves as the basis for several dishes.
Steak and Kidney Pudding
1/2 pound lean steak cut in half-inch pieces
1/2 pound beef kidney, also cut small
salt and pepper
Moisten the suet mix to make a dough that can be rolled. Line a small bowl with a cloth table napkin sprinkled with a little flour. (Leave the corners of the lining outside the dish, to be tied later.) Roll out the pastry to fit into the container . . . and save a piece for a lid. Then fill the crust with alternate layers of beef, kidney and onions. Sprinkle these ingredients with salt and pepper and add a little water to make a gravy. Top the pudding with the reserved dough and pinch the edges together to seal them, as if you were making a pie.
Next, gather up the corners of the napkin and tie them tightly with a piece of string. Remove the pudding from the bowl, cloth and all, and set the whole business in boiling water deep enough to cover the top. Boil it steadily for three hours, making sure the bag stays submerged. Unwrap the finished product and serve it hot. (Leftovers are good fried the next day.)
Moisten the basic pudding mix with cold water and roll it into a rectangle about half an inch thick. Lay slices of bacon on the dough and sprinkle the meat with sage, salt, pepper and a little onion. Then roll up the pudding like a jelly roll.
Spread out a table napkin and sprinkle it with a little flour. Lay the filled dough in the center. Fold the edge of the cloth nearest you over the pudding, turn up the sides and roll the whole mass into a package which you seal by fastening down the top edge with safety pins.
Place the cloth-covered bundle in a saucepan of boiling water and cook it for about an hour and a half. Serve the pudding in one inch slices . . . or let it cool and fry it the next day.
Moisten the suet mix and make it into balls to be boiled like regular dumplings. The result will be solid rather than fluffy and won't break up as the bread-like version often does.
Plain Suet Patties
Make chopped suet into cakes shaped like hamburgers and cook them in boiling water for about 15 minutes. The patties can be eaten with jam or honey.
There's nothing dainty about suet dishes . . . they're cold weather specialties that stick to your ribs and seem to insulate you against the chill outside. The British—and the chickadees—ought to know!