Traverse City Record-Eagle

May 30, 2009

Ed Hungness: The value of bacon grease

By ED HUNGNESS

Does anyone ever wonder what happens to all the bacon grease? I doubt if many ever ponder this question for very long.

In the current economy, our leaders, as well as environmental "experts," are encouraging us to "go green." We are looking for ways to save gas, and soon we'll be encouraged to buy little electric automobiles that look like roller skates on steroids. Imagine trying to drive one of those down a two-track in a northern Michigan winter!

I wonder if the hybrids will be available in a four-wheel drive version with a Hemi? Can you imagine a hunter trying to load a 10-point buck into the back seat of one?

But then we were discussing bacon grease, weren't we?

Before all this "green" business started, I thought a carbon footprint was the mark I left on the kitchen floor when I forgot to take off my boots. Now it seems to have something to do with not wanting to burn coal to make electricity so that we can charge up those little electric cars that we are all suppose to drive.

It was all much simpler when we weren't so worried about footprints and the hole-filled ozone. We just pulled into a service station, the attendant came out, and you said, "Fill'er up Charlie!" Those were the good old days.

So what has all this got to do with bacon grease, you ask? Well, we are suppose to save and conserve our resources and I consider bacon grease a resource. Most of today's homemakers throw the bacon grease in the garbage or (heaven forbid) down the disposal. How "green" is that?

I can remember my mom and grandmother saving bacon grease. Keep in mind that the variety of cooking oils that we now have available didn't exist back in the '40s and '50s and what few existed were expensive. Basically, we had lard, bacon grease and butter. Butter was too expensive to use for frying but the bacon grease came free with the bacon.

Whenever you fried bacon, you added the leftover grease to a jar or coffee can that was kept in the refrigerator. In some cases it sat right on top of the stove. Our family must have eaten a lot of bacon because we always had a jar or two of artery-clogging bacon grease in the fridge.

During World War II, and even after the war, homemakers would take their extra bacon grease to the market and return it to the butcher. The grease was given back to our government and utilized as an ingredient in making explosives, as in bombs. By contributing her bacon grease toward the war effort, Mom felt very patriotic.

Based on today's healthy eating standards, bacon grease no doubt is taboo. Keep in mind that back in the '40s and '50s you followed one rule of thumb. If you were hungry, and it tasted good, you ate it. How simple was that?

The flavor of food fried in bacon grease is hard to beat. If you want to live on the edge sometime, thinly slice five or six raw potatoes. Be sure to leave the skins on them. While you're at it, peel and slice a big, sweet onion, breaking up the slices into rings. Put two or three tablespoons of bacon grease into your largest skillet and start frying. Add salt and pepper. Cook without the lid and keep turning with a spatula. Allow them to brown and get a little crispy. The onions caramelize in the process imparting a slightly sweet taste. The bacon grease adds a distinct smoke flavor to the dish. When the potatoes are fork-tender and browned, serve them. Trust me, you will want to throw away your bottle of canola oil. We used bacon grease to fry fish, eggs or pork chops and for browning the pot roast. We even popped our popcorn using bacon grease. Popcorn prepared in this manner has a wonderful flavor that even beats butter.

So my friends, do you want to get with the "green" movement but you can't afford a hybrid vehicle or a geo-thermal heating system? If you would rather not have a big windmill spinning around in your back yard or cover your roof with solar panels, there is still hope for you.

All you need to do is to start saving and utilizing your bacon grease. You will be conserving a natural resource. Cardiologists will prosper and they will buy the hybrid autos, and install geo-thermal systems thus stimulating the economy. The stock market will recover, the recession will end -- and we will owe it all to bacon grease.

Ed Hungness and his wife owned their cottage on Fife Lake for six years before moving there after his retirement in 2005. He can be reached at edhungness@yahoo.com. For more of Ed's columns, log on to record-eagle.com/edhungness.