Dear Bird Folks,
Like you, I try to avoid eating meat. But I also use beef suet to attract woodpeckers, which isn’t very vegetarian-ish of me. Then today I found a recipe on National Audubon’s website. It had step-by-step instructions on how to make “vegetarian suet.” I’ve attached the recipe and am wondering what you think about it. Have you ever made veggie suet?
– John, Milford, MA
Not me, John,
I’m not someone you should ask about cooking or even following a recipe. You must be confusing me with Rachael Ray. The only thing I’ve ever made in the kitchen is a mess. In fact, I just recently found out how to turn on our stove (really), which is why my wife gets suspicious anytime she hears me banging pots and pans. Consequently, I don’t dare make the recipe you sent me. It’s way beyond my skill set. Wait! I have a plan. Maybe if I just start working on your suet recipe, my wife will hear me, come running into the kitchen and take over the project. What a great idea. Let’s see if it works.
The ingredient list consists of vegetable shortening (aka, the problematic Crisco), peanut butter, corn meal, birdseed and quick oats. Right away I was stumped. I couldn’t find any “quick oats.” Truth be told, I don’t even know what they are or what makes them so quick. As I searched the cupboards in vain, I heard a very familiar voice behind me say, “What is going on here?” Ordinarily when I hear that phrase I’m in big trouble, but this time they were the words I was hoping for. I explained to my wife what I was doing and she immediately slipped into something more comfortable – her apron – and said, “Let’s get busy” (which, in this case, only meant cooking). She began heating the shortening and peanut butter, while I mixed the oats, corn meal and my specialty, birdseed. We then blended the hot greasy goo with the dry, dusty seed. It looked awful, but the peanut butter made it smell wonderful. I had the feeling that our concoction actually might work (as long as none of the neighborhood woodpeckers had peanut allergies).
Next, the instructions said to spoon the mixture into an ice cube tray. Ice cube tray? Who made this recipe, Ozzie and Harriet? I haven’t used an ice cube tray since they invented built-in icemakers over a thousand years ago. No problem; instead, we substituted small plastic tubs that coleslaw or something else once came in. The last step was to set the tubs in the freezer for two hours, but in our case it would be overnight. It was getting late and time for me to go to bed, and time for my wife to clean up the mess. Oh, calm down I’m just kidding. The rule in our house is whoever does the cooking doesn’t have to do the dishes. The clean up was totally my job, but not before I put on my sexy Playtex gloves. I can’t afford to be seen with a case of dishpan hands.
The next day was like Christmas morning. As soon as I woke up, I hopped out of bed and ran to the freezer. Our suet mixture had come out perfect. I immediately stuffed it into a feeder and hung it out for the birds. At this point, I didn’t know if the birds would be attracted to this new confection, but even if they weren’t, I liked the way it made our entire yard smell like yummy peanut butter (with just a hint of coleslaw). Unfortunately, I had to go to work and wouldn’t be able to sit and watch the results. I asked my wife if she would keep an eye on the feeder, but she claimed to have more important things to do. Really? What could be more important than watching birds eat fake suet? I don’t understand her sometimes.
By the time I got home it was dark, so I grabbed a flashlight and did what most men my age do when they get home from work: I went outside and inspected my suet feeder. It appeared to have a few nibbles missing, but nothing major. Hmm. I had the next day off, so I spent the morning on an intense suet stakeout. The first bird to visit the feeder was a titmouse. It took a few bites and then flew off. A minute later, several chickadees moved in and then a sparrow came by. Lots of birds were coming and going, but none of them appeared to be really digging the suet. I was hoping to see a woodpecker and eventually one showed up. It was a Downy Woodpecker and it actually seemed to enjoy what it was eating. Over the course of the next few hours, the little woodpecker returned again and again for a beak-full of my homemade suet. How about that? Eat your heart out, Rachael Ray.
Based on my few hours of testing, John, I feel the veggie suet was a success and at least worth trying. (For the exact instructions, go to Audubon.org and search for “make your own suet,” published on December 27, 2016.) And like the Christmas tree discussion we had last week, there are lots of reasons for using veggie suet. Not only is it less cruel, but also it smells good (not like disgusting beef fat) and it’s a fun family project. You could even decorate an outdoor Christmas tree with veggie suet, just use holiday-shaped molds such as stars or candy canes. And if you want your tree to look really festive, top it off with a decoration in the shape of a tub of coleslaw. I hear that’s the new in thing this year.