How to Make Suet Cakes for the Birds
"When I moved to my farm in Bedford," Martha recalled in her column for the November 2009 issue of Martha Stewart Living, "I noticed that the bird population was not what I had expected it to be. I saw jays, robins, red-tailed hawks, a random woodpecker, and lots of crows, but no finches, nuthatches, chickadees, or juncos. I made up my mind that I would try to increase the bird population on the farm, and I started a program to entice all types of feathered friends." One of her strategies? Suet feeders. Suet is a great way to keep birds coming to your backyard all winter. Made of animal fat—usually the excess fat that butchers trim off of the beef carcass—suet is an important winter food for insectivorous birds; it provides the fat and energy they need to survive the cold weather.
Although almost all birds will peck at suet, woodpeckers are the most reliable. In fact, suet is by far the best way to attract woodpeckers to your feeding area. Birds' tastes vary, with each species having its own seed preferences. Using our homemade recipe, tailor your feed selections to the birds you'd like to attract. Suet can be purchased raw from a butcher, rendered following the instructions below, and molded using any convenient form—muffin tins, cans, or food-storage containers. Here, your guide to making suet cakes—these instructions will yield five feeders.
To render suet, finely chop two pounds of it, and heat it in a large saucepan over medium heat until it liquefies. Strain through fine cheesecloth into a bowl. Let it cool until it hardens. Heat and strain suet again to ensure that it will cake properly when mixed with birdseed.
Mix together five pounds mixed wild birdseed, two pounds rendered suet, one pound dried cranberries, and one pound raw peanuts (shelled). Firmly pack mixture into five one-quart containers, placing a loop of twine down the center of each for hanging. Then, freeze each until they're firm, at least two hours or overnight; unmold and hang each using twine loops.
For the warmer days ahead, it's important to keep your feeders clean. Plastic ones are the easiest to maintain since you can usually take them apart and scrub the crevices with an old toothbrush and hot, soapy water. If mildew is a problem, soak the parts in a bucket filled with water and a capful of chlorine bleach; rinse thoroughly and reassemble.