Tallow Candle

In this blog we are going to be processing fuel from animal fat into tallow that we can then use to make a candle to help illuminate the encroaching darkness at this time of year.

Tallow candles bringing light to the dark evenings

Tallow has been used for thousands of years, it is an odourless, tasteless, waxy white fatty substance that consists of a mixture of glycerides, including stearic, palmitic, and oleic acids extracted from the hard fat around the kidneys and loins of animals. It can also be used to make soap and for use in cooking.

Tallow can be extracted from the oil bearing tissue (greaves) in three ways, rendering, mechanical presses or using volatile solvents. Thankfully for us our method (rendering) can be done with the campfire.

For our candle we will be using fallow deer fat, which for most is an acquired taste on the pallet, but makes great candles. Your local game dealer can be a great source for this.

Fallow fat

Once you have removed the fat from the deer remove all the meaty tissue.

Fat with meat tissue removed and sliced

With all your fat trimmed it is a good idea to slice it up into small chunks, this helps speed up the rendering process.

Fallow fat in a food tin close to the fire.

Once you have diced the fallow fat place it by the fire in a suitable container. Be careful not to put it too close to the fire as it only requires a gentle heat for the rendering process to work. Too much heat and it will start to burn and become unpleasant. Check it regularly and give it a stir each time to help distribute the heat through the fat evenly. As the tallow separates from the greaves you will visibly notice the level of the diced fat decrease and the level of the tallow rise, add more fat as this does so.

Pouring the tallow from the greaves

When your fat has completely rendered and the amount of tallow is no longer increasing, remove it from the heat with some fire resistant gloves. We can now strain the tallow into another heat proof container to separate it from the fallow tissue. Using fine twigs from either a hazel or birch tree works well for this purpose.

Deer fat rendered and the tallow separated from the greaves 

The tallow runs as a clear golden liquid, which we can now use to make our candle. There are many types of container you can use, I have chosen limpet shells, a little clay pinch pot and a glass jar on this occasion, but you could also use a birch bark container or a small carved out wooden bowl for example.

A selection of candle containers with wicks suspended.

When you have decided upon your container, we turn our attention to making our wick. You can make a wick out of many natural fibres, any fluffy seed head is a good place to start. To make it add a little tallow to the fibres and twist them into shape. Here I have used rose bay willow herb as it produces great results. Set the wick into a little split stick so that it is touching the bottom of the container and supported in the centre of it.

Tallow poured into the containers

With the wicks in place the warm tallow can now be poured carefully into the containers. The tallow candles are now left to set. As this starts to happen you will notice the tallow starting to turn back to the off white colour the fat started off as.

Tallow candles set and ready to be used

With the tallow set the sticks can be carefully removed and the candles are ready to be used to light up your camp. Why not have a go yourself and maybe try some different wicks. Post your candles on our Facebook banter page, we would love to know how you all got on.

Jay Jenner

Kind thanks to Kirk Davidge for helping separate the tallow from the greaves.