As I mentioned a couple of days ago, I plan a Kid’s Stuff book sometime in the future. Here’s another project from the book suitable for the school-aged child. It’s a perfect activity for the Christmas break from school. It keeps idle hands busy, AND it teaches children about the winter life of birds.
In winter, natural foodstuffs for birds can be sparse. When the thermometer dips, birds need a source of fat, carbohydrates and protein to provide calories for warmth, flight fuel, and general health. Suet cakes offer a source for all three at one convenient location.
Children benefit from this project by:
- engaging in a useful activity
- learning about other creatures who share space with them on the earth
- helping birds survive in winter
- learning about bird nutrition
- identifying the birds that show up to eat the suet
- Understanding the thermodynamics of changing a solid to liquid (melting suet) and returning the same to a solid (freezing the suet cake)
- following the directions in the recipe
- working cooperatively with you to complete a project
The first item you need is a feeder. The hanging wire cage type of feeder, with an opening door on one side for reloading, is readily available where bird seed is sold. Or you can recycle (another child benefit) an aluminum pie pan to use as a flat surface feeder.
The second item you need is wax paper to wrap the finished product for freezing. You may substitute freezer wrap or other food wrapping material if wax paper is unavailable. Scotch tape is useful for sealing the package ends.
- jar of peanut butter (creamy or chunky)
- 1-2 lbs beef fat (see the butcher at your grocery store). Any bits of beef still attached to the fat offer a source of protein, but you want the fat as clean of large pieces of meat as possible
- 1 C flour (if you have old flour that has gotten buggy, that is perfect for this project)
- 1 C corn meal (ditto on the “buggy” advice above)
- Sunflower seeds or mixed birdseed
- Raisins and/or finely chopped apple or cranberries
Assemble a square cake pan or small rectangular casserole dish, a large mixing bowl, a measuring cup and a large spoon for mixing the dough. Spray or wipe the pan surface lightly with oil to make it easy to remove the finished suet cake.
Melt the beef fat, using a large pan over medium to low heat. You do not want the oil from the fat to sizzle. (Warning: closely supervise your child to prevent the child from getting burned.)
When the beef fat is melted, add the contents of the jar of peanut butter to the fat and stir until mixed well. Turn off the heat under the pan.
In a large bowl, stir together the flour, cornmeal and chopped fruit. Carefully pour the hot, melted fat into the dry mix and stir, adding the seeds to help thicken the dough. You want a finished consistency of thick cookie dough. Set aside and cool until fingers can safely touch the soft dough.
Press the suet cake dough into the cake pan. Let it cool thoroughly. Slice it into rectangular blocks, sized to fit the suet cage feeder. Wrap the block in wax paper, tape it closed, and freeze until you are ready to put a block into the feeder.