A. discovered during shearing that one of the sheep that had been sold to us as a bred ewe was, in fact, a wether. That is, a castrated male sheep.
A. found the silver lining, though. His exact words were, "What the hell? This thing isn't going to give me a lamb. Oh well. We needed more meat, anyway."
After the fleece was removed, all we had to wait for was appropriate butchering weather. When we woke up to 34 degrees with clouds today, A. decided the time had come.
The wether was duly killed, gutted, skinned, and hung up in the shed to age for a few days. As A. was gutting it, he discovered this sheep had a great quantity of fat around its kidneys, known as leaf fat. This fat is the best, purest, and mildest tasting fat on an animal, and A. was very excited to see it.
He proudly bore in a big pan of fat and deposited it in the kitchen.
Based on a lot of past experience, I knew that the best course of action was to render it immediately, lest I end up trying to store an unwieldy pan of fat in my refrigerator.
So I immediately cut it up and put it in my cast-iron dutch oven to render.
Cubby was very interested in this and hovered over the pan. "Can I make a candle from it?" he asked.
Huh. Can you? Well, I didn't see why not. I mean, I know people make candles from beef tallow, which is very similar in consistency to sheep tallow. So I quickly looked up a few sites about making tallow candles, and we made one in a jar.
All you have to do is render tallow*, pour it into a jar into which a wick has been suspended, and let it harden.
You can buy wicks online (of course), but I already had cotton kitchen string, so we used that. I saw on one site that soaking the string in a solution of water, salt, and boric acid makes it burn slower and more evenly, but we didn't have the boric acid, and our wick worked just fine as is. All we had to do was drop the string in the melted fat and put it in the freezer to harden and get stiff so it would be straight.
The hardest part was getting the wick to stay up straight in the jar. The top of the wick is wrapped around a pencil that is placed over the top of the jar. A dab of hot glue was recommended on the bottom of the jar to hold the wick straight. I don't have a hot glue gun. The best I could do was some bright blue Elmer's with glitter in it.
It sort of held the wick, but there was a lot of minute adjustments, dropping the thing entirely and starting again, many, many times (plus, I must admit, some cussing--it was really frustrating) before I decided it was good enough and let the tallow harden.
After an hour or so in the refrigerator, we tried it out. And lo and behold, it burned.
This little light of mine . . .
Yes, my wick is still not straight, but nonetheless, we burned the candle all through dinner. Despite the frustration with the wick, it was fun. Maybe next we'll try making a dipped tallow candle. We got nothin' but time, and there can never be too many lights in the darkness.
* I didn't use A.'s precious leaf tallow. We still had some regular old fat from the wether we butchered last spring, so I used that.