Save the Fat Are you Crazy?

As the New Year begins you see advertisements to lose the fat. I grew up hearing my mother, Shirley Beatrice Pease Stearns, and Great Aunt, Carrie Lula Stearns Perkins, telling me “Don’t waste the bacon grease!”

I know it is not the same kind of Fat, but it brought back memories of long, hot, summer nights, feeling like a big girl staying up late with the adult women listening to stories, playing cards (mainly Canasta), and a little family bonding with my mother, great aunt and cousin.

One of those stories was about why they saved the grease in a coffee can. There would always be a coffee can on the back of our stove for the bacon grease or any other grease that was used for cooking. We never wasted anything, so it wasn’t unfamiliar to save any old scraps: for stews, casseroles, fertilizer or to feed the animals. The fat was purified with sliced potatoes (“French Fries” were a common staple at our table) and reused for cooking.

Coffee Can in the fore ground
Coffee Can in the fore ground

Aunt Carrie told me many stories over the years during those summer nights. I asked if any of our family served in the World War II. This prompted many stories that summer. I wish I had thought to write those stories down, but we will just have to go with my faulty distance memory of them: about my grandfather (Nathan Augustus Stearns), her father, signing up for both WWI and WWII, his V-Day flower garden and what the women did for the war effort.

One such story was about how all the greased saved, that she did not use, was taken to the Butcher each week. She would earn money for each can she turned in.  So, the obvious question came up; “Why would the Butcher want the grease?” and pay money for it, no less?  She went on to tell me that is was a way to reuse the fat for the war effort. The butcher would turn it in to a rending plant. I was young I just thought okay, they purify the fat and send it back to the stores for it to be used again. Rationing was the big thing during the war; I had learned that in school.  She said they used the fat to make explosives. YES, EXPLOSIVES. Fat glycerin is part of nitroglycerin, who know?

I recently Googled “Plant a Victory Garden NH”, hoping to find information about my grandfathers’ victory garden. I came across the New Hampshire State Library site about Unifying a Nation.  It listed several war efforts that New Hampshire housewives and those who did not go to war did on the home front, including Save waste fat. Below is the conversion chart they had listed.

Housewives and butchers all over the country were mobilized to collect cooking fats for conversion to explosive ingredients.

One pound of waste fat equaled 1/10 of a pound of glycerine.
1/10 pound of glycerine equaled 1/5 of a pound of nitroglycerine.
1/5 of a pound of nitroglycerine equaled 1/3 pound of gunpowder.
1/5 of a pound of nitroglycerine equaled ½ pound of dynamite.

So SAVE THE FAT, Please; was an important part of our recent ancestor’s life, along with rationing coupons for sugar, butter, gas and many other stories to follow. Maybe my next story will be about how canning was used in the War Effort. Do you have any War Effort stories to tell? Do you have a Rosie the Riveter in the Family, an Army, Navy nurse, and Navy pilot or like me, just the home front family providing support by Saving the Fat? I would love to hear your family stories.

Story remembered by June Lee Stearns Butka on 9 Jan 2014 from a Summer in the 1960’s spent at her Aunt Carrie’s Lula Stearns Perkins home in Sutton, Merrimack, New Hampshire. This is just one of her memories from her youth. She is me the author of this blog. I plan on writing as many of those memories as I can  for future generations to read.

Links to check out for more information of World War II war efforts:

New Hampshire State Library:

Learn NC Multimedia:

Google Search: World War II Home Front Efforts

Photo: taken March 1975 by Shirley Stearns with a Polaroid instant camera at Carrie Perkins Sutton home during one of the family Sunday Drives. You can see the homemade preserves, Coffee can for the fat, and the fresh cream pitcher (yes from a cow, not the store) in the fore front of the photograph.


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