Sorry kids....looks like Santa's not gonna make it this year!
Okay! Okay!...if it makes you feel any better those aren't reindeer legs...they are deer legs. And before you get all PETA crazy on me....stuff it and read on.
Attention game wardens reading this (ahem...DAD)-I did not poach these deer...merely using the legs from legally harvested deer...we clear here?
"What in the world are you doing with them?", you might wonder. Glad you asked! Let's dig down into the nitty gritty. Think about this for a minute. Deer legs, duck legs, horse legs, cow legs. When you think about them, think about how small they are in comparison to the actual animal and how thin they are. Now think about winter and I mean a cold winter. Snow, ice, below freezing temperatures and the whole frigid shebang. If you're like me your next thought will be "how do those legs keep from freezing?" ...maybe you're not like me but these are the things that keep me up a night! All the animals mentioned have a vascular system pumping blood around that helps in the way of keeping them from freezing but that's not the only thing. They also have oil. Yep. Oil. More importantly an oil that remains liquid in very, very low temperatures and prevents freezing of those tiny legs. It's fascinating, really, when you think about it.
I have a feeling that if I asked if you knew what "Neat's Foot Oil" is, I'd get crickets as a response. "Neat" is an old world word for "cow". So you get essentailly "Cow's Foot Oil". I'm not sure of the old world word for "deer" but I decided that "Stag's Foot Oil" would be the deer counterpart. I didn't have 10 dead cows laying around but with deer hunting in season, I had A LOT of hunters who volunteered up their legs. (You should see the look on a person's face when you tell people you want deer legs but nothing else) When you consider that there are 4 legs for each animal (minus those birds of course), that adds up to be a lot of legs laying around. Most wouldn't see the value in them; volume wise, there isn't. However, when you pool all those legs together you end up with a worthwhile product. Those properties that keep the oil at liquid form are also those properties that keep the leather products it's applied to supple, silky and conditioned.
Now that you know what Stag's Foot Oil and Neat's Foot Oil is, it's time to get making it! The process is dead simple. (ooooh....that was bad) Firstly, you will need to gather a good amount of legs. For deer, you really need about 40 legs to start. This sounds like a lot but really, it's only 10 deer and hunters will be glad to be rid of them. If you have it lined up well, you can easily get that many in a day. Alternatively you can just keep stockpiling them by keeping them in a large freezer. Of note here-if you do freeze them this is a great way to show you how the legs DON'T freeze solid. Evidencing the oil. It behooves (oh my gosh, the puns are everywhere!...I can't stop myself!) you to ask the hunter to have the legs cut off at the canon bone (the equivalent of being below the knee or elbow). This is where the majority of the oil lives. If you are not able to have them cut there, that's fine too. You can do this yourself with a lopper you would use to cut branches. Trust me, I know this. Be prepared though for your neighbors to think you are living some weird version of "The Burbs"...or "Fargo" although there is no chipper shredder involved here. I'm not THAT sick. You WILL ostracize yourself here. Just a fair warning for you. But if you're like me and don't give a rip about that kind of stuff...please proceed.
-From here on out the rest should be carried out outside. Do NOT do this in your house....mmmmkay? It smells to high heaven.-
You'll need a hot plate or gas burner so if you don't already have this you'll need it. Those turkey fryer things are great for this purpose. You also need a large stockpot, again those turkey fryer pots work here. Place the legs in the pot, hooves toward the sky. Add enough water to go at least half way up the pot. Turn the heat on enough to bring the water to a simmer. You don't need a roiling boil or anything crazy. We are trying to render the oil out into the water, not make a soup. The hot water will cause the oil to flow down the interior of the legs and deposit into the water. The time it takes will depend if the legs were frozen or not. Longer is NOT better. In fact, if you allow it to render for a long time....like hours...you will end up melting the collagen in the legs which will also deposit into the water causing it to gel and ruin your attempts at collecting the oil. So, once you see the deposits of oil on the top of the water, you're probably good to turn off the heat and let it cool. After it's come to a lukewarm temperarture you need to remove the legs (You can discard them now-don't give them to the dog. Cooked bones are not good for them) and then place the pot of water into a freezer. The water will freeze on the bottom and the oil will be left semi liquid on top. Once frozen, scrape the oil off the top into a container and keep for use on your leather goods. You can add water again to the oil if it is full of impurities and try to get it more clear but it's usually pretty good.
So, there you have it! You now know how to make your own Stag's Foot Oil. I'm not sure why you'd really need to know how to do it but now you do. It's best if you try not to figure me out. I can't even figure myself out and why I thought I should try to do this. But, I did. Much of what I do is to A. satisfy my curiosity and B. see if I can actually do it.
Having used this deer oil on several things now I can attest to its superior softening abilities. You can, of course, scratch your head at this blog post and just go buy a can of Neat's Foot Oil. Regardless of what YOU do with this information, I'm impressed enough that I will continue to make it every fall.
Happy Stag's footering to you! (aren't you just so much more informed now!) Sparkle On! Annie