When I was growing up, every woman I knew had a metal canister next to her stove with the word GREASE embossed on it. If you took off the lid, there was a strainer on top to catch the crunchy bits of meat left in the pan. If you took off the strainer and looked inside, there was a smooth, ivory-colored layer of fat that looked factory-made.
Digging down into this grease with a serving spoon unearthed layers of fat like a geological dig, each layer browner than the one before. If you scraped the bottom of the container, you found a dark fat layer with tiny crunchy bits in it that had made it through the holes of the strainer. You did not want to cook with this layer. You wanted the pretty ivory colored fat on top.
My grandmother put a dollop of this grease in all of her vegetables every day. She fried her hamburgers in it. She died at 88 after smoking two packs of Virginia Slims a day and two different cancers.
We don’t really fry enough in our house to warrant the old-fashioned grease container. I reuse the oil from frying chicken in a mason jar I keep in the refrigerator. There is something oddly satisfying about storing fat in a clear glass container. You can clearly see the layers of fat that form as the grease cools, and it gives me the same amount of joy as looking at an ant farm or a jar full of Sea Monkeys. It also lets me avoid the dark brown fat at the bottom that will scorch the next batch of chicken.
I had an aunt who went into a nursing home right before the pandemic, and she let me come and pick out some things of hers that I liked. I took home a car full of wonderful treasures, and one of them was this beautiful flow-blue Victoria Ironstone shaving mug. It immediately became my bacon fat container. What’s perfect about it is that it is small enough for our limited counter space and has three little holes on top. Once your bacon grease has cooled off a little, you can just pour the grease on top and it strains it out just like the old-fashioned grease container. It fits perfectly in our little kitchen.
I don’t really need a grease container in my kitchen. I just want one. It reminds me of all the women in my life who devoted their time and talent to making food for their families. No one ever pays attention to all the hard work that goes into making a meal. Everybody just loves how it tastes and comments on the table settings. Creating and keeping the infrastructure to make all those meals requires dedication and constancy.
For me, the grease container represents the conservation of resources for future meals and family gatherings when plenty wasn’t guaranteed. It represents responsibility and frugality, two values that are very important to me. I feel my family history every time I see my converted shaving mug on the counter. It reminds me to be grateful that I live a life of plenty, and that I come from women who always know how to make do in times of want.