Printer Friendly

Make genuine old-fashioned tallow candles.

Back when Paula and I were working on the crafts section of our children's book, Your Sheep (Storey/Garden Way Publications) which was just published this autumn, we were trying to think back to our childhoods and come up with crafts and activities that would appeal to children. Paula's thoughts ran along the lines of spinning, wool dyeing, felt making, cooking, etc., while mine ran the gamut of woodwork projects, sausage making and such. I recalled how much fun it was when we made "Christmas candles" at school. Everyone brought a tin can which we lined up on the steam radiator filled with our old and "least favorite" color crayons. The resulting colors were atrocious because no one had more than one or a few of any color crayon! Since we were working on sheep-oriented projects, I suggested to Paula that we include a section on making tallow candles in the book. Unfortunately, the editors cut it from the final manuscript for lack of space, so I thought maybe you folks would enjoy reading it in COUNTRYSIDE.

I have no idea how far back in antiquity tallow candles were used, but I can give you a direct testimonial from my grandfather who, as a child, remembered what it was like to use them as the only source of light. Suffice it to say, he wasn't impressed. He told me on several occasions that his mother (my great-grandmother) made them in order to "stretch" the coal oil (kerosene) supply, which was expensive and required an all-day trip to town by team and wagon to purchase. And several times he pointed out the spot where an old root cellar had caved in and remarked, "If you want to dig it up, there's a box of tallow candles still in there".

He also told me that they would often stick in the candle mold and that they were smelly, soft, droopy, would stick together in the summer, and dripped all over everything! Judging from his comments, I sincerely doubt that great-grandmother went to the expense or trouble to "purify" the tallow.

Well folks, before you despair, there is a remedy to their shortcomings .... so read on!

Preparing the wick

This can be purchased, but that would destroy the fun and the sense of self-sufficiency in making your own tallow candles from scratch. Candle wicking can be made from cotton string such as wrapping cord. If you want to be really "professional" about it, braid the wicking out of cotton string. The wicking can be used "as is" like we used in grade school, but it works much better if it has been properly treated. Soak the string in a solution of 8 tablespoons borax ("20 Mule Team" laundry type) and 4 tablespoons. Soak the salt in 1 quart of water. string for 2-3 hours, then hang it up to dry. Old-time candle makers soaked the wicking in this solution. Others used apple cider vinegar or turpentine (why, I don't know). Wick preparation improves the burning qualities of the wick, and frankly the borax/salt mixture is the best because the chlorides in the salt aid in the combustion of the carbon that forms on the top of the wick.

Preparing the tallow

Cut up chunks of mutton or lamb fat, put it in a large kettle and fry it very slowly over low heat. As the volume of molten fat increases, and the chunked fat begins to float and "french fry", skim off the bits of cracklings as they are thoroughly cooked and rise to the top. Stir occasionally and don't rush the process, otherwise you may burn the fat. A large batch will take several hours. When the tallow is well melted, strain it through a cloth. Two people working together will make the straining much easier because it is HOT!

Purifying the tallow

In a large kettle, dissolve five pounds of alum in about 10 quarts of simmering water (or similar ratio for smaller batches). Add the molten tallow, stir and simmer for about an hour. Skim off any residue that rises to the top. This purifies the tallow and hardens it, making it much more suitable for candles. Cool the mixture until you can touch it comfortably. Strain the molten tallow and water mixture through a cloth, and set it aside to cool and harden. When hard, lift the wheel of tallow off the water and scrape off the impure layer that forms on the bottom. This purified tallow can be refrigerated or frozen until you are ready to use it.

Old-fashioned dipped candles

To capture the nostalgia of 18th century life, you will want to make dipped candles "as is" from the tallow. However, if you want to make them long and slender, they will be firmer and less likely to droop if you add a chunk of beeswax to the tallow. Canning paraffin will also help harden the tallow, but it's not quite as good as the beeswax. Scented candles can be made by adding a few drops of a scented oil. Use sparingly, as they are potent! If you want to get a little more creative, you can color the tallow with old crayons or coloring agents available at craft stores.

Melt the purified tallow in a double boiler. A large (tall) tin can set in a pot of water works nicely. Maintain the tallow just hot enough to keep it in the molten state. Do not get it too hot. Cut the wick to the desired length plus enough to tie one end to a small stick. (This will keep your fingers out of the hot tallow.) If you have enough tallow to fill a larger container, you can tie several wicks to the stick and make several candles at the same time.

Dip the wick(s) into the hot tallow, withdraw, and allow the coated wicking to air-harden for a moment. If the wick tends to be curved or kinky at first, pull it straight on the first few dips as the tallow sets. Then dip it in and out of a container of ice water, which hardens the tallow even further. Let the water drain thoroughly before dipping again in the tallow.

Repeat this process until the candle is the desired thickness. The hotter the tallow, the thinner the layer that is deposited on the candle. However, if the tallow is too cool, the candle will become "lumpy".

Concentric circles of different colors can be obtained by alternately dipping the candle into different colors of tallow.

Molded candles

The variety of shapes obtainable in the molded candles is limited only by your imagination. One of the most popular molds are the paper muffin cups set into an old muffin tin. For that elegant touch at dinner, they can be lit and "floated" like lilies in containers of water or a punch bowl. (I always wanted to make a candle that looked like a boat). Other molds can be made from paper or plastic cups, square milk cartons, etc. Spraying the molds with a non-stick baking spray, or brushing them with cooking oil will aid in removal from the mold. Metal molds should be both oiled and chilled just before pouring.

Setting the wicks in molded candles can be a bit tricky. The tallow should be as cool as possible, but still liquid enough to work with. There are two ways to set the wicks. After filling the mold, you can drop the weighted wick in the center. Small "split shot" fishing sinkers or small steel washers will work. Very effective "anchors" can be made from small (1 inch) squares cut from a tin can. Punch a small hole in the center with a nail and thread the wick through the hole. It helps if the wick has first been dipped once or twice in the tallow, straightened, and allowed to harden, as this helps prevent the wick from "floating around".

If using paper or plastic cups for molds, the wick can be threaded out the center bottom and knotted on the outside so that it can be pulled straight and tight after pouring the tallow (they will tend to leak a little). After pouring, you can also line up the molds so the wicks can be fastened to a stick or wire that rests across the top of the molds to keep the wicks centered until the tallow hardens.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Countryside Publications Ltd.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Salsbury, D.L.
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Jan 1, 1993
Previous Article:Save water, grow a cactus.
Next Article:Things to make with corn husks: make your own shoes and sandals!

Related Articles
Cooking up colon cancer.
First lessons in candlemaking.
Lessons in Candlemaking.
Meet Benjamin Franklin.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters