Non-Profit Internet Source for News, Events, History, & Culture of Northern Frederick & Carroll County Md./Southern Adams County Pa.


The Village Idiot

Good enough

Jack Deatherage, Jr.

(7/2014) Here I sat all content with the best bacon weíve found in decades (Stoney Point Farm Marketís smoked bacon) and along comes the evil woman (that homesteader, Diane) telling me about salt cured meats. Diane has acquired a few pigs and taken up turning them into roasts, chops and sausages the like of which canít be found, at a price we can afford, around here without raising the critters ourselves. Her German-Italian partner in homesteading has challenged her to attempt an American version of Tyrolean Speck, a cured meat from his native land. Both of them are urging me to take up the art of curing meats. I believe the French call the craft charcuterie? Iíve come to call it a gift from the gods! Done properly, the flavors and mouth feel are divine, and done wrong, a spoiled meat will take you to Hell, possibly in fact as well as in perception.

Iíve yet to stray far into this world of savory meats. Being a well-conditioned little sheep, Iím scared to step out of the FDA and USDA guidelines for food safety. Not that having poisoned myself a time or two hasnít had a role in my being cautious. (Do NOT eat mayonnaise that has turned brown! DW canít believe I did that more than once.) A couple of the safer traditional sausages Diane recommended, to get me addicted, were my first mistakes. Oh my, the breakfast sausage recipe she sent me was so good DW, Raiza and younger Jack asked me to make it again.

Having stepped into the charcuterie highway, I was sideswiped by a truck, a metaphorical pig truck. Diane suggested a nice, safe bacon recipe for my first attempt as salt curing pig fat. I hemmed and hawed, procrastinated and whined until the smoked bacon we adore went from $5 a pound (on sale) to $7. Iíd been buying leaf fat and rendering lard from that at $1 a pound. What is bacon but fat and a bit of meat? Pork bellies shouldnít be too expensive. Turns out pork bellies fetch $4 a pound. Hmmm $4 or $7?

DW said, "Why donít you try curing bacon."

She wasnít pleased when I ordered a slab of pig belly for nearly $40, but she didnít bang her head agíin a wall either.

I had the butcher cut the belly into three, more or less, equal sized pieces and froze two of them while I sort of followed a recipe Diane found at (Iíll be rooting through their recipe collection for more than bacon recipes!) I didnít grind the spices and herbs as required, just crushed them. Odd, how much a difference that makes in the final product.

Even with the belly meat safely in the fridge, I hesitated to begin the cure. The recipe called for kosher salt, not the pink salt (sodium nitrite and/or sodium nitrate) the FDA and USDA recommends for curing meats. Diane reminded me that humans have been curing meat for thousands of years without the government approved pink salt. I sighed and mixed the cure after several people with doctorates in medicine assured me a week in a dry cure wasnít going to bring about a case of botulism unless the meat was tainted to begin with. (Gods! Dad and Momís elders are roiling in their graves over the ignorant, cowardly thing that descended from them. I half expected Dad to leave his grave in Florida and come here to have another talk with me. The last time he visited started me on the long road to sobriety, which Iíve yet to reach the end of.)

The first chunk of cured bacon was interesting, but not the delight Iíd half expected. I didnít care for it sliced and fried at all. DW wasnít wild about it either and seemed a bit perturbed by the thought of two more chunks of pig in the freezer being wasted if I continued with the recipe I had. I told her I had everything under control. To show her faith in me she only banged her head agíin the wall a couple of times.

That first attempt at home cured bacon was cut into small pieces and dumped into a pot of pinto beans. Voila! Best beans and pork I ever made and Iíve made some fine pots of them over the years! Middle Brother used to slam through the door and declare, "I smelled the beans cooking and drove from Florida for a bowl of them! Got any onions?" (I doubt he actually knew I was cooking beans and pork, but he did turn up without warning every time I set a pot to simmering back in the alcohol haze days. Except that one time him and Dad were lost in Texas.)

The next two chunks of pig belly were cured at the same time, using the ground herbs and spices called for. One with sugar, one without. Not that I meant to leave out the sugar, I simply forgot to add it. Though Iím not one for sweet meats, I now see the reason for using sugar in curing. Duh. Both bacons turned out beyond my greatest expectations! Saveur indeed!

Everyone who sampled the bacons asked how Iíd made them and all were surprised I hadnít smoked the slabs. When I explained how easy this home cure was and how anyone could do it I got that look Iíve come to expect, followed by the words that depress me. "I donít have the time. But Iíll buyÖ" the bacon, mead, bread, wine, or whatever it is Iím playing at.

While hanging around butcher shops waiting for my "unusual" order to be filled I get to talking to the elders, mostly men who use to cure various meats on their farms. While they all encourage me to learn the art of curing, they have given it up for "good enough" as they refer to the meats the butcher shops offer these days.

Having tasted the possibilities opening before me, as I gingerly step into the world of handcrafted foods, Iím having trouble understanding this attitude of "good enough". Fortunately, there are evil women around here, also elders, who seem delighted some young gray beard is taking up the art of good food. They wink at me. "It isnít that difficult is it?"

Well no, and yes, it is. Learning to make good bread and sippable wine left me wanting something to eat with them of as good, or better a quality as they were. That would not be what I find in the supermarkets, which means I have to grow it or create it myself. Having moved from curing bacon to corning beef I now need a dead hog and a cow to work with!

Diane laughs as she sends me pictures of the pigs she recently butchered and is curing or making sausages from. "Jack, you can also brine fish, duck and turkey as well as cabbages, cucumbers, turnips- Well just about everything you eat. Youíve just got to try kimchee! Hurry little one. Youíre still so far behind."

"And no. Store bought foods are not Ďgood enoughí."

Read other articles by Jack Deatherage, Jr.