Stirring up memories
Homing in on Bacon
September 28, 2005
Why did we spend a weekend in Louisville, the home of the Kentucky Derby when it
wasn’t even Derby
time? A couple of weeks ago we did;
we went not to visit the ponies but the pigs—or maybe I should say, the
We went to
camp. Not ordinary camp, but a
special “Camp Bacon” sponsored by the Southern Foodways
Alliance—the great organization that documents and preserves the history
of food in the American South—and some of its Louisville members to
benefit the Alliance’s Oral History Initiative.
wear camp shorts and chase pigs.
Instead we checked into the historic Brown Hotel and headed downstairs
to share a dinner that was bacon from start to finish. We met and learned about some of the
fine bacon makers of Kentucky
as we ate their precious handiwork.
When I say bacon start
to finish, I mean it. We started
with southern canapés and finished with, yes, a bacon dessert! A bacon, almond, sorghum and date
baklava topped off the evening. In
between we had bacon wrapped around trout, served in a hoe cake, in a sauce
over crab and crayfish cake—that’s just a sampling. The dessert was interesting; the
canapés and slow-smoked fresh pork belly with beans, greens and grits
We learned lots
about bacon and lots and lots about Louisville
(more about that later). We brought
home some Indiana
cheeses and a sackfull of beautiful gourds, but we didn’t bring home the
Monday morning I
was on the phone. I wanted home bacon.
bacon impressed me—how could it not?
But I was betting that I could find some mighty fine bacon right here in
phone call and a few minutes later I was out the door and headed the dozen or
so miles east on U.S. 84 to Climax and Jones Country Meats. They’ve been providing meat to
hungry Southwest Georgians for over twenty
years. I figured that was where to
look for bacon.
I say bacon? I found bacon. I’m going to have to go back,
several times, because they have more kinds than I could manage—or dream
of eating—in one trip.
Randall Jones gave me a quick course in bacon. The star of the line is the salt-cured
bacon made, Randall told me, the old-fashioned way country families used to
make the bacon in the days before electricity.
of us remember those days when the whole neighborhood gathered at a farm for
the annual hog-killing. The meat
for the winter was cured in salt then hung in the family smokehouse to dry.
the way they still do it at Jones, using Decatur County
hogs that are killed on the site.
Once the bacon is cut, it is packed in salt for about two weeks. (The hams stay in the salt for up to 50
days.) Then the meat moves over to
the smoke room where it takes at least two months or so of slow smoking to dry
out gradually. There are no nitrates
in this carefully crafted bacon.
When it emerges
from the smoke room it’s ready to hang up (the curing means it
doesn’t need refrigeration) until it graces your breakfast table—or
dinner table. Randall’s
instructions are to soak it for a while to remove the salt, then fry it up the
way you ordinarily cook bacon. I
soaked it for a couple of hours then patted it really dry with paper towels
before it hit the frying pan. How
long you soak depends on how salty you like it.
This was quite a
breakfast, because the salt-cured bacon wasn’t all that I brought
home. I also purchased some smoked
breakfast bacon with the bones still in.
I’d never heard of bacon with bones. Had to try it. Randall cut thick slices. I baked them in a 450 degree oven
about 12 minutes. (After 10 minutes keep checking—it browns fast!) Delicious. So were the eggs I fried in the bacon
grease. To keep it a healthy
meal, I decided not to butter the toast!
I still have some
bacon tasting to do. I didn’t
bring home any of the boneless breakfast bacon, the fresh bacon or the fatback. Randall says to dip the fatback in
buttermilk, flour it, and then fry it.
Could it get much better?
With all the fancy
bacon cooking, it’s hard to imagine a better meal than our two-bacon
breakfast. Still I may have a go at
some of the Louisville
handing out recipes, but I have my menu, and I’m good at figuring things
out, foodwise. So far, I’ve
only made the canapés. These
come close, and they would be easy to prepare for a crowd.
Southern smoked bacon canapés
bacon, fried and well drained (the
best bacon you can lay your hands on—I used Jones’s salt-cured)
sweet tomato or red pepper jelly
half-dollar sized corn pancakes
the bacon to fit the pancakes. Top
each pancake with just enough sour cream (or mayonnaise) to glue down the bacon
and top with a tiny dollop of jelly.
At the dinner we had what we identified as a tomato jelly. I couldn’t find any so I used a
red bell pepper jelly that I had on hand. It worked just fine. You could use any sweet red jelly.
the corn pancakes, I took the easy way out and followed the recipe on the side
of a box of cornbread mix dropping the batter by the teaspoon. (I used Jiffy. I always do.) Okay, I
confess. I substituted bacon fat
for the melted shortening. We want
to be authentic!
you have a favorite bacon recipe? Especially a dessert one? Or is someone else
in the area curing their own bacon?
Let me know.
Post-script: If you’d like to learn more
about the Southern Foodways Alliance and their quest to preserve this important
part of southern culture, pay them an online visit at www.southernfoodways.com.
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Trilla Pando is a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance & the Story Circle Network