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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 hogs. 

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.

We didn’t 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 were divine.

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 bacon.

Monday morning I was on the phone. I wanted home bacon.  The Kentucky bacon impressed me—how could it not?  But I was betting that I could find some mighty fine bacon right here in Decatur County.

            A 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.

            Did 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.

            Owner 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.

            Lots 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.

            That’s 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 for 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 Louisville 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 cuisine.

They weren’t 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)

sour cream

sweet tomato or red pepper jelly

half-dollar sized corn pancakes

            Cut 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.

            For 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!

            Do 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