Introduction to Bacon & the Art of Living
The quest to understand how great bacon is made takes me around the world and through epic adventures. I tell the story by changing the setting from the 2000s to the late 1800s when much of the technology behind bacon curing was unraveled. I weave into the mix beautiful stories of Cape Town and use mostly my family as the other characters besides me and Oscar and Uncle Jeppe from Denmark, a good friend and someone to whom I owe much gratitude! A man who knows bacon! Most other characters have a real basis in history and I describe actual events and personal experiences set in a different historical context.
The cast I use to mould the story into is letters I wrote home during my travels.
The UK Letters
My Danish experience came to an end when I boarded a steamer en route for London. Minette had left for South Africa a month earlier. Andreas, his mom and dad, and Uncle Jeppe all joined me at the harbour in Copenhagen for an emotional farewell. In the year I have been in Demark I made giant leaps towards understanding the art of curing the best bacon on earth.
Now it was off to England where an entirely different adventure awaited me. If Denmark was the lesson of nitrogen, England would be the revelation of salt, sugar, and refrigeration. I arrived in London in January 1892. (1) A friend of Andreas, Kevin Picton, met me at the harbour. Excitement about being in London flooded my mind. Romantic images from my mental world as a child, growing up in Cape Town now takes on real-life shape right in front of my eyes.
An overload of visual images; sights, sounds, and smells rush through millions of neural pathways. Climaxing in a feeling of excitement in my stomach caused by the sudden release of the enormous quantity of endorphins.
In the deep recesses of my mind, a faint plan still resided to make it to Calne as soon as possible. Calne was one of the centers of the bacon universe where the official bacon curers to the King of England were located. My hoast, Kevin, had other plans. I got to know him as someone who knows the art of living life and he freely shares this aptitude with every person who has the pleasure of acquainting him. It was lunchtime and the first order of business was the local pub.
That day I fell in love with Britain’s pub culture. Like the church back home, the English pub is central to life. It is where you go to after work to unwind and play pool with other locals. The rugby and cricket team meet there before a match and afterward, this is where triumphs are celebrated and defeats forgotten. It is the thread that keeps communities close and neighbors familiar with the comings and goings of all.
Over the next few months, my education in Bacon curing and in living life took on an entirely new dynamic! What follows is a series of letters I wrote from Calne, Peterborough, and Liverpool between 1892 and 1893. The revelations through these letters are explosive and offer a unique and intimate view of the development of the pork industry and curing bacon in particular.
Back home in South Africa, Willem and James, Oscar’s brothers joined our bacon curing venture. Will and James moved to Cape Town first to oversee the purchase of a small plot of land (2) in Woodstock where the first bacon curing plant in Cape Town would be erected.
Will met with David Graaff and arranged for the purchase of the land directly behind Combrinck & Co.’s New Market Street site, bought to erect refrigeration works in case they are forced to move from their site at the Shambles. James is our financial manager. He worked for the Bank of the Netherlands in Johannesburg when Oscar convinced him to join our small band of fools.
While I was learning the art of curing the best bacon on earth, together they would nit the commercial fabric of the company. Soon I found myself on a train from Peterborough where Kevin and his beautiful wife, Julie live with their two kids, on my way back to London where I boarded the Great Western Railway to Calne. It is the next major stop in my quest to discover how to cure the best bacon on earth. It is the single most exciting story on earth!
(c) eben van tonder
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1. We arrived in London on Saturday, 22 October 2011. We spend a day in London with Ivan Procter from Marel before we took a train to Peterborough where we met Kevin Picton.
2. The first Woodys site was at 7 Assegaai Road, Kraaifontein.
Figure 1: River Thames, http://www.victorianlondon.org/bibliography.htm