The Wandering Jew: Research Notes on the life of Aron Vecht (Refrigeration Expert, Freedom Fighter, Bacon Curer, Businessman, Adventurer)

The Wandering Jew: Research Notes on the life of Aron Vecht (Refrigeration Expert, Freedom Fighter, Bacon Curer, Businessman, Adventurer)
Eben van Tonder
10 October 2021

Introduction

On 9 October 2021, I received a mail from Dr James Anderson from New Zealand enquiring about the bacon curing process of Aron Vecht. It was the first time I heard his name. My initial research into his life uncovered a remarkable story that pulls together many cross currents that existed in the bacon curing world of the time.

For years my work has been focused on the developments in the United Kingdom, Ireland, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Denmark. I was familiar with the packing plant of Phil Armour (David Graaff’s Armour – A Tale of Two Legends) but since I could not find evidence of them being active internationally apart from exports to Brittain, I did not pay much attention to them. Bacon curing became relevant from an American perspective internationally only after the use of nitrite in curing brines became commonplace (The Direct Addition of Nitrites to Curing Brines – The Spoils of War).

This was what I believed to be the facts of history till I discovered the remarkable Aron Vecht and the impact he had on the world of curing. He lead, as it were, a short incursion into the English dominated landscape of the 1800s and early 1900s with the Americans. The heyday of the Vecht process was short-lived and soon, in the late 1910s events in Prague would overtake all other curing systems with the work of a master Butcher from that city which the Americans would pick up on in spectacular and true American fashion (The Direct Addition of Nitrites to Curing Brines – the Master Butcher from Prague). For a while, the Dutch (through Vecht) and the Americans (through the Armour Packing Plant in Chicago) would lead an assault on the domination of the British before the world of curing would be completely turned on its head following World War 1.

As if this does not make Vecht interesting enough, I also learned that this travelling curer was an orthodox Jew and to even top this, it turns out that he also fought in the Anglo Boer War of 1899 and 1900 on the sides of the Boers and was asked by Cecil John Rhodes to assist in setting up refrigeration plants for meat distribution and storage in opposition to the Imperial Cold Storage and supply company of Dawid de Villiers-Graaff.

Right up front, it must be stated clearly that none of this would have been possible if Dr. James Anderson did not alert me to the existence of Vecht and his legacy. Much of the detail of his life and the exact nature of his curing process I will wait for the publication of Dr. James to appear before I disclose any of its details as it is in its entirety his work that uncovered it.

I want to give a general introduction to his life through three obituaries and deal with one aspect of his invention namely the singeing of pork before I set his work within what I believe to be its most probable international context.

Before Dr Anderson contacted me, I have completely omitted any work on the subject of the singeing of pork and was completely unaware of its central role in the grand saga of the development of meat curing. Much work on this subject will follow and I will add a chapter or two to my book on the history of curing (Bacon & the Art of Living) where I will deal with Vechht and his legacy. This work is therefore entirely thanks to Dr Anderson.

Background information from Genius & Anxiety: How Jews Changed the World, 1847-1947

The following background information on Vecht comes to us, courtesy of Lebrecht (2019).

“Aron Vecht is a glorious adventurer, unknown to Zionist historians. A Dutch Jew of impeccable Orthodoxy and an urge to see the world, ‘throughout all his ceaseless globe-trotting, although constantly exposed to hardship and privation, he never once transgressed the dietary laws’. Starting in London, where he marries a member of the wealthy Van den Bergh clan, Vecht launches the Jewish Standard newspaper, with Zangwill as star columnist, to combat the Jewish Chronicle. Unable to settle anywhere for long, he takes his family to Argentina, where he founds a frozen kosher meat export business, approved by European rabbis. Vecht moves on to South Africa, then to Australia. His children are born on four different continents. In New Zealand, which he explores from top to tip, he finds the populace afflicted by trichinosis, a parasitic disease caused by eating raw or undercooked pig meat. Without much fuss, Vecht applies his expertise in freezing kosher beef to set up New Zealand’s first bacon-curing plant, charging one shilling for each carcass he treats. (Lebrecht, 2019)

Reading Herzl’s manifesto, Vecht turns up in Basle for a Congress and sets about forming Zionist societies below the equator. Concern for his children’s education prompts Vecht to head north to Antwerp, where he undergoes gall-bladder surgery. Delegates to the eighth Zionist Congress send fond greetings to his sickbed but Vecht dies of post-operative complications. In all his wanderings, he never sees the promised land. One of his sons takes his body for burial on the outskirts of Tel Aviv.” (Lebrecht, 2019)

A few obituaries and an article to which mystic inspiration would later be assigned colour the pencil sketch in that we so far have of Aron Vecht.

A mystic/ Devine Article According to Jewish Voice

A sketch appeared in the Boston Advocator entitled The Wondering Jew which mystically is applied to being about Aron Vecht. It appeared on 8 November 1908, the exact day when Vecht passed away in Antwerp, Belgium. Vecht was in the writer’s mind “for some days” and he wrote his sketch on the day of Vecht’s passing leading to speculations that it was divinely inspired. It was written entirely in the past tense while Vecht was believed to still be alive. (The Jewish Voice, 1908)

Obituary from The Jewish Herald, Victoria

Another obituary appeared in the Jewish Herald in Victoria which mentions the article that was written about Vecht non the day of his passing in the Jewish Voice (1908). “The death in Antwerp, on 8th November, has been reported of Mr. Avon Vecht, who some years ago resided for a short time in Melbourne, and whose remarkable personality will be remembered by many of our readers, lie was a man of steadfast and consistent orthodoxy, yet, strange to say, his business occupation was that of buying and selling bacon on commission. He was one of the earliest pioneers of Zionism, and his commanding figure, long, black beard, and lustrous eyes gave him a close resemblance in appearance to the great Zionist leader, Theodor Herzl. He started in London the now-defunct “Jewish Standard,” the paper in which Israel Zangwill made his debut as a writer, contributing the weekly humorous column, “Morour and Charouseth.” Vecht was a great traveller, but throughout all his wanderings he maintained a rigid adherence to all the minutiae of Jewish religious practice.

A short time before his death an interesting sketch of his character, under the heading “A Wandering Jew,” appeared in the “Hoston Advocate,” written, we believe, by the editor, Mr. Jacob de Haas. It is as follows: — “Born in an insignificant Dutch village, he was educated to trade and orthodoxy. For many years after marriage, he led a humdrum life in London, buying and selling bacon on commission. For an orthodox Jew, and of the type that consulted” the Shulchan Aruch frequently, it was a strange trade, but he explained that he never saw nor handled the produce. One day fate plus orthodoxy threw him into touch with a young and aspiring Jewish writer, and from that moment as strange restlessness came upon him. He started with ill-success a Jewish weekly, and that failing, he began his wanderings.

“Tall, well built, excellent carriage, with a pair of blazing, big eyes, tinged with the melancholic brown — which is the Jewish colour—this wandering Jew must not be regarded as a commonplace fortune-seeker. The Jew is a home bird, but once he ‘hits the trail’ that knows no end, the quest remains his for life. This wandering Jew’s first trip sent him to Australia. He went not single-handed, but with a large family. They travelled in a slow boat; their stock of Kosher provisions gave out but that was a mere incident. To keep up his family spirits, Wanderer-in-chief got the ship’s printer to print a most remarkable imaginary menu for a Purim dinner, whilst bread and coffee were the only elements of the actual repast on the festival. In the same sportive mood, he won all the ‘sweepstakes’ on the daily runs, the whits prize, as well as a prize for the best fancy dress at a ball given during tho voyage.

“No mean man that — as a matter of fact, as pleasant a companion as one could wish. Australia increased his appetite for travel. He crossed New Zealand on horseback, still orthodox — in other words, going without a warm meal for weeks at a time. Then he came back to London, picked up the incidents of the day with ease, as though not a few years, but a few hours, had passed since he last saw his friends.

“After a scamper across Europe, he brought his family back and settled down, only to break-up home once more, on a trip to SouthAfrica. London to Cape Town was a mere weekend jaunt to him, so he came backwards and forwards, ‘dropping in’ in Palestine, visiting Egypt, and so forth. It was between trips that I heard the conversation between the wandering Jew and a wandering non-Jew: —

"Wandering Jew—'Hullo ! Surprised to see you in London.'
"Wandering Non-dew—Just back for a week ; came via India.'
"W. Jew—'Remember the last time I saw you in Collins-street, Melbourne? I asked you to talk some business over.'
"W. Non-dew—'Yes; had to go to Perth then.' (Perth is the other extreme of the continent.) 
"W. -Jew—'Supposing we meet tomorrow.'
"W. Non-Jew—'Sorry ; going to Canada tomorrow; will be back in n month.'
"W. Jew—'Sorry; I shall be in SouthAfrica by then.'
"W, Non-Jow—'Well, suppose we make an appointment'

Both men took out their notebooks. Said the wandering Jew after scanning — I could meet you in the club, Melbourne, on December 14 next.' (That was nearly a year ahead)

"W. Non-Jew—'Suits me pretty well.' (Jotting it down.) 'December 14, Melbourne.'

“From this, you will realise that he was a thoroughly modern man. He was, and for that matter is, being in the flesh, I believe, for all I know just now ‘contemplating one of his innumerable journeys across the globe. “One day he extracted from the greatest man in South Africa a contract of great value, with a clause providing that he should do no manner of work on Jewish Sabbaths or festivals. Doing an expert in refrigeration, he got the British Secretary of the Colonies, and the Secretary for ForeignAffairs/ and the War Office, to conspire together against the military regulations and issue a pass to him to pass through the British lines during the Boer war — a thing permitted no other foreigner. Strangest of all, he cut all the strands of red tape of all these offices in one day, and that a short one, too, for it was a Friday in the winter of 1902 and one lobe of his brain was energetically directed towards being home and making Kiddush at the right moment.”

I have met other wanderers, literal scourers of the earth’s surface, but non-moving in the same circles, yet maintaining the strict letter of the orthodox law and ritual — that is why I call him a wandering Jew—for he was and is the Jew, in a very literal sense, in all his wanderings.” Jewish Herald (Vic. : 1879 – 1920)

Obituary from Adelaide

We continue to get valuable information from obituaries following his passing. From the Advertiser in Adelaide comes the floowing:

” – Death, of Mr. Aron Vecht. Mr. Aron Vecht, who died at Antwerpon Sunday last after an illness of some months’ duration, was well known throughout Australasia. Born in Holland 52 years ago, he settled in England when quite a young man, and eventually built up a considerable business. A man of adventurous ‘spirit, the passion for travelling was in his blood, and there was, no continent and few countries of the world which he had not visited, hardly a part of New Zealand which he had not explored, and he, travelled extensively, in Australia. He lived for some years in Cape Colony and entered into business relations with the De Beers Company, Mr. Cecil J Rhodes negotiating with him on behalf of the company. For a year he resided in Haarlem, and then took his family to the Argentina, where he made his headquarters at Buenos Aires. Returning to Europe he settled at Antwerp, where he died.” The Advertiser (Adelaide, 1908)

Next, we look at more bits of information. One about business dealings he had in Holland and most importantly for our purpose, a trademark he owned in New Zealand (and Australia). It is this reference to his trademark, coupled with a curing process that he presumably developed which leads us to the unravelling of some fascinating facts about the history of the development of bacon curing around the globe.

Information on his Business from 1889

12 November 1889, Samual Hamburger, Ellias Levi, Aron Vecht, and Carolina Wolff entered into an agreement with Henry Skilton to sell their factory and business to him located in Ede, Holland. (The Standard, 1889)

NZ Patents

Vecht registered a trademark in New Zealand, amongst others for a bacon cure that he claimed to have developed.

- Vecht, A., Wellington NZ, singeing of pigs, 6196, 5 May 1894
- Vecht, A., Wellington NZ, Preserving pork by singeing of pigs, 6174, 10 May 1894 (Patents, Designs, Trade Marks)

Liquidation Sale Notice

The notice of the liquidation reads as follows:

MESSRS. STEWART and MORTON, at NOWRA, on account of THOMAS MARRIOTT, Esq., Liquidator of the Shoalhaven Co-operative Bacon Curing Company, Limited in Liquidation).

BACON CURING FACTORY at Bomaderry, N.S.W., and other Assets of the above Company, consisting of the following:

  1. 4 acs 1 road 18 perches, being lots 9 and 10 of Section 33, on Deposited Plan No. 2880, in the Town of Bomaderry, Parish of Bunberra,county of Camden, TORRENS TITLE million to reservations in Crown Grant), withFactory premises and fixed plant and machinerythereon, as per schedule No. 1
  2. Movable Plant, Office Furniture, Horses, Wag-gone, Carts, and Harness, as per Schedule No. 2.
  3. License to use exclusively in NSW. process for curing Bacon known as “Vecht Mild Cure Process.”
  4. “York Castle” Trade Mark for Bacon.

Items 1 and 3 are under mortgage, on which there is a Band of £2050, with Interest at a 5 per cent, per annum, from 2nd June 1900, owing, and will be sold subject thereto.

Item 3 Is held under certain Deeds and Documents, which, together with the Mortgagee over Items 1 and 3, may be inspected at the Offices of Messrs. Perkins. Stevenson, and Co., of 122 Pitt-street, Sydney, Solicitors.

Any Assignment of Item 3 is subject to consent of ARON VECHT, WILLIAM STOKES, and the CHRIST CHURCH CHURCH MEAT COMPANY, Limited. Lists of the Plant, etc may be inspected, at the Office of THOMAS MARIOTT, Esq. and the Auctioneers, at Nowra, and at the Offices of Messrs. PERKINS, STEVENSON, and CO., Solicitors, Sydney.

By order. THOMAS MARRIOTT, Liquidator, ‘

-> York Castle Bacon

The York Castle Trademark is of huge interest. William Stokvis of Brussels instituted legal action against Barnes Bacon Company Ltd. (Mr WJ Gale being the managing director at this time). The lawsuit related to the use of a secret curing formulation for bacon and hams in 1936. The plaintiff alleged the unlawful use of the trademark and he claimed that this secret method was alleged to be used for bacon made under this trade name when in reality, so he alleged, it was not always used.

The judge said in the judgement that York Castel bacon has been sold for years throughout New South Wales and that the secret mild cured formulation was attached to it. An agreement was entered on 20 March 1922 in which Stokvis gave Barnes Bacon Company Ltd. the right to use the secret curing formulation and the trademark for 10 years in exchange for monetary compensation for every pig so cured in New South Wales. In addition, Stokvis agreed in June 1922 to pay James Macgregor (an expert in mixing the cure and supervising the curing) half of the royalties received from Australia and New Zealand. Two tradenames were involved in the agreement being “York Castle” and “More Pork.”

In June 1922, JM Watt became the owner of the trademark limited to New South Wales and in January 1926, its scope was extended internationally. Watt dies in 1926 and the partnership created in 1928 ceased in 1928. In 1929 Stokvis became the owner of the trademark. He subsequently renewed the trademark till 1949.

It was established that pork was cured for a period by Barnes Bacon Company Ltd using a curing method, different from the secret mild curing method, yet, the secret curing method was attached to the trade names. Key witnesses were Messrs. WJ Gale, A Robertson, WJ Read, and Colin C Gale. The judge regarded the witness of all except Colin C Gale as unreliable.

So far it’s all of little interest or direct bearing of our historical consideration of various curing methods. One of the legal counsels referred to a previous case between Orange Crush (Australia) and Cartell (41 C.L.R. 282) where the high court found, by majority decision, that the pickle had lost its identity in the final product. The judge did not accept the point as being applicable in this case, but it is of supreme importance for our current consideration.

It has been my contention for many years that unless a specific piece of equipment, fully protected under patent laws is attached to a certain curing or other processes; or, unless a trademark is linked to a process and the agreement between the licensor and the licensee specifically links the method of curing and the trademark, if the outcome is equal, any process loses its identity in the final product and a process or formulation without a trademark so linked to it or the use of patent-protected equipment, curing methods or any meat processing methods are essentially unprotectable.

It is interesting that the judge accepted the argument of WJ Gale that “a different cure is only a matter of the first pickle that is put into bacon.” Judgement was in favour of the plaintiff.

From the The Waikato Argus, Friday, November 22, 1901.

The issue of temperatures takes front and central role in the saga. The following newspaper article deals with this.

“Frozen pigs are arriving in England from New Zealand, to be ‘ borne cured ’ for the British breakfast table (say the Daily Mail). This explanation is that the world is short of pigs, and as people still insist on eating pork the shippers and curers are straining every nerve to reach the remotest parts where the pig is sold. This is why England is buying bacon from Siberia, Russia, Denmark, Holland, Canada, the United States, Australia, and a score more of our colonial friends and foreign rivals. Hitherto this foreign bacon has always arrived in England already cured, and since it is ‘mildly cured ’ to suit the British palate, a very large portion of the bacon sold to the householder is slightly tainted. To prevent this numerous attempts have been made to put the dead pig into ice and turn him into bacon on arrival in England. But the lowering of the temperature below 32deg Fahrenheit (0 deg C) has ‘invariably faded the flash into a pale, unpleasant colour and alienated the affections of the British matron. Now, however, by what may be called a triumph of transit and cure, a most promising and important trade has begun between New Zealand and England. By employing the Vecht curing process, a New Zealand firm is shipping pigs from that distant colony, placing them in refrigerators with a temperature of 20 deg Fahrenheit (-6 deg C), and curing them here on the banks of the Thames with apparently perfect success. This success is obtained by first treating the carcase*, before they leave New Zealand, by the Vecht curing process, which allays the action of the cold, and so sterilises the flesh as to prevent the changes which has hitherto interfered with the successful curing at Home of what is grown abroad. Messrs Trengrouse and Co., who are colonial shippers on a huge scale and the British agents of Armours, of Chicago, are encouraging this new process, and prophesy for it a vast influence on the bacon trade.”

This introduces two very important matters. The first is why Vecht’s process worked and the second is the reference to the agents of Philip Armour, their interest in the cure and their presence in foreign markets through Messrs Trengrouse and Co. Let’s first deal with the matter of why the Vecht method worked before we return to the matter of the agents for Philip Armour.

Why the Cure Worked?

The matter of temperature introduced us to this. Again, I will retain this as a placeholder till Dr James published his article when I will return to this point and address it in detail based on his article.

The next issue to delve into is Messrs Trengrouse and Co.

Messrs Trengrouse and Co

The following from 1914 Who’s Who in Business, “TRENGROUSE, H., & CO., Provision Agents and General Commission Merchants 51, 55, Tooley Street, London, S.E. Hours of Business: 9.30 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturdays, close at 2 p.m. Established in 1875 by Henry Trengrouse, joined later by Richard Trengrouse, brother (retired 1908). Present Principal r Henry Trengrouse, J.P. Staff; Large. Agencies: Liverpool, Manchester, Bristol, Cardiff, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Dunedin, (N.Z.), Monte Video, Buenos Ayres. Specialities; Butter, Cheese, Bacon, Eggs and Canned Goods. Claim to be Pioneers of the trade in New Zealand and Australian Dairy Products. Agents for Armour & Co., Chicago, for upwards of thirty years. Connection: United Kingdom, Foreign, Colonial. Telephones Nos. 1170 and 1171 Hop, London. Telegraphic and Cable Address ” Trengrouse, London.” Codes: A B C (4th and 5th Editions), A 1, Lieber’s, Western Union, Private. Bankers: London County and Westminster Bank, Ltd. (Borough).”

Messrs Trengrouse and Co in South Africa

Years ago, when I did the chapter in Bacon & the Art of Living, David Graaff’s Armour – A Tale of Two Legends. I speculated that Philip Armours agents must have visited Cape Town. My speculations were made under the heading, Armour’s Agents in South Africa. The basis of my speculation was the global reach of Armours network and the fact that Phil himself made his money starting out in the Californian Goldfields and I could not imagine that he sat idly by with the discovery of gold and diamonds on the Rand and Kimberley respectively in South Africa. Further, the link between De Villiers-Graaff visiting Chicago in 1892 where Armour pioneered refrigerated meat transport and refrigeration for the meat trade in general through cold storage works, coupled with De Villiers Graafs own focus on this from that time onwards is just too much to be coincidental. I have gone to great lengths over many years to find the details of the agents for Armour but with no luck whatsoever. Not even a hint!

Until I got the mail last Friday from Dr James Anderson who altered me to the life and legacy of Aron Vecht I was unable to discover the name of the agents for Philip Armour. It was the mention of Aron Vecht by Dr Anderson that led me to the discovery of the agents of Armour being Messrs Trengrouse and Co who did not do business with Combrinck & Co. (later the Imperial Cold Storage and Supply Co. of De Villiers Graaff) as I suspected but with Langeberg Foods on canning, presumably from the Boland town of Wellington in the Cape Colony.

That Messrs Trengrouse and Co was active in South Africa is confirmed. They did business with Langeberg Foods. I know Langeberg Foods very well and will take this up with them directly as well as securing the book where the reference is made -> Langeberg: 50 Years of Canning Achievement, 1940-1990 – Page 27, D. J. Van Zyl, 1990

Related to New Zealand, I have a further mention that bacon was bought from The Wellington Meat Export Co -> Ice and Cold Storage – Volume 14, Issues 154-165 – Page 232 (1)

The travelling agent for this Messrs Trengrouse and Co who at one point visited New Zealand to procure butter was Mr Meadows of the London (The Taranaki Herald, November 26, 1889)

A Large British Firm in New Zealand

In the chapter, Oake Woods & Co Ltd in New Zealand and Other Amazing Tales, I speculate that the firm that was reported in The NZ Official Yearbook, 1893 who was interested in setting up curing works was the firm Oake-Woods from Gillingham, Dorset. I wrote: “The largest suppliers in the UK of mess pork to the navies of the world and the mercantile marine operations, sent an agent to New Zealand in order to investigate the viability of setting up a branch in the colony. The agent has been here for some time now, a couple of months at least, and is making inquiries as to the prospect of opening up a branch establishment. He ran a trial to test the quality of our pigs for their purposes. The trial was done by preparing some carcasses by a process patented by the firm. He then shipped these to his principals in England. He received a cablegram which stated that the meat and the curing were done to “perfection.” As a result of this, arrangements are being made for extensive trade throughout the colony. The English firm is prepared to erect factories at a cost of £20,000 each in areas where they have a reasonable expectation to secure 2,000 pigs per week.”

I doubt if this refers to Messrs Trengrouse and Co and on a balance of probabilities, I still favour the option that it was Oake-Woods. They were supplying the navies (including the British Navy); they definitely were active at this time and shortly thereafter in Australia and New Zealand. I have an oral record that they were active in South Africa also despite the fact that I could not find any written confirmation and in comparison, Vecht’s process was of limited use around the world compared to the Auto Cure system of Oake-Woods, despite Vecht’s process being used in several countries. The firm that was interested in setting up an operation in NZ was also English and not Dutch or American. So, I retain the conclusion I came to in this chapter, but the activity of Armour and through them, the evangelism to the Vecht process is definitely of huge interest.

The Vecht Curing Process

Dr James Anderson is writing an article about Vecht and I will wait for it to appear before I quote him on the exact process description. He mailed this to me, but it will be wrong for me to make it public here without giving him a chance to complete his article first. I can quote the following from a NZ publication which states that “a new process known as the ‘Vecht curing process,’ originating in New Zealand in which the flesh is partly sterilized before freezing, this objection is said to have been overcome and a flourishing trade in frozen hog carcasses inaugurated” (Ice & Refrigeration, Vol 20, Jan – June 1901)

Developments in Ireland – 1866: The Patent of Denny (Ireland)

Singeing pork was nothing new. Removing the hair off the carcass and retaining the “rind” was done with straws for centuries. The old method is beautifully illustrated by Тихомир Давчев in their set of photos featured below.

The method of treating pigs is ancient and it was finally “industrialised.” Henry Denny of Waterford in Ireland patented a better process by which he used an oven. It is claimed to be 1/10th of the cost of doing it by straw. The main issue was the cost of the straw. Denny patented his process and sold the patent. His patented method was described in Fraser’s Magazine for Town and Country, Vol. LXXIV July to December 1866.

“Each pig is hoisted by the hind leg, it being hooked on to a lever, which suspends the animal head downwards, and its throat is slit with a sharp knife; the blood caught in a receiver flows into an external tank, from whence it is carted away. The leg is then fixed to a hook, which slides on a round iron bar placed overhead on an incline. A push of the hand sends the dead pig with railway speed to the singeing furnace, a distance of 30 to 50 feet. Here it is taken by a crane, placed on a tramway, and run into the furnace, where the flame impinges on it, and in a moment all the hair is removed. The carcase is rehooked by the leg, passes into another room, where it is disembowelled, the entrails being transferred to an underground region o be dealt with. The head is next emoved, and then the backbone is cut out, thus dividing the carcase into two flitches, which pass, suspended on the round bars and without handling, into the cooling room, where it hangs until the meat is firm.” (Fraser’s Magazine for Town and Country, Vol. LXXIV July to December 1866) 

One of the reasons is that I could not understand the fame of Denny, the Irish bacon curing company bearing the name of the man who started it and who was at one point the largest company in bacon curing on earth. Many unfounded claims are still made related to the company of Henry Denny such as that company invented either Mild Cured Bacon or Sweet Cured Bacon – see my article Mild Cured Bacon Celebrated! and Bacon Curing – A Review and search for the heading “Henry Denny and the claim of a Return to Dry Salting.” His fame was not due to any of these but his invention of the automated process of pork singeing. He may have, of course, also called bis process “mild cured” as with the aid of refrigeration he would have obtained the same result as did William Oake who actually invented the original mild cured process. Was this disingenuous for him to also have called it “mild cured”? I think not. It illustrates the inherent problem in using the result of the process (i.e. milder bacon) as the name of your product. If the result is the same but a different process was used to arrive at it, how would the consumer know (or care)? From a trademark perspective, it makes it tricky since the words seem to be difficult to protect from a trademark perspective as it would be the general way people would refer to the bacon, not heavily salted. It is like trying to trademark the phrase “well cooked.”

The one point, which as it stands right now, I believe, is that they invented the automated process of singeing the carcass. The publication I site above is the earliest mention of automating the process that I could find and I am now convinced that Vecht got his method from them. Auto Curing requires the use of pressure cylinders (autoclaves or retorts) which make the auto cure bacon’s production even more expensive than mild cured bacon. It is the only process that was really patentable because neither sweet cure nor mild cure nor Vechts process, neither Denny’s singe process is so unique that it can not be copied by someone with even mediocre technical skills and is not really patentable. In this regard it is similar to the refrigeration patent which Harris took out – may I add. Anybody could, and I am sure would make small changes to the system to show it to be unique and to overcome the trademark issue. This was not the case with Auto Cure which relied on unique equipment. To this day, people buy bacon and the exact process is, as it were, lost in the final product. Trade marks speak to consistency quality, but in the final analysis, bacon has always been and still is today a commodity that most people buy on price (given a relatively wide range of acceptable product quality)

I have personally been faced with this exact issue over the years. One invents a new process, but the protection of the process only lasts as long as your staff remains with you. The moment they move away, the process is gone! Till this day meat plants are notoriously shrouded in secrecy. From British producers to the largest bacon producer in South Africa (close and good friends) refuse me access to any of their plants because they are scared will see something I am not supposed to. Phil Armour was famous for trying to break the secrecy which existed even amongst this own plant managers. 

I wonder if this does not also explain why Vecht did this, not in Holland or in the USA or England, but in faraway New Zealand! Processors all claim that they invented processes! Whichever process one talks about!

Have a look at the article below, Effect of Singeing on the Texture and Histological Appearance of Pig Skin. It beautifully describes the process and it ascribes the tradition to be Danish. The reason why I will still give priority to the invention of Denny is that Denny created bacon curing plants in Denmark. I believe that the technology was invented by Denny, transferred to Denmark where it was used on a large scale and subsequently made its way to the Harris operation in Calne and other Wiltshire curers (including Oake Woods – son of William Oka who invented Mild Curing).

There are many traditions that mild curing for example was invented by the Danes, but after 10 years of research, I know for a fact that this is incorrect. As I already discussed, I can imagine that through his process he also arrived at a “milder cured bacon” but he was by no means the first to have done so. The invention is Irish and was kept a secret till disgruntled Irish curers (on strike) were lured to Denmark under a Danish continual learning scheme where they were paid handsomely to train the Danes in Mild Curing. Contemporary Irish historians to this day believe that the invention was by Denny and the transfer of knowledge took place when Denny opened his plants in Denmark. I have for years wondered, knowing that the invention was Irish, what exactly did Henry Denny teach the Danes. I have learned that even falsehoods are never (or seldom) completely false. They taught the Danes something. . . . .  but what??  Dr Anderson, through his correspondence in 2021 that gave me the answer! It was the automated process of singeing.

Below is the article, Effect of Singeing on the Texture and Histological Appearance of Pig Skin, which I am referring to.

International Bacon War: Quest for Supremacy

Let’s get back to another point which we must not lose sight of and that is the fact that Vecht’s process was a short-lived attempt by the Dutch (Vecht) and the Americans (Armour) to wrestle away control of the international bacon market from the British.

Then British long had control over the international bacon trade. Dry-cured bacon was made on the island for millennia and developed into an art of its own. It became a staple for the poor and a delicacy for the rich. Importantly, it fed the British army and a powerful navy. (Dry Cured Bacon)

Sometime before 1837 William Oake from Norther Ireland invented Mild Cured Bacon, harnassing the power of re-using brine and putting the slaughtering of pigs and curing on an industrial footing with a great emphasis on hygiene. (Mild Cured Bacon)

The Harris brothers from Calne invented Sweet Cured Bacon sometime in the early 1840s. (Sweet Cured Harris Bacon)

Pale Dried Bacon was invented under John Harris in Calne in the 1890s. Wiltshire bacon curing or Tank curing was invented in Calne in the closing years of the 1800s or early 1900s. (Harris Bacon – From Pale Dried to Tank Curing)

Auto curing was invented by William Harwood Oake, the son of William Oake from Limerick in Ireland who invented mild curing. William Harwood Oake brought mild curing to England when he opened a curing operation with two partners in Gillingham, Dorset. He invented auto curing which is a progression on mild curing. Tank curing undoubtedly developed from this same factory and it was probably independently incorporated into the Harris operation when they got the technology from Denmark. (Oake Woods & Co Ltd and their Auto Cured Bacon)

Over the years I have always wondered why Phil Armour did not try and assert his influence on the lucrative bacon trade not just through exports to Brittain (which they did on a large scale), but in the international bacon trade. I never came across them in almost 10 years of research apart from sending bacon from the USA to England. This all changed with the mail from Dr Anderson and looking into the life and career of Vecht.

I speculate that their agents found an ideal ally in the Dutch curer, Aron Vecht. Vecht combined several known (and patented) curing processes, created his own version of mild cure, ostensibly predicated upon the use of refrigeration and an invention by the Irish firm of Henry Denny which automated the singeing process of the carcass. I suspect his allegiance with Armour either led him to become an expert in the newly developing art of refrigeration or he was already interested in this before he came into contact with the Armour Meatpacking company in Chicago. His curing process would have suited Armour in that it was far less capital intensive than Dorset based firm of Oake-Wood’s autocue and despite not being as fast in curing as was accomplished with the autocue equipment, it was a progression on the mild curing process of the inventor of the original process, William Oake, father of the Oake who was a partner in Oake-Woods.

The link with a unique bacon brand is a stroke of genius and something, I am sure that was carefully deliberated. Before this time, bacon was differentiated by the particular method of curing. As we just explained, these would have been dry-cured, sweet cured, mild cured, pale dried or auto cured. There is evidence of Harris going after people using the name “pale dried bacon” but with the advent of refrigeration, it effectively levelled the playing field as many options became available to produce bacon with far less salt than was traditionally done under the dry-cured system.

Another very important point about Armour must be made. A few years ago I came across a reference to a secret trial in the use of sodium nitrite done at a packing plant in Chicago. The year was 1905. This was done before its use was legal in any country on earth. I speculated that it was carried out by Phil Armour as very few people would have had the audacity to have tried it. I reported on this experiment in an article and shortly after this all references to it was removed from the internet and I could not get hold of the source documents. I know the author of the article where this reference appeared. He is a prominent person in a leading role in European meat curing circles and I understand why this reference was removed.

This is pure speculation on my part, but it has a tone of credibility. I think that Armour or Armour with the key meatpackers in Chicago of Gustav Swift, and Edward Morris jointly performed the trial. I write extensively about this in The Direct Addition of Nitrites to Curing Brines – The Spoils of War. The experiment would have been spectacularly successful and I believe was done on the back of experiments done in German agricultural research centres for years before 1905.

With them having known about the work on nitrites, I believe the process of Vecht suited them well as a kind of a “placeholder” without engaging a firm like Oake-Woods and locking them into the Auto Curing system which was the leading system internationally at the time as far as it being patentable and indeed, it was the most widely used international patented system of the late 1800s and early 1900s.

There is an “air” of the thinking of Armour, Swift and Morris in the preamble to a meat science group formed by them, also early 1900s where their mission was stated as being “to reduce steers to beef and hogs to pork in the quickest, most economical and the most serviceable manner.” The process they had in mind here was nitrite curing.

It was a key turning point in the history of curing and the Americans spectacularly took the lead when, following the first world war, Griffith, the American Chicago based company became the evangelists of the direct addition of nitrite to curing brines, a riveting saga which I uncovered and wrote extensively about in the article which I just now sited. So, anticipating what is to come in the direct addition of nitrites to curing brines, there would have been no point in investing in any of the “indirect curing processes” of the English, Danes or the Dutch. There is evidence that the Chicago meatpackers were preparing for this curing revolution for a number of years and the Griffith Laboratories was an important participant who had to be ready to handle the PR of what was to come. They have undoubtedly taken careful note of public perception related to nitrites and had to be careful how they introduce the matter to the public. Besides this, they had to ensure that using nitrites directly in meat curing was legalised. All this were carefully orchestrated and it completely explains why they never fully committed to curing systems that dominated in the rest of the world prior to 1905. Supporting the Vecht system would have been a perfect “placeholder.”

Was the use of the curing technique of Vecht as deliberate as I present it here? I suspect it but have no direct evidence to that effect. Is it a likely scenario, taken the full spectrum of information from that time into account? I believe so! At least it warrants keeping the possibility in mind as we progress our efforts to understand the grand story of the development of bacon!

Conclusion

The discovery of the life and legacy of Aron Vecht brings together many loose strands in years of research. The real genius of the Irish bacon curer Denny; glimpses of the first attempts of Philip Armours company (he has passed away by this time) to enter the international bacon production business or flirtations with the thought; the experimentation with refrigeration temperatures for bacon on long voyages; identifying the international agents of Phil Armour; identifying the brain behind Cecil John Rhodes (De Beers) attempt to enter the meat refrigeration business in competition with the Imperial Cold Storage and Supply Company of De Villiers-Graaff; highlighting to me the importance of the singeing of pork in the grand saga of the history of bacon curing; demonstrating how an orthodox Jew could be a master bacon curer; the tantalising information that Vecht fought in the Anglo Boer war, opening up a new frontier of investigation and validating my own inclusion of this war as background to my book on bacon curing! Finally, the value of the internet and international cooperation through the work of Dr Anderson. Without his email alerting me to the life of Vecht these giant strides in the investigation on numerous fronts would not have taken place. Bacon & the Art of Living is an international collaboration and full credit goes to every single person, who, like Dr Anderson contributed over many years to this work.

This article is “clumsy” but it is the start of many more to come on the life and legacy of this remarkable man. I rightfully await the article of Dr Anderson with the greatest of anticipation!

Notes

  1. Wellintton Meat Export Company

from the Fb page of Old Wellington Region, the pictures above as well as the following description and text.

“Wellington MEAT EXPORT COMPANY, Ngauranga Gorge intersection with the Hutt Road & suburb of Khandallah – * by request from Howard Tong *

In May 1884, the Wellington Meat Preserving and Refrigerating Company was granted a private railway siding at Ngahauranga (original spelling). To serve the abattoir, a siding was laid from the station yard across Hutt Road to the company’s works in June of that year. The company quickly became a significant customer for the railway and in 1895 150,486 head of stock were railed to Ngahauranga. (By c1900 the station had stockyards and two sidings)

The Wellington Meat Export Company took over in 1889 and 2 years later, in 1891, the rebuilding and expansion of the works was completed. In 1896, the meat company bought the fellmongery works situated on 9 acres adjoining. The works were extended by Messrs Edwards and Palmer and were lit by electricity. The works was closed in 1973 and were derelict for a number of years.

NOTE: From NZETC 1897 … The meat-freezing and preserving works and the manure factories, tanneries, and fellmongering establishments occupy the banks of the stream for a considerable distance up the Gorge. There are no stores, and the frontages to the Hutt Road are occupied by two hotels. The school attendance is about thirty and the room is also used for church purposes.”

References

 The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1889 – 1931) ,Thu 24 Dec 1908

Fraser’s Magazine for Town and Country, Vol. LXXIV July to December 1866

Ice & Refrigeration, Vol 20, Jan – June, 1901

The Jewish Voice, St. Louis, Missouri, Friday, December 04, 1908

Jewish Herald (Vic. : 1879 – 1920),  Fri 22 Jan 1909

Lebrecht, N. 2019. Genius & Anxiety: How Jews Changed the World, 1847-1947. Simon and Schuster

1894, New Zealand, Patents, Designs and Trade-Marks

The Standard, London, Greater London, England, Saturday, November 16, 1889

The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia)16 Jun 1936, Tue

The Waikato Argus, Friday, November 22, 1901