Pic’s history of meat processing

Stockyard photos from Chicago

Images from the Union Stock Yards, Chicago, USA, and pork abattoir’s, from The Modern Packing House, by Nickerson and Collins Co., Chicago, 1905 and 1920.


Ham pump from the 1910’s


Wiltshire cut c 1920

Union Stock Yard, Chicago, USA, C 1920



Union Stock Yard, Chicago, USA, C 1920



Pork abattoir, c 1920


Pork abattoir, c 1920

Union Stock Yard, Chicago, USA, C 1920
Entrance to the Union Stock Yard, Chicago, USA, C 1920

Photos from Harris Bacon, Wiltshire, England

Harris photos from old newspapers and redrawn in Cape Town.

Harris Bacon photos, courtesy of Susan Boddington, curator of the Calne Heritage Centre.



Ancient photos from Germany

An old pic re-published in the doctoral dissertation of Klaus-Dieter Baja, University of Hamburg, on the changing face of the butches profession.


Vintage photos by Edward S Curtis

Drying Whale Meat – Hooper Bay (The North American Indian, V. XX. Norwood, MA, The PLIMPTON Press). Artist, Edward S Curtis.
Drying Meat, Flathead, 1910 – Hand colored vintage photogravure – 5 1/4 x 7 1/4 inches plate. Edward S. Curtis. From nygardgallery.com


An iconic photo by Curtis, Edward S., 1868-1952, created c1908 November 19, Two Dakota Indian women hanging meat to dry on poles, tent in background. Published in: The North American Indian / Edward S. Curtis. [Seattle, Wash.] : Edward S. Curtis, 1907-30, v. 3, p. 96.


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Meat Curing and Smokehouse – Built in Goria after plans by the United States Dep of Agriculture. Photo – 1919 from Woodford County Journal (Eureka, Illinois), 20 Jan 1919, p 3.

Photos from Robert Goodrick

About this photo, he writes, “That was the year when we cleaned 900 pieces of poultry — I smelled like a turkey for weeks after :-(”

He says that “The bearded wonder in the center of the photo Quiet Waters Farm is yours truly 1974 I believe :)”

Robert remembers that “this is when ‘butchers’ was ‘real’ butchers 🙂 that Christmas we did over a 1000 birds which included a few ducks, geese, roasting chickens (6lb’ers) as well as a few (true) capons 9/10 lbs) — Largest turkey, if I remember right, was 55 lbs and the smallest was around 7/8 lbs — two of us cleaned the whole lot in about 12 hours”

“My third job in Vancouver British Columbia — My first lasted six weeks as I did not do the right handshake — another story for over a pint — Second lasted about six months as they were pulling the building down, so went down the street and joined this lot — ended up running the place for the owners :)”

How I love these stories!

Laurence Green’s word pictures on food from the Cape of Good Hope.

From his work HARBOURS OF MEMORY (1969), published by Howard Timmins, Green makes the following references to meat and food recipes. Many of his best stories he got in bars, drinking with old folks and from magazines and old pamphlets he collected from flea markets. He was a journalist and an author and I think, if I recall correctly, at one point wrote for the Cape Argus or Cape Times. His word pictures are priceless. Here are a few nuggets.

The secret curry powder

From The Road to the Harbour he writes, “Hungry seamen paid sixpence for pea soup or fish, a shilling for roast beef or steak. Many generous hosts provided bread, cheese, and pickles free of charge. A favourite meal in many harbour taverns consisted of a plate of mulligatawny soup followed by sosaties and rice, curried fragments of mutton on bamboo skewers. This cost one shilling and sixpence, including a glass of wine.”

Curries of various sorts were favourite everyday meals in the seafaring quarter. If you passed down Waterkant or Bree Street between certain hours there were such pungent aromas of chilies and garlic, mustard oil and onions, that you might have been in Calcutta. Jacob Watermeyer, a Strand Street ship chandler, was the far-sighted businessman who transformed the curry and rice dishes of Cape Town. This remarkable episode brought him and his assistant a fortune. The master of a British sailing ship owed Watermeyer money for stores and he departed without paying the bill. Next time he called, however, the honest captain entered Watermeyer’s shop and announced: “I still can’t pay, but if you care to come down on board my ship I will show you something valuable.” Watermeyer and his assistant lunched in the saloon and were given the finest curry they had ever tasted. After lunch, the captain handed them a list of ingredients and showed them how to mix the curry powder which had made the lunch memorable. I do not pretend to know the exact amount of turmeric, ginger, chilies and other spices that went into the powder; it was a secret recipe. No one could say that it was dominated by this or that condiment. It was a true blend, and compared with the other curry powders of the period it seemed to have an almost magical effect on soups, pumpkin, beans, crawfish or snoek, eggs, chicken and meats. The captain revealed to Watermeyer the whole secret process and gave him a sealed barrel of the curry powder. Watermeyer canceled the debt, three hundred pounds, a substantial amount to write off in those golden days. He put the curry powder on the market in tins and Cape Town flocked to his store to buy more. Here was a powder with just the right bite. It gave a rich, almost mysterious stimulating quality to a thick stew. People glowed and perspired and declared that Watermeyer’s curry powder made them feel cool in the heat of summer. The assistant married Watermeyer’s daughter and inherited the secret. He built a store in Adderley Street far more ornate than the little ship chandler’s shop down on the waterfront. The store has gone but the curry powder survives and is still mixed just as that forgotten sea captain showed Jacob Watermeyer in the Indiaman’s saloon more than a century ago.

Few old people record their memories and I was lucky to hear the curry saga before the origin was lost. When an interesting person dies a whole page of the past is torn away. I am grateful to those who spoke to me and left their most vivid impressions

Picture from the Shambles – leopards and sand sharks

Leopards were still visiting the shambles at the foot of Adderley Street in search of offal when Hinton was a boy. Wharf Square, outside the old mainline railway station, was close to the wharf. The slaughterhouse, built long before the station, supplied meat to troops bound for India before the Suez Canal was built. Shortly after World War II an aged coloured man showed officials the door in this building where he had stood shovelling refuse into Table Bay. So many sand sharks gathered for the feast. that they called the place Haaibaai. Now the shambles has been demolished and the nearest sea is more than twelve hundred yards from Wharf Square.

Polony, existed from at least 1900’s with much older roots

“Butchers prepared fine mutton hams and polonies and these kept fresh in any climate. The polonies were a foot long, one inch in diameter, made of pork and other meats and fat with various spices; they were bound in bundles of twenty-four and sewn up in airtight bladders.”

See my article I did based on Greens description, The Origins of Polony.

Pigs in blankets were served as oysters, wrapped in bacon

About chef Luigi, he tells the following. “So he served “pigs in blankets” (oysters wrapped in bacon and fried) or oysters au gratin, sole and oyster pie, oysters sweated in butter and served on hot fried bread, oyster soufflees, oysters with spinach, grilled oysters and fried oysters chopped and mixed with scrambled eggs.”

From Australia

The country of Australia holds some of the most iconic meat history.

Tim Westwood made me aware of this remarkable video.

Meat Hangers

Kevin Ahern took these pictures of Petroglyphs National Monuments in Albuquerque, NM, dating to between 800 and 1200 BP with the oldest dating to 2000 BCE. He tells me that the images depict the Yucca bud.

“The uses of this plant are numerous, the least of which today being for textile use. The strikingly tall inflorescence stalks have long fibres in them that can be spun to make (incredibly uncomfortable) clothing, textiles, or rope. Yucca flowers are also edible, and are a deep-fried delicacy in some southern states in the US. Some species of the genus also have edible fruits, but this species isn’t one of them since the fruit walls are made up of very tough plant tissue. (botanicalmusings)

The leaves of this plant (Yucca filamentosa; Adams needle) are also sometimes referred to as “meat hangers” since they are so tough they can pierce meat and can be knotted together to make a ring that can be hung on a tree branch to dry-cured meat.” (botanicalmusings)

The reference to the hanging of meat for curing seems to originate from Small (1933) who recorded that “leaves of all southern species were used by pioneers to make rope and string for hanging up cured meats.” Daniel F. Austin says that he found fishermen in the early 1970s on Great Inagua near the Bahamas still using cord made from Yucca to hang their bonefish to dry. (Austin, 2004)

Yucca to the native tribe, Alabama was called tosiina istatakka (tosiina, from Spanish tocino for Bacon, ist-, it is, atakkaaka, hanging). The name is derived from their use of the sharp point on the leaf and its fibers to hang meat for smoking (Sylestine, et al, 1993) (Austin, 2004)

Further Reading and Reference:


Austin, F. D.. 2004. Florida Ethnobotany. CRC Press.

Old Meat Pictures from Мясо! Мясо! Колбаса

In July 2019 I was looking for old meat processing pictures for the deli stores concept we are launching in Johannesburg. Robert kindly directed me to this amazing facebook site. All photos were downloaded from this site where it was posted by members. I wish to acknowledge them and members of the site as the source.

Chuck Vavra‘s Great Grandparents

August and Francis Serpan

Chuck’s great grandparents, August, and Francis Serpan, making sausage. Omaha, Nebraska 1919.

What makes Chuck’s submission even more facinating is that he is able to provide the recipe they used.

Chuck writes, “It is not the recipe for the 50+ pound batch in the photo, but a scaled-down version that their daughter used for years.”

“It is written with a really strange order of actions, but it IS the authentic one handed down!”

Special word of thanks to Chuck and his family for allowing us this extraordinary glimps into their family heritage. I am without question trying the recipe this coming week!

Todds Photo1.jpg

Todds Photo 3

From South Africa

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A photograph from L V Praagh, The Transvaal, and its Mines, 1906, p.321, of the curing room of a cold storage and butcher’s shop shows the importance of this imported European tradition in Johannesburg.

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Sheepkraaling in the Karoo. Late 1800’s. From The Rise of Conservation in South AfricaSettlers, Livestock, and the Environment 1770-1950 by William Beinart.


Please mail any contributions to ebenvt@gmail.com and help us preserve the rich heritage of our trade.



The Rib Project

The Rib Project
By:  Eben van Tonder
16 September 2019


I have been working with Transglutaminase for many years.  In January I pulled everything I have done on bacon together in an article:  Best Bacon System on Earth.  The application to pork ribs is something I have played with for years but could never completely master.

The reality dawned on me that Transglutaminase in itself can never be more than a processing aid.  It is one of many methods developed over the eons of time to bind meat, whether it is in cooked hams, extending bacon logs to fit the use of high-speed slicers or in sausages.  Using a number of these techniques in combination yields the best results.  Relying on Transglutaminase alone for any result is a mistake.

The work of a few years came together last week.  Here is the story.

Amazing Results

I tried for years to make this product. At a management meeting, the chairman, owner, and founder of the new company I joined after I left Woodys told the story how he started his company by selling ribs. He celebrated his 60th birthday this week. This inspired me to take another stab at making the ribs. Stephen, my processing partner and I took Thursday night to try half of a new process. The results were very good. So, on Friday night we pressed on to build on the success of the previous night. We adjusted the process slightly and here are the results.


Product Sampling

We had the honour of serving it to guests whom he and his wife invited to their farm to celebrate his birthday. It is in no way perfect yet and the guests very graciously offered small suggestions to tweak it so that we can achieve perfection.

Can we have the recipe?

I normally have no problem sharing recipes, but this one I’m holding close to my chest. At least for the next few years as we investigate the commercial viability. Most of my butcher friends will any way figure it out in minutes what took me years!  There are a number of clues in the photos below.  🙂  I am very pleased with where we are with it so far and my sincere thanks to Stephen! His input has been so substantial that I can no longer claim that its all my work. A proper team effort!

A Combination of Systems

It is very important to at least state that the use of Transglutaminase in the product is kept to a bare minimum.  The major mechanisms relied on are ancient.


Difference between Fresh Cured and Cooked Cured Colour of Meat.

Difference between Fresh Cured and Cooked Cured Colour of Meat.
By:  Eben van Tonder
14 August 2016

Ralph Hoagland
Ralph Hoagland


Managing a meat curing operation in Cape Town at Woodys Consumer Brands (Pty) Ltd., the need exist to have a thorough understanding of meat curing mechanisms to ensure that conditions exist to optimise cured colour development, limit bacterial growth and deliver good product flavour and taste.

This first article sets the historical context by reviewing the 1914 landmark article by Hoagland; we briefly outline the current understanding of cured colour development from the work of Pegg and Shahidi and we overview one mechanism that has recently been described.  Overall, we focus on the importance of nitric oxide (NO) in cured colour development for both fresh and cooked cured meat.

Subsequent articles that form part of this series are:

  1. Mechanisms of meat curing – the important nitrogen compounds
  2. Reaction Sequence: From nitrite (NO2-) to nitric oxide (NO) and the cooked cured colour.


The formation of cured meat colour takes place “by the reaction of nitrite with the natural meat pigment myoglobin to form dinitrosyl ferrochrome (DNFH). The pigment, which gives meat its characteristic cured-meat colour, is formed from the meat pigment myoglobin, which consists of an iron porphyrin complex, the heme group, attached to the protein globin. In the presence of nitrite, the bright red nitrosomyoglobin is formed, in which the H2O in the axial position on the heme iron is replaced by nitric oxide (NO). The NO is formed from nitrite by the natural reducing activity of the muscle tissue, which is accelerated by the addition of reductants such as ascorbic acid. In heat-processed cured meat, the globin has been split off to a heat-stable pink pigment, nitrosyl hemochromogen.”  (Soltanizadeh, N., Kadivar, M..  2012)

This understanding of curing developed over many years with input from a variety of scientists. (The Fathers of Modern Meat Curing)  One of these influential minds was Ralph Hoagland.  His brilliance is seen in his academic work that shapes the meat curing industry.  He had wide appeal in academia, industry and in the popular press.  He contributed immensely to the developing sciences of nutrition and meat processing with a special interest in pork processing and pork nutrition.

He was the Senior Biochemist, Biochemie Division, Bureau of Animal Industry, United States Department of Agriculture in Chicago who was, at this time, one of the curing centers of the world along with Denmark and Calne, in the United Kingdom where the Harris operation started.  He served as the department head of the Minnesota College of Agriculture (part of the University of Minnesota), appointed in 1909.  The College of Agriculture later became the College of Biological Sciences. (http://cbs.umn.edu/ and The Bismarck Tribune, 1912)

In 1908 he published results obtained upon studying the action of saltpeter upon the colour of meat and “found that the value of this agent in the curing of meats depends upon its reduction to nitrites and nitric oxid, with the consequent production of NO-hemoglobin, to which compound the red color of salted meats is due.”  He found that “saltpeter, as such, [had] no value as a flesh-color preservative.”  (Hoagland, R.  1914)  In 1914 he published, Colouring Matter of Raw and Cooked Salted Meat.  Reviewing this article has three important objectives.

1. It shows what was understood by 1914 about meat curing and colour formation in particular.  This has important implication for determining an accurate chronology of developments around the direct addition of nitrite to curing brines, such as the invention of Praganda in Prague in 1915 and later, the introduction of Prague Salt in Chicago (The Naming of Prague Salt) where Hoagland worked for a time.

2.  It is a novel way for an introduction to meat curing mechanisms and shows the progression in our understanding.

3. It draws an important difference between the colour of fresh cured meat and cooked-cured meat.

I interject the thoughts of Hoagland from 1914 with quotes on our current understanding by two of the leading scientists on the subject namely Ronald B. Pegg and Fereidoon Shahidi with quotes from their 2000 publication, Nitrite Curing of Meat.  I briefly introduce these two scientists.

Ronald Pegg is currently a professor at the Department of Food Science & Technology, University of Georgia.  A great piece appeared about him in FST News (from the University of Georgia Department of Food Science and Technology).  “He is a researcher who feels equally at home in the classroom and the laboratory. In addition to inspiring students with the chemistry of chocolate and coffee, he’s become one of the nation’s most sought-after experts on the nutrient content of food and the bioactive compounds that make blueberries, peanuts and other nutritionally dense superfoods so “super.” Pegg joined the faculty of UGA in 2006. He immediately saw the need for a more hands-on, practical approach to teaching food chemistry. His work with students has earned him Food Science and Technology Outstanding Undergraduate and Graduate Professor awards five times. Pegg has received a major teaching honor from his department, the college or the university every year since 2007.”  “In addition to his time in the classroom, Pegg has received accolades from producer groups for his research into bioactive chemistry and the health benefits of pecans, peanuts, peaches and other crops.”  (http://www.foodscience.caes.uga.edu/)

His research and publishing partner in Nitrite Curing of Meat is Fereidoon Shahidi.  He is a university research professor at the Department of Biochemistry, Memorial University of Newfoundland St. John’s, Canada.  This monumental food scientist “has received numerous awards, including the 2005 Stephen Chang Award from the Institute of Food Technologists, for his outstanding contributions to science and technology. Between 1996 and 2006, Shahidi was the most published and most frequently cited scientist in the area of food, nutrition, and agricultural science as listed by the ISI.”  (wikipedia.org/wiki/Fereidoon_Shahidi)


Hoagland starts with the colour pigment of fresh meat, oxyhemoglobin.  The word itself tells us what it is.  Oxy is oxygen, connected to hem which is hamatin or the colouring group and globin, the protein.  In Oxyhemoglobin, oxygen is connected to “hemoglobin, which is the protein molecule in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to the body’s tissues and returns carbon dioxide from the tissues back to the lungs.” (medicinenet)

Hoagland states that oxyhemoglobin, is “part of which is one of the constituents of the blood remaining in the tissues, while the remainder is a normal constituent of the muscles,” and “responsible for the red color of fresh lean meat, such as beef, pork, and mutton.”  (Hoagland, R.  1914)  Today we know that the colour of fresh lean meat is due to myoglobin, “the pigment in muscle that carries oxygen” (medicinenet), as opposed to protein in the blood.

Hoagland and other older researchers of his day used hemoglobin and not myoglobin in their research.  The reason for this was “a matter of convenience” and “a matter of necessity since myoglobin was not isolated and purified until 1932,” (Theorell, 1932) a full 18 years after Hoagland published.  “In spite of the differences between hemoglobin and myoglobin, Urbain and Jensen (1940) considered the properties of hemoglobin and its derivatives sufficiently like those of myoglobin to allow the use of hemoglobin in studies of meat pigments.”  (Cole, Morton Sylvan, 1961: 2)

Despite the fact that it is oxymyoglobin that is responsible for the bright red colour of fresh meat, we follow his arguments using oxyhemoglobin since the same mechanisms of colour development apply in both proteins.  Pegg and Shahidi use myoglobin.

Our current understanding:  Oxymyoglobin (MbCodeCogsEqn (1), bright red, CodeCogsEqn (2) – ferrous state)

Oxymyoglobin is the result of myoglobin’s affinity for CodeCogsEqn (1) and it results in a bright red bloom within minutes of fresh meat’s exposed to air.  The reaction is rapid and reversible.  The continued red bloom depends on a “continuing supply of CodeCogsEqn (1) .”  (Pegg, R. B and Shahidi, F; 2000:  31)  This is “because the enzymes  involved in oxidative metabolism rapidly use the available CodeCogsEqn (1).”  (Pegg, R. B and Shahidi, F; 2000:  31)

“With time, the small layer of oxymyoglobin present on the surface of the meat propagates downward, but the depth to which CodeCogsEqn (1) diffuses depends on several factors, such as the activity of oxygen-utilizing enzymes (i.e., CodeCogsEqn (1) consumption rate of the meat), temperature, pH, and external CodeCogsEqn (1) pressure.  In other words, as air diffuses inward, an CodeCogsEqn (1) and a color gradient are established throughout the meat.  Muscles differ in their rates of enzyme activity which, in turn, regulate the amount of CodeCogsEqn (1) available in the outermost layers of tissue.  As the pH and temperature of the tissue increase, enzymes become more active and the CodeCogsEqn (1) content is reduced.  Consequently, maintaining the temperature of the meat near freezing point minimizes the rate of enzyme activity and the CodeCogsEqn (1) utilization and helps maintain a bright red color for the maximum possible time.”  (Pegg, R. B and Shahidi, F; 2000:  31)


Generally, Hoagland saw the cured colour of meat as “the same color as the fresh meat.” (Hoagland, R.  1914)  There is a difference between the cured colour of fresh meat and the cured colour of cured-cooked meat.  He recognised this difference and said that “the red color is not destroyed on cooking, but rather it is intensified.”  (Hoagland, R.  1914)

The nature of these two different kinds of colour is the subject of his article, “undertaken for the purpose of obtaining more complete information concerning the color of raw and cooked salted meats.”  (Hoagland, R.  1914)  It is therefore important to distinguish between the cured coulour and cured-cooked colour.  This is important.  The influential South African food scientist, Dr. Francois Mellett, developed a method of bacon curing that uses only the cured colour.  He achieves this by curing and then freezing the meat.  Freezing the meat should speed up the curing reaction as reagents are “forced together.”  It is important to understand that the colour achieved in this way is different from the cured-cooked colour of conventional bacon. This is a novel invention with definate application, but understanding the different properties is very important since fresh cured meat and cooked-cured meat react differently to exposure to oxygen and light.


In his historical summary, he lists the following developments that lead up to his own work.

->  Weiler and Riegel

“Weiler and Riegel (1897), in the examination of a number of samples of American sausages, obtained a red coloring matter on extracting the samples with alcohol and other solvents, which color they concluded to be in some manner due to the action of the salts used in curing upon the natural color of the meat. On account of similarity of spectra, this color was considered to be methemoglobin.”  (Hoagland, R.  1914)

Our current understanding:  metmyoglobin (metMb, brown, CodeCogsEqn (4)   ferric state)

Methemoglobin and metmyoglobin actually is the brown colour of meat which develops after meat has been standing for some time.  Myoglobin exists within the interior of meat and has a purple-red colour.  “This is the colour of Myoglobin” (Pegg, R. B and Shahidi, F; 2000:  31)  Reductants generated within a cell by enzyme activity prevents the meat from turning brown, until this is no longer available.  The heme iron (in the ferrous state – CodeCogsEqn (2))  is oxidized to the ferric state (CodeCogsEqn (4)) .  (Pegg, R. B and Shahidi, F; 2000:  31)

It is generated as follows.  The superoxide anion (CodeCogsEqn (3).gif) is removed from the hematin.  A water molecule is added.  This gives a high-spin ferric hematin.  “The ferric ion, unlike its ferrous counterpart, has a  high nuclear charge and does not engage in strong CodeCogsEqn (5) bonding.  Therefore, metmyoglobin is unable to form an oxygen adduct.  (Pegg, R. B and Shahidi, F; 2000:  31)

->  Lehmann and Kisskalt

Lehmann (1899) identified nitrite as responsible for the red colour of meat and not nitrate.  Kisskalt (1899) confirmed this and noted that “if the meat was first allowed to stand several days in contact with saltpeter and then boiled, the red color appeared”  (Hoagland, R.  1914)

->  John Scott Haldane

John Scott Haldane (1901) made several important observations after an extensive study of the colour of cooked salted meat.

He is the first to attribute the colour of cooked salted meat “to the presence of the nitric oxide hemochromogen” (reduced hematin; Fe in reduced ferrous state, CodeCogsEqn (2); obtained by boiling oxymyoglobin/ oxyhemoglobin with a reducing agent). (Hoagland, R.  1914)  He correctly concluded that nitric oxide hemochromogen is “resulting from the reduction of the coloring matter of the uncooked meat, nitric-oxid hemoglobin (NO-hemoglobin).”  Hemochrome can be any of a number of complexes with the iron-porphyrin complex with one or two basic ligands (normally amines).

The terms nitric oxide hemochromogen, nytrosomyochrome, nitrosyl hemochrome, nitric oxide hemochromenitric oxide denatured globin hemochromogen, denatured globin nitric oxide ferrohemochrome, pigment of cured, heated meat, are all synonyms to refer to the same thing.  (ICMSF;  1980:  140)  Chromogen is a substance which can be easily converted into dye or other coloured compounds for example through oxidation.  Since the 1940’s, the term “hemochrome” (hem and chrome) has been used instead of “hemochromogen” and “parahematin.” “The term “hemochromogen” is associated historically with an erroneous conception of one of these substances as the colored component of hemoglobin. These compounds are in any case not “chromogens” in the chemical sense, i.e., leuco compounds. The new term has the additional advantage of greater brevity.”  (Lemberg, R. and Legge, J. W.; 1949:  165)

Linossier was the first to describe it and produced it by passing nitric oxide through hematin.  (Haldane, J. S..  1901)  After careful study and observation, Haldene drew the following brilliant conclusions.

1. “The red colour of cooked salt meat is due to the presence of NO-haemochromogen.”  (Haldane, J. S..  1901)

2. “The NO-haemochromogen is produced by the decomposition by heat of NO-haemoglobin, to which the red colour of unsalted meat is due.”  (Haldane, J. S..  1901)

3. “The NO-haemoglobin is formed by the action of nitrite on haemoglobin in the absence of oxygen, and in presence of reducing agents.”  (Haldane, J. S..  1901)

4. “The nitrite is formed by reduction within the raw meat of the nitre used in salting.”  (Haldane, J. S..  1901)

5. “The nitrite is destroyed by prolonged cooking.” (Haldane, J. S..  1901)

Our current understanding:  nitric oxide hemochrome (Cooked Cured Meats – one nitric oxide molecule per heme). 

When heated, NO-myoglobin (nitrosyl myoglobin) is transformed to nitrosyl myocromogen, which is denatured NO-myochromogen.  This happens upon thermal processing.  The globin unfolds (denatures); the iron atom comes loose from the globin; the unfolded globin folds itself around the heme functional part (moiety) which is the  iron-porphyrin complex.  This brings about the characteristic reddish-pinkish colour of cooked cured meat.  (Pegg, R. B and Shahidi, F; 2000:  42)

By way of application, note that “there is a direct relationship between the concentration of NO-myoglobin in the muscle and the intensity of the cured colour” and NOT the nitrite level.  “When muscle tissue are cured with equivalent amounts of nitrite, a more intense cured meat colour is produced in,” for example, corned beef as opposed to ham.  “The addition of excess nitrite to that required to fix the pigment does not increase the intensity of the cured meat colour.”  (Pegg, R. B and Shahidi, F; 2000:  42)  This being the case, it is also true that if the concentration of nitrite and therefore nitric oxide formation is to low, that it will impact colour development.

He mentions Orlow (1903) who stated that “the red color of sausages is due to the action upon the color of the fresh meat of the nitrites resulting from the reduction of the saltpeter used in the process of manufacture.”  (Hoagland, R.  1914)

“Humphrey Davy in 1812 (cited by Hermann, 1865) and Hoppe-Seyler (1864) noted the action of nitric oxid upon hemoglobin, but it appears that Hermann (1865) was the first to furnish us with much information as to the properties of this derivative of hemoglobin. He prepared NO-hemoglobin by first passing hydrogen through dog’s blood until spectroscopic examination showed that all of the oxyhemoglobin had been reduced to hemoglobin, then saturating the blood with pure nitric oxid prepared from copper and nitric acid, and finally again passing hydrogen through the blood to remove all traces of free nitric oxid.” (Hoagland, R.  1914)

By the time of publishing this article in 1914, he notes that NO-hemoglobin was mentioned very briefly in most of the texts on physiological or organic chemistry as being a hemoglobin derivative of “but little practical importance.” “Abderhalden (1911) and Cohnheim (1911), however, describe this compound quite fully.”  (Hoagland, R.  1914)

Hoagland conducted several further experiments with NO-hemoglobin and outlined it in his 1914 paper.


He first deals with the Colour of Uncooked Salted Meats.  “To a sample of finely ground fresh beef was added 0.2 percent of potassium nitrate, and the material was placed in a refrigerated room at a temperature of 34 deg F (1 deg C) for seven days. At the end of that period the meat had a bright-red color, but gave evidence of incipient putrefaction.”  (Hoagland, R.  1914)  He did the same by curing the meat with nitrite.  He correctly concluded that the colour of fresh meat, cured with nitrite, is due to NO-hemoglobin.  (Hoagland, R.  1914)

Our current understanding:  nitric oxide myoglobin (NOMb, red, CodeCogsEqn (2)).  

“When nitrite is added to comminuted meat, the meat turns brown because nitrite acts as a strong heme oxidant.  The oxidizing capacity of nitrite increases as the pH of meat decreases, but nitrite itself may also partly be oxidized to nitrate during curing and storage.  Myoglobin and CodeCogsEqn (6) are oxidized to metMb by nitrite.  The ion itself can be reduced to CodeCogsEqn (13).  These products can combine with one another to form an intermediate pigment, nitrosylmetmyogloboin (CodeCogsEqn (8)).” (Pegg, R. B and Shahidi, F; 2000:  40)

CodeCogsEqn (9)     

“Nitrosylmetmyoglobin is unstable.  It auto-reduces with time and in the presence of endogenous and exogenous reductants in the postmortem muscle tissue to the corresponding relatively stable Fe(II) form, nitrosylmyoglobin (NOMb).”  (Pegg, R. B and Shahidi, F; 2000:  40)

A new suggestion was proposed as a mechanism for the meat curing process by Killday et al. (1988)


“They suggested that CodeCogsEqn (8) is more adequately described as an imidazole-centered protein radical.  This radical undergoes autoreduction yielding NOMb, and lacking exogenous reductants, reducing groups within the protein can donate electrons to the imidazole radical.”  (Pegg, R. B and Shahidi, F; 2000:  40)

An interesting study by Corforth et al. (1998) strengthened the mechanism posed by Killday et al. (1988).  “Cornforth and co-workers examined the relative contribution of CO and CodeCogsEqn (11) towards pink ring formation in gas oven cooked beef roast and turkey rolls.  Data showed that pinking was not evident with up to 149 ppm of CO or 5 ppm of NO present in the burning gases; however, as little as 0.4 and 2.5ppm of CodeCogsEqn (14) was sufficient to cause pinking of the turkey and beef products, respectively.  Cornforth et al. (1998) proposed that pinking previously attributed to CO and NO gas in ovens is instead due to CodeCogsEqn (14) which has much greater reactivity than NO with moisture at the surface of meats.  Their argument was predicated on the fact that NO has a low water solubility unlike that of CodeCogsEqn (14).  Therefore on the basis of this consideration, NO would be an unlikely candidate to cause pink ring, since at the low levels typical of gas ovens or smokehouses, NO would be unable to enter the aqueous meat system in sufficient quantity to cause pink ring at depths up to 1 cm from the surface.  On the other hand, CodeCogsEqn (14) reacts readily with water to produce nitrous and nitric acid.”  (Pegg, R. B and Shahidi, F; 2000:  40, 42)

CodeCogsEqn (12)

“Nitrous acid produced at meat surfaces would be free to diffuse inwards, where endogenous or exogenous meat reductants, including Mb itself may regenerate NO.  Nitric oxide binds to MetMb followed by rapid autoreduction to NOMb as suggested by Killday et al. (1988).”  (Pegg, R. B and Shahidi, F; 2000:  42)

CodeCogsEqn (13)

CodeCogsEqn (17)

CodeCogsEqn (16)

NOMb is therefore responsible for the characteristic red colour of fresh cured meat before thermal processing. The NOMb pigment can be produced by the direct action of NO on a deoxygenated solution of Mb, but in conventional curing, it arises from the action of nitrite, as stated above.  (Pegg, R. B and Shahidi, F; 2000:  42)

Hoagland’s conclusion in his 1914 article is, however, limited to NO formation and its role in cured colour formation.  He states that “the evidence is ample to show that the action of saltpeter in the curing of meats is primarily to cause the formation of NO-hemoglobin; but it is very possible that under certain conditions of manufacture or processing to which salted meats are subject, the NO-hemoglobin may undergo changes.”


“Haldane has shown that the red color of cooked salted meats is due to the presence of NO-hemochromogen, a reduction product of NO-hemoglobin to which the color of uncooked salted meats is due.”… “While Haldane’s work seems to show clearly that the color of cooked salted meats is due to NO-hemochromogen, it has seemed desirable to study the subject further and to determine especially if the NO-hemoglobin of uncooked meats be reduced to NO-hemochromogen under other conditions than by cooking. The fact that in the examination of certain uncooked salted meats a coloring matter had been obtained similar to NO-hemoglobin yet not possessing all of the properties of that compound, as has already been noted, led the writer to believe that the coloring matter of some uncooked salted meats might be due, in part at least, to NO-hemochromogen. NO-hemochromogen is but briefly mentioned in the literature. The compound is described by Linossier (1887), Haldane (1901), and by Abderhalden (1911).” (Hoagland, R.  1914)

“The structural relation between NO-hemoglobin and NO-hemochromogen is simple. NO-hemoglobin is a molecular combination of nitric oxid and hemoglobin—the latter compound consisting of the proteid group, globin, on one hand, and the coloring group, hemochromogen, on the other. NO-hemoglobin and NO-hemochromogen differ from each other simply in that one contains the proteid group, globin, while the other does not. Apparently, then, a method of treatment which would split off the globin group from NO-hemoglobin should result in the production of NO-hemochromogen, provided, of course, that the procedure did not in turn change or destroy the NO-hemochromogen produced. As has already been noted by Haldane, it was found that when a solution of NO-hemoglobin was heated to boiling, a brick-red precipitate formed, in contrast to the dark-brown precipitate which formed on heating a solution of oxyhemoglobin or of blood. The brick-red precipitate was filtered off and was then extracted with alcohol, which gave a lightred colored extract showing a spectrum with a fairly heavy band just at the right of the D line. This spectrum corresponds with that of NO-hemochromogen. On standing, the color of the extract faded rapidly.” (Hoagland, R.  1914)

“The evidence seems to show very clearly that the color of cooked salted meats is due to the NO-hemochromogen resulting from the reduction of the NO-hemoglobin of the raw salted meats on boiling.” (Hoagland, R.  1914)

“It is very probable that in the case of meats which have been cured with saltpeter or of meat food products in which saltpeter has been used in the process of manufacture, the reduction of NO-hemoglobin to NO-hemochromogen takes place to a greater or lesser degree, depending upon conditions of manufacture and storage. The two compounds are so closely allied that their differentiation in one and the same product is not a matter of great importance.” (Hoagland, R.  1914)

Our current understanding:  Nitrosylmyochromogen or nitrosylprotoheme.  

Upon thermal processing, globin denatures and detaches itself from the iron atom and surrounds the hem moiety. Nitrosylmyochromogen or nitrosylprotoheme is the pigment formed upon cooking , and it confers the characteristic pink colour to cooked cured meats.”  (Pegg, R. B and Shahidi, F; 2000:  44)

“Although the Cooked Cured Meat Pigment (CCMP) is a heat-stable NO hemochrome as evident by the fact that it doesnt undergo further colour change upon additional thermal processing, it is susceptible to photodissociation.  Furthermolre in the presence of oxygen, CCMP’s stability is limited by the rate of loss of NO.

CodeCogsEqn (18)

This effect is important if cured meats are displayed under strong fluorescent lighting while they are also exposed to air.  Under these conditions, the surface colour of cured meat will fade in a few hours, whereas under identical conditions, fresh meat will hold its colour for a few days.”  “A brownish-gray colour develops on the exposed meat surface during colour fading;  this pigment, sometimes called hemichrome, has its heme group in the ferric state.  The most effective way of preventing light fading is to exclude CodeCogsEqn (1) contact with the cured meat surfaces.  It is routinely accomplished by vacuum packaging the meat in CodeCogsEqn (1) impermiable films.  If CodeCogsEqn (1) is absent from the package, NO cleaved from the heme moieties by light cannot be oxidized and can recombine with the heme.”  (Pegg, R. B and Shahidi, F; 2000:  44)


Hoagland and other researchers from that period laid the foundation to much of our current understanding of meat curing by drawing a distinction between fresh cured meat colour and cooked cured colour.  The first detailed mechanism in the development of cured meat colour that started to emerge was through the action of nitric oxide.  Pegg and Shahidi stated in 2000 that “to form cured meat pigment, two reduction steps are necessary.  The first reduction of nitrite to NO and the second is conversion of NOmetMB to NOMb.”  (Pegg, B. R. and Shahidi, F.; 2000:  44, 45)

An interesting side note.  Hoagland wondered if it is possible to produce the cooked cured colour of meat in another way than curing with nitrite and heat treatment.  Pegg and Shahidi have dedicated much work along similar lines – to identify a curing system that will replace nitrite curing.  In meat curing, this has always been the holy grail which on the one hand will in all likelihood remain an unattainable concept and on the other hand, as our understanding of nitrite grows, will be deemed unnecessary.

The chemical reaction sequence from nitrite to NO, leading to the formation of NOMb will be described in the next article.


The Bismarck Tribune (Bismarck, North Dakota); 10 July 1912; page 2.

Cole, Morton Sylvan, “Relation of sulfhydryl groups to the fading of cured meat ” (1961). Retrospective Theses and Dissertations. Paper 2402

Haldane, J. S..  1901.  The Red Colour of Salted Meat.  Journal of Hygiene 1: 115 – 122

Hoagland, R.  1914.  Cloring matter of raw and cooked salted meats.  Laboratory Inspector, Biochemie Division, Bureau of Animal Industry.  Journal of Agricultural Research, Vol. Ill, No. 3 Dept. of Agriculture, Washington, D. C. Dec. 15, 1914.

Lemberg, R. and Legge, J. W..  1949.  Hematin Compounds and Bile Pigments.  Interscience Publishers, Inc.

Soltanizadeh, N., Kadivar, M..  2012.  A new, simple method for the production of meat-curing pigment under optimised conditions using response surface methodology.   Meat Science 92 (2012) 538–547  Elsevier Ltd.






Image 1:  Ralph Hoagland.  Oakland Tribune, 5 July 1927

Ducks and Stuphins – Sausage Makers and their OXFORD SAUSAGES

Ducks and Stuphins – Sausage Makers and their OXFORD SAUSAGES
By Eben van Tonder
20 August 2019



Food offers us a beautiful opportunity to not only look into the distant past but to taste what our forefathers tasted.  It is to experience history!  The allure is irresistible!  I have not done a study on the earliest reference to the Oxford sausage but found this fascinating reference from an author from the 1840s.

His name was Joseph Thomas James Hewlett and he lived from 1800 to 1847.  He was a novelist, son of Joseph Hewlett of the parish of St. Pancras, Middlesex, and was born in 1800.  He was educated at the Charterhouse, where Lord-chancellor Eldon placed him. On 13 May 1818, he matriculated from Worcester College, Oxford, and on 5 Feb. 1822, he graduated with a B.A..  On 25 May 1826, he received an M.A.. (Cooper, 1885 – 1900)

He was initially appointed head-master of Abingdon grammar school.  His career there was, however, a failure and he did not hold the post long.  His subsequent life was a prolonged struggle with poverty. Retiring to Letcombe Regis, near Wantage, Berkshire, he endeavoured to gain an income by writing novels. In 1840, through the intercession of Fox Maule (afterwards Lord Panmure), an old schoolfellow, Lord-chancellor Cottenham presented him to the rectory of Little Stambridge, near Rochford, Essex, of the annual value of 175l. He died there on 24 Jan. 1847.  One of his novels was ‘College Life; or the Proctor’s Note-Book,’ 3 vols., London, 1843.  (Cooper, 1885 – 1900)

In this novel, we find “The History of Lady Fleshington Freeliver”.  It is this section that he gives us a nugget for the food historian.

Lady Fleshington Freeliver

He tells the story of one Daniel Ducks who lived on Penny-Farting-Street.  He was appointed as the “purveyor of milk” to St. Jude, the local college.  Not only was he famous for his milk, but also for his eggs.  His eggs were so famous that it was said that “the men of St. Jude’s were perpetually subjected to the inroads of their friends at breakfast-time, on the sole plea that fresh eggs were not to be obtained elsewhere.”  He was a very astute man, able to glean the financial standing of the many people who wanted to befriend him.  In particular the many ladies.  (Hewlett, 1843)

One family caught his eyes in on account of their abundant financial resources, the Stuphins.  “They were an amiable old couple, who had one unmarried but quite-ready-to-be-married daughter, who assisted them in the pleasant and profitable trade of sausage-making.  They did not manufacture those horrible concoctions of all manner of nastiness, which, to hide their filthy component parts are tied up in opaque chitterlings (small intestines of a pig);  but the pure, the delicious, the far-famed digestible OXFORD SAUSAGES!”  (Hewlett, 1843)

Hewlett pauses to make an editorial comment which is my interest in the account and the reason why I will forever hold him in high esteem and be grateful to him.  He writes:  “before I proceed in my narrative, I feel benevolently disposed to confer on the readers of these pages – that is, upon “society in general”, a favour which, I trust, they will duly appreciate.  Those who have eaten the old OXFORD SAUSAGES will do so by anticipation, when I tell them what I am about to disclose to them the way of making the delicacy according to the recipe given to me out of gratitude for my delicate attention to her by Lady Fleshington Freeliver, who pronounced them edibles which, “no lady or gentleman ought to be without.”  The other division of the world, who have not yet partaken of the mixture,  will, I am sure, on making “one trail” give “further orders” to their cooks, and gratefully give me a place in that best of lady’s albums, the family recipe book.” (Hewlett, 1843)

He is tempted to disclose the historical origins of the recipe, but then, for fear of annoying his readers he suffices with the following remarks.  “The Romans owe the introduction of them [these sausages] at their meals to that great fighting-man and voluminous author, Varro, who obtained the recipe from the Lucanians.  Whether it was handed down from them to old Simon Stuphins, by written document or oral tradition, I must leave to those who delight in such abstruse inquiries to determine. Simon inherited the recipe and here it is. (Hewlett, 1843)

To Make OXFORD SAUSAGES:  Ingredients

1 1/2 pound pigmeat (cut from griskins, rindless)  – A lean cut of meat from the loin of a pig.
1/2 pound of veal
1 1/2 pounds beef suet (Suet is the raw, hard fat of beef or mutton found around the loins and kidneys)
5 eggs (yolk and white)
Dessert spoon of sifted, well-dried sage
Pepper and salt to taste


Chop meat into small blocks

Pound into marble mortar till short and tender

Chop suet very fine.

Beat eggs and remove white specks, pour over meat and suet.

Knead it together.  Add sifted sage, salt, and pepper, and mix till distributed evenly through the mix. When well mixed, press it together.  Keep it from air in a cool place.  Roll the sausages on a flour board and use very little grease in frying them. (Hewlett, 1843)

Note to Vendors and Machine Sausage Makers

Hewlett makes the following additional note before returning to his tale.  He entreats the vendors and machine sausage-makers of the University “not to be offended with his betraying the secret of their trade” and he assures them that it will not interfere with their local interests.  “The undergraduates are not allowed to compound their own sausage meat; and the graduates are quite satisfied with what they can obtain ready-compounded.”  (Hewlett, 1843)

The Novel Continues

Daniel Ducks set his sights on Miss Stuphins and her parent’s strong financial position. He carefully timed his first visit to the mother.  I quote from the novel one paragraph that tells the rest of the events.  “In less than one week from that eventful evening, the neighbors who had their suspicions, as they afterward said, observed that Daniel’s house was “to let,” and saw a painter obliterate the old letters over the sausage-shop, and supply their places with this announcement,


(Hewlett, 1843)


OXFORD SAUSAGES!  A fascinating mention.  I will do a study to find the earliest reference to the ingredients of this famed sausage but as far as references go, this one is exquisite!  I am heading for the kitchen to make my first small batch.  Forever grateful to Hewlett’s tale of Daniel Ducks.

(c)  eben van tonder


Cooper, T..  1885 – 1900.  Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 26
Hewlett, Joseph Thomas James.  Smith, Elder & Co    

Hewlett, J.  1843.  College Life; or, the Proctor’s Notebook.  Henry Colburn.

Photo credit:  https://www.meatsandsausages.com/sausage-recipes/fresh/uk/oxford-traditional

Salt Bush

Salt Bush
15 August 2019
By: Eben van Tonder

An installment in the series, The Salt Bridge

Sheep Kraaling in the Karoo
Sheep Kraal in the Karoo


I have been searching for salt in Southern Africa as I have done around the world.  Ancient people knew salt very well!  They knew that high salt concentrations occur naturally in certain plants. The ash from these plants was used to “salt” meat before they were hung out to dry and used extensively in cooking.  I realised that one can get a glimpse of ancient technology by seeing what Western scientists learned from the indigenous peoples they encountered.  Salt that is extracted from vegetation is an excellent case in point.  Shrubs and trees that contain large concentrations of salt were of interest to Western Scientists, not for cooking purposes, but for animal feed.  I imagine how Westerners pulled up their noses for meat that was salted with ash, and how botanical scientists reveled in the knowledge of the saltbush for the purpose of feeding sheep, as if they discovered it.

South African Karoo

Any farmer will tell you that livestock needs salt to be healthy.  In South Africa, from very early days of colonisation, farmers in the Karoo region learned the secret and value of the salt-bush.  The Afrikaner boer gained knowledge of brak-plants or brakveld and knew that livestock will do well to feed on it due to its high salt content.  The fact of its abundance in semi-arid regions like the Karoo and its scarcity in grassland regions explains why semi-desert regions are often preferred for livestock farming with small stock like sheep.  (Beinart, 2003)

Farmers found that saline bushes kept parasites in check and is, therefore, the first to be overgrazed.  Fortunately, these bush have the ability to recover quickly.  Ganna (salsola species) is found in the Karoo region of South Africa.  Salsola is from the Latin salsus, meaning “salty”.  In Australia, the saltbush is the atriplex species and, as in South Africa, it is closely associated with the control of sheep parasites.  (Beinart, 2003)  The name saltbush is derived from the fact that the plants retain salt in their leaves and they are able to grow in areas affected by soil salination.

From South Africa to Australia

The honour of alerting the British colonies of its value goes as far back as 1869 to Kew.  There are many plants that are classified as salt-bush or a sheep bush.  Another excellent example is Penzia virgata.  It is closely related to the common Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) and Wormwood (Artemisia)   (Kew, 1896)  Penzia virgata, the “Goed-Karroo Bosje”, covers large areas of the Karroo Veldt.  In 1873 a report appeared in the Report of the Royal Gardens about the sheep-bush of the Cape of Good Hope that was successfully introduced to South Australia by seeds supplied by Kew in 1969.  Dr. Schomburghk, director of the Botanical Garden, Adelaide, commented on the bush, how suited it is for the Australian climate.  He mentions that it has an “aromatic bitterness” which the sheep likes and which gives the mutton a distinct flavour, very familiar to South Africans. (Kew, 1969)

Australian Species

Ther are many different plants that fit the characteristic as salt bush.  It is especially found in parts of the world where alkaline salts occur as part of the soil, sodium salts in particular.  Goosefoots (Chenopodiaceae) is another excellent example.  These salt-bushes occur naturally in Australia and has been an ally of the sheep farmer for many years.  It is a large family with 302 species in Australia, found especially in arid and saline areas.  Atriplex nummularia Lindl. is, of all the Australian salt-bushes, the most famous. (Alson, 1893)

From Australia, back to South Africa

Not only was the South African salt-bush exported to Australia, but two Australian varieties were successfully introduced to South Africa.  Mr. E Garwood Alston, of the Van Wyk’s Vley Estate, reports that in April 1886 Professor MacOwan sent them six seeds of Atriplex halimoides, Lindl..  Only two of these came up.  One died making the one survivor the mother plant of all subsequent plants in South Africa.  Later, Professor MacOwan sent them seeds from Atriplex nummularia.  (Alson, 1893)

The Australian species are better fodder plants on account that they are less salty than the South African ones.  This means that animals can eat more of it.  It is known in South Africa and Namibia that eating too much of it is detrimental to the health of the animals as can be expected due to the high concentration of salt. (Alson, 1893)

The saltbush family (Salsola species) is large and confusing and includes vegetables such as beetroot (Beta vulgaris) and spinach (Spinacia spp.).   These species not only occur in South Africa in the Karoo, but throughout the drier parts of Namibia.  They are centered around the Luderitz area where over 20 species are endemic to the region and the southern Namib Desert.  (namibian.org)

In 1889, Alston traveled from Parys in the Free State, through Hope Town, Kimberley, Boshof, Bultfontein, Kroonstad, Vredefort and he distributed seeds to the local farmers.  My family hail from these areas and I am intrigued if my Oom Jan Kok has any memory of saltbush on any of their farms.  Kew also sent seeds to the Government Secretaries of the Free State and the Transvaal and various editors of newspapers.  President Reitz of the Free State took a personal interest in the distribution of the seeds to farmers.

India, Algiers, and Namibia

There was an attempt to establish the salt bush in northern parts of India which failed due to high rainfall in certain time of the year.  Seeds were also sent to Algiers and Namibia (German South West Africa) where the country was being stocked by Merino sheep.  (Alson, 1893)

Salvadora persica

Another saltbush is Salvadora persica Garc..  “It is a multi-purpose shrub (Ecocrop, 2011). Saltbush fruits can be eaten raw, cooked, or dried and stored, sometimes as a famine food (Ecocrop, 2011Freedman, 2009Orwa et al., 2009). Saltbush leaves and young shoots may also be used as vegetables. Roots and small branches are used to make toothbrushes in India, Arabia, and Africa. Saltbush yields a soft, termite-resistant wood used for construction and furniture as well as for firewood and charcoal. The seeds contain 30-40% of non-edible oil that has over 50% lauric and myristic acids and few C8 and C10 fatty acids, which makes saltbush an alternative source of oil for the soap and detergent industries. Saltbush also has a wide range of uses in ethno-medicine and ethno-veterinary medicine (Orwa et al., 2009). In veterinary medicine it is mainly used against helminthiasis, brucellosis, retention of the foetal membrane and anthrax (Reuben et al., 2011Toyang et al., 2007Gezahegn, 2006Ole-Miaron, 2003Macharia et al., 2001).

Saltbush is readily browsed by all classes of ruminants. Its leaves make good evergreen fodder, available when other species have disappeared. They are a valuable source of water during droughts, due to their high water content (Shamat et al., 2010Orwa et al., 2009).”  (feedipedia.org)  Many references state that Salvadora persica is not used to cook meat in due to a bad taste of its leaves, while at least one mentions its use with stew meat.


The concept of the saltbush was well established across many regions in the world.  Its knowledge is ancient.  African tradition is replete in reference to its ash being used as a meat preservative and as a condiment.  The source of salt used in cooking and preserving meat.  It was undoubtedly used for millennia as animal feed which is what Western plant scientists picked up on in the 1800s.  The saltbush is an example of ancient technology which had many different applications.  It controlled parasites in animals, served as a source of salt for humans and livestock alike and was and still is used today to treat a variety of ailments depending on the specific variant and species.  It takes us back to unlock one aspect of what made the ancient societies who occupied the stone ruins across Southern Africa work, especially for cattle and sheep farmers.  The evidence is stacking up that salt was an integral part of the lives of the people of Southern Africa.


Alson, G. E..  1893.  “Sheep-Bushes and Salt-Bushes.” Bulletin of Miscellaneous Information (Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew), vol. 1896, no. 115/116, 1896, pp. 129–140. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/4118365

Beinart, W.  2003.  The Rise of Conservation in South Africa: Settlers, Livestock, and the environment 1770 – 1950.  Oxford University Press.



My Memories of Van Wyngaardt

My Memories of Van Wyngaardt

To view the page listing all articles related to memories, visit “My Memories.”

On Monday, 18 March 2019 I started working at Van Wyngaardt in Johannesburg. Here are my memories of the company.

Arrival early 2019

I drove my car up from Cape Town on the weekend of 15 March 2019. I was appointed as sales manager, but the factory was in such a state that it demanded urgent and detailed attention.

Paul, the Van Wyngaardt team and I embarked on a turnaround strategy and the following received urgent attention: hygiene, food safety, recipes; SOP’s (Batch Companions); re-doing spice make-up; equipment maintenance; factory capacity; staff discipline; accounting; product costings; plant refrigeration; client base and business model; suppliers; deboning; production plans; packaging; QC program headed by a competent QC manager; aligning with the right micro laboratory; outsourcing R&D; re-evaluate the product offering; software packages and IT integration; linking sales and operations; distribution; competitive strategies and products; dispatch procedure; revamping night shift. Before we could seriously look at sales, these all had to be addressed.

It took us till the end of July 2019 before the majority of these received sufficient attention for us to shift focus to evaluate and adjust the business model in order to establish a commercially viable operation.

The first order of business was to understand the current business model. We did promotions at existing clients which helped to give us the insight we needed into the reasons why they are actually doing business with Van Wyngaardt. The current business model became clear. There was a big problem in that it did not align with the objectives of the shareholder.

In order to develop a new strategy which is in line with the hopes and dreams of the owner, for myself, I first had to find the soul of the company and the region. Nothing without a soul is ever worth pursuing.

I turned 50 on 13 April 2019 which I celebrated on Eastwick Stud Farm. By itself, this was very symbolic – indicative that something profound is developing. I came from the Western Cape – an area replete with soul and substance. Johannesburg is notoriously soulless and devoid of substance. Why was I here? How did this happen? Previous business partners stole and destroyed the soul of my previous project, Woodys Brands. They killed it! Why did the universe bring me here to Johannesburg?

Glimpses of the answer came to me on the day I turned 50. My introduction to Van Wyngaardt was very rough. A shock to the system, to state it mildly.

Etienne gave me an introduction to his Nguni cattle; I climbed to the top of the Magaliesberg mountains; I discovered old ruins. When this occurred, I took notice. Slowly but surely I started seeing a vision. Nguni cattle showed me their soul and introduced me to the ancient inhabitants who took me in and my eyes were renewed. The haze of the violence done to Woodys by my previous partners lifted and I started seeing clearly. I fell in love with the concept of this company, Van Wyngaardt.


In my heart has always been one certainty: together with colleagues and loved ones we will achieve the impossible! Paul and I headed the turn-around team. Carlo joined us from Cape Town as production manager. Jaques was appointed to head Food Safety and QC. Johann continued to ensure that staffing is done correctly; Hennie took over electrical work; Jonothan made dispatch his own. Julian’s staff from Johannesburg took over the refrigeration plant with Lu as the point man. Slowly but surely a new model started taking shape in our collective mind. Tristan, Minette, and Lauren continued to be instrumental in motivation and encouragement.


A new concept was first suggested by Frank from Castlemain; a year later precipitated by Haresh Keswani and Etienne Lotter. Concepts that started in Cheviot and Gorde Bay in New Zealand around Manuka huney now distilled. Etienne and Christo continued preaching a very focussed vision. I hiked the ancient ruins while my family remained pivotal. The Van Wyngaardt vision started turned into reality. Cherise, Nicole, Jocelyn – they all became custodians of the future of something remarkable! Carlo with Stephen by his side continued to improve on the basics of our growth and transformation, the factory itself.

Back at the factory key aspects of running a meat plan were addressed. We were all given heart and soul to the project! After one deep clean I landed up in the emergency unit with severe breathing difficulty. Some colleagues left us but even more importantly was the ones who joined us. The team grew in its ability. Dr. Francois Mellett re did all our functional ingredients and continue to work closely with the team.

A New Concept

Product quality took a major step forward. This was another foundation of a new strategy. In August 2019 a new way of marketing the range was launched. A conduit for high-quality German, Spanish, Italian, Danish, Dutch, Belgium, and English cured and fermented products. The quest for its African soul continued. The goal was and is nothing less than to create something authentic which will celebrate the great culinary heritage of our land.

Years of research started bearing fruit. There emerged evidence of a great heritage of smoked, fermented and cured meat, born from the African soil. Dr. Henry Lichtenstein describes a scene in his book, “Travels in Southern Africa” that conjures up the heart of Van Wyngaardt.  He writes that when their party traveling through South Africa approached the Winterhoek Mountains in the Cape, they met an old German who once worked for the East Indian Company and who is a veteran of the Esterhazy’s regiment.  For the greater part of the year (he) saw no Europeans, lived among his African friends and sustained himself almost entirely on dried mutton and biltong.” The Guardian (London, England), 21 July 1952, page, from the article, “Biltong for the Arctic.”

I imagine his surname to have been Van Wyngaardt. He knew how to prepare the best German cured and fermented dishes but was clearly influenced by African tradition. By drying the strips of meat, he created biltong which is an African dish, influenced by North European practices of adding vinegar to their hams.

This is the heart of the spirit of Van Wyndaardt!  It takes the best from Europe and fuses it with homegrown African dishes and curing methods. The influence comes from all the people and tribes of this land. From Boer to Brit, German to Italian and Spanish. From Tswana, Sotho, Venda, Swazi, Xhosa, and Zulu. From the Khoi to the San Bushman.

Just after we launched the revamped concept in Jasmyn, Lauren joined me in Johannesburg to lend a hand in rolling out the new strategy. It was in its infancy and we needed to think on our feet.

Paul crunch the numbers and kept us all focused on the bottom line. A master of good practices, he diligently patrolled the fences and worked on the strategy.

The ancient voices spoke to me from the technology they embraced, the cities they built, the lands they walked and the food they prepared. I am not sure where any of this will end, but I am convinced that the universe has uniquely gifted and prepared the group of people, assembled for the task to give the manifestation of a grand vision.

The story continues!

(c) Eben van Tonder

Builders of the Stone Ruins – From Antiquity to the Pô

Builders of the Stone Ruins – From Antiquity to the Pô
By Eben van Tonder
4 August 2019

An installment in the series, The Salt Bridge

I was hiking in Gauteng, looking for its soul. Tribes emerged out of the bush. It seems like every site I visit, I find circular or semi-circular rock ruins, validating that my visions are about real historical people. Most of these ruins predate the Mfecane, the isiZulu word for “scattering” that took place in the decades preceding the 1830’s when white settlers started arriving in the region. The earliest mention of the Magaliesberg and Witwatersberg mountain ranges was when Sir John Borrow marked it on his 1802 map of the region with the remark “Gold Bearing.” I try and understand their culture in order to reproduce their food! Their culinary heritage is hands down, just as rich as the German, Italian, Spanish and English traditions. Understanding their best dishes begins by an understanding of where they came from, their history, building styles and where they settled. As always, the goal is to produce the most authentic and exquisite dishes. True to the land that people call home!

Ancient Migration: 300 AD to 900AD

At the north of the Congo basin, local inhabitants changed from hunter-gatherers to animal husbandry, metalworking, crop farming and making pottery. Linguistic analysis and studying pottery patterns shows that this area is the site where the Bantu-language speakers of Southern Africa hail from. (Carruthers, 2014) This point dovetails beautifully into two major areas of interest for me being the domestication of cattle, sheep, and pigs in Africa and secondly, the development of “salt-related technology”, important in food preparation and in the metalworking industry. A closely related development is pottery which completely changed the way that food dished were prepared and stored. The look at these tribes, their movement into southern Africa and their development of this new frontier offer insight into a unique culture and in particular, for our purpose, the development of food dishes.

From around 200 until 900 AD the people from north of the Congo basin started migrating south. Two migration streams have been suggested who entered the Magaliesberg around 1200 years ago. The one group was from the Kwale branch from East Africa and the other was the Kalundo from West Africa. The first group arrived in the Magaliesgurg region around 300 AD. They established an extensive settlement at what is now Broederstroom near Hartbeespoort Dam. (Carruthers, 2014)

It would be completely incorrect to think of these people as “primitive”. They established very sophisticated societies which clearly indicate a very sophisticated pallet and approach to food. The evidence clearly points to that.

  1. They had in their hands all the foods that we have today to create our most exquisite dishes. The reasoning is as follows. If you have the same variables or ingredients, then the likelihood is there that they would eventually end up with results (dishes) that are similar to what we have today. We have had meat, grains, milk, herbs, roots, edible leaves, fruits, and vegetables. So did they.
  2. They planted crops on land best suited for it showing that they had great insight into their food production arts.
  3. They stored food for future use to supplement time of want from times of plenty. They knew that food could be traded which again necessitates or at least would lead to technology of preservation of food. They dub pits that they lined with a mixture of dung and mud to store grain in. Methane gas from the cattle dung killed insects that may have spoiled the grain. The created thick-floored storage bins which they elevated on stones to keep them dry.
  4. They worked metals and located in close proximity to the different ores. They identified with the land and were willing to defend it against invaders if necessary. The fact that they worked metals shows us that they had an understanding of the chemical properties of the minerals in their environment, such as sodium bicarbonate to be used as a flux in the metal smelting process to manipulate the melting point. The Broederstroom sites may have been the center of iron production in the region. The iron was possibly traded and the forging of usable implements was probably done at other locations.
  5. They identified with the concept of capital wealth and developed hierarchical structures with leaders endowed with authority and power. Exquisite dishes was without a doubt part of the courts of people in authority in these societies, as was the case around the world.

(Points by Carruthers, 2014 and conclusions related to salt and food, my own)

More Recent Migration: 1300 AD to 1820 AD

From 1300 AD, migrants arrived in the Magaliesburg area and established settlements on the southern slopes. They came from regions north of Botswana and Angola. For many centuries they did not use stone as building material for houses or cattle enclosures. The first stone walls in the region were built around the 1600s.

Enhancements were in all likelihood done to existing structures with stone. It is interesting that the iron age communities of the region continued to co-exist with Late Stone Age people as is shown by sites near Olifantshoek. Here it is seen how these two cultures existed in close proximity for around 500 years.

One of the earliest groups who migrated from the regions of Zambia and Botswana is the Hurutshe. Possibly during the late 17th century, they subdivided and one of the offshoots were the Kwena. Many of the Bakwena moved eastwards under Kgosi Modimosana across the Kgatleng (Elands) River. They settled at Molokwnane on the Ngwaritse (Koster) River on the Western edge of the Magaliesberg region. They flourished until they too split into smaller groups. (Carruthers, 2014)

The story is that one of Modimosana’s sons, Mogopa, broke away with some of his father’s followers and established a chieftainship on the Oori (Crocodile) River near present-day Madibeng. This was followed by further splits. The Kwena be Maake and the Kwena Modimosana ba Mmatau were established. The latter remained at Molokwane. The sprawling stone ruins of the area is a must-visit! Another important Kwena site is located on the farm Olifantspoort. near Olifantsnek Dam. (Carruthers, 2014)

In terms of building technology, from about 1650, the Twana in the Magaliesburg started to build dry-stone walled enclosures or huts. By the 1800s, these structures were elaborate. They often built newer buildings on top of the foundations of older ones. The Kwena Modimosana ba Mmatau built settlements along the lower slopes of the southern Magaliesburg. from Magatasnek to near the present village of Maanhaarrand. The chief at this time was Kgosi Kgaswane. He was one of the most respected chiefs of the region. The Griqua and Korana traders who traveled to this region called the mountain range “Cashan”, a corruption of Kgaswane’s name. The name persisted until around the 1840s. (Carruthers, 2014) In the 1690s, a drought caused the BaKwena to the south to Lesotho. This group became known as the Sotho in an area today known as Phokeng, about 10km north of Rustenburg. (SAHistory)

Another tribe who settled in the region was the Fokeng who settled in the north, close to the present-day Rustenburg. Some say that they preceded the Hurutshe while others believe there is evidence making them one of its splinter groups. Other subgroups settled in the area such as the Phiring, Tlokwa, Taung, and Kgatla. These or some of them may be offshoots from the Kwena and the Fokeng. During this time, under the leadership of chief Musi, a number of Nguni people moved into the region. They came from the eastern coastal lowlands and occupied the present-day Mpumalanga and regions east of the Magaliesburg. These people were later known as the “northern” Ndebele. They are distinct from the Ndebele invaders under Mzilikazi in 1817. (Carruthers, 2014)

One of the subgroups of these Ndebele was the Pô. They migrated further westwards into Twana territory than any other Ndebele group. They settled in the Wonderboom area and from there moved further west to Tlhogokgolo Mountain (Wohluterskop). They were surrounded by the Twana people of the Fokeng and Kwena and gradually took on their culture and language. (Carruthers, 2014) It is the iconic leader of the Pô, Chief Mogale, gave his name to the Magaliesberg.

It is the quest for the origins and fingerprints of the Pô people who was my first glimpse of the heart of the region and I went looking for it. I discovered a mountain top settlement on the farm, Eastwick, comprising of 4 or 5 houses and a large cattle byre, stretching almost 100m, no more than 10km away from Wolhuterskop and the valley where the Pô settled. I know that they were settled in the Broederstroom valley years later and of course, the possibility is there that more of the Pô were settled there due to the fact that they were already in the area. That would make the hilltop settlement on Eastwick probably a Pô settlement. I hiked the likely route up Piesangkloof.

Here is a video I did of the site:


Analyzing the ruins in the area, scientists conclude that originally there were small and dispersed homesteads. People had cattle and farmed the land. It was subsistence living as opposed to large-scale communal living. Over time, these dispersed homesteads were morphed into aggregated communities.

Starting in the early 1800s, there is a move towards the establishment of towns with a social hierarchy. These communities were complex and interrelated. Unfortunately, they were wiped out by the Mfakane.

Typically there was a capital with secondary and tertiary settlements. This is seen in many of the ruins where there is a megacity surrounded by smaller settlements. This is the pattern found at the Suikerbosrand and the Kungwini 4 x 4 treck at Bronkhorstspruit.

The community at Bronhortspruit was an iron age community. Johan Klopper found iron arrowheads buried at the site. There is no reason to think that this was not smelted and forged at the site.

The fact that the larger kraals are seen as cattle kraals is something that is disputed in academia. Robert Thornton from Wits University concludes that such stone-walled structures were the sites of ancient rituals. “There’s no conceivable way they could have been for cattle. Ask m farmer. He’ll laugh at you. They have no doors, and the stones are not high enough [to keep them enclosed],” according to Thornton.

He points to a site he is working on, located north of Machadodorp in Mpumalanga. “They’re not random. They’re along mineral lines.” “I think some were used as metalworking ritual sites … Southern African sangomas are the descendants of earlier guilds of technical specialists.”

The people from these communities produced iron, glass and gold objects using high-temperature technology, according to Thornton. According to him, it was when European products (with their more advanced technology) began flooding into Africa, it destroyed the local trade. This contributed to the Mfecane as peoples livelihoods were destroyed.

A paper was published in the Journal of Archaeological Science in 2012 by Karim Sadr of Wits and Xavier Rodier of the Université de Tours in France where the “conventional” view was presented that breaks the stone-walled ruins down into three groups:

  1. The first group is early Sesotho-speaking immigrants. The structures set up by them have an outer perimeter wall, with smaller circles inside.
  2. The second group is Setswana speakers who constructed a scalloped perimeter wall, which wasn’t always enclosed but contained clusters of smaller circles.
  3. The third group descended from the first group of Sesotho speakers. These came into contact with the Tswana. These kraals are characterised of being a hodgepodge of the first two styles: “a confusion of inner enclosures within a continuous perimeter wall”, which was sometimes straight, sometimes scalloped.

Sadr and Rodier make another important “evolutionary” note related to the formation of hilltop settlements such as the site at Suikerbosramd. They wrote, “Around Kaditshwene, Boeyens (2003: 69) has observed that the dispersed sites from AD 1675 – 1750 had no scallops in their outer walls, while aggregation was a feature of settlement patterns from AD 1750 -1790, followed by a move to defensible hill-top mega-sites which took place in AD 1790 – 1823.” (Sadr and Rodier; 2011)

Food for Thought

The technology related to iron and building style has traditionally been the area of focus when talking about these late stone age and early iron age people. The use of plants for medicine is dealt with in great detail, but what did their everyday food look like in terms of meat. How did they cook their meat and how did they prepare it for future use?

  • Ashes to Ashes

The people who settled in the Magaliesburg knew salt well and was able to extract it from trees and bush through its ash. Thys Koen is the manager of the Eastwick Stud Farm and tells me that the local people of the region use sickle bush as their source of ash or hard-wood. He confirms the practice of salting meat with this ash before it is hung out to dry. After three of four weeks hanging outside in the wind and sun, it turns black like biltong. He also confirms the practice to cook the dried meat in water before it is consumed.

The other way that prepared it was to knock the ash off the meat and to braai (BBQ) it. They would sometimes pulverize the meat after drying, before cooking. In a world where energy sources are scarce, it is a natural way of reducing the amount of fuel needed in the form of cow dung or dead trees to soften the meat. It struck me that this exact characteristic of tenderizing meat is at the heart of much of our cooking technology. The reality is that meat, especially game, is tough and may even be one of the reasons why we started cooking and roasting our meat. We have seen before that fermentation (leaving the carcass to ferment and “soften”) was in all likelihood the oldest form of meat storage and preparing it consumption. (How did Ancient Humans Preserve Food?)

Thys refers me to a kind of a cake that formed in the ash that woman would dig up and apply it to their skins for moisturizing. His memories go back to him as a child, growing up in the Benoni area on the East Rand. In all likelihood, a mixture of ash and fat. Thys commits to interrogate Bedwell, someone who still works for him and who grew up with him. It was this mixture of ash and fat that was used as toothpaste. For the full discussion with Thys, see:

There is ample evidence from around the world about the preparation of sausage meat. The intestines naturally lent itself to be stuffed with components of meat.

  • Sausages from the Stone Age

Nothing in an animal was discarded or lost. The effort in securing the food source was too valuable. A document from the archives of the University of Pretoria describes some of the slaughtering techniques of people who lived contemporaneously with the late stone age and early iron age people in the Magaliesburg region, the San Bushman.

“Once the animal has been found (after it was wounded) it is skinned quickly and the head and legs are removed. The body is then dissected into loads, which can be carried by the men. The horns are disposed of, except when needed to make a new axe handle or cultural object. Almost nothing is left behind, except the stomach, intestines and their contents which are sour and bitter in taste, they are however a valuable source of water in the dry months.”

“The hide is tanned, sectioned and used for food, clothing and skin carry-bags. The blood is poured into the stomach sack and hardened, then mixed with fat found around the intestines and put into the duodenum and small intestines to make sausage. The liver, heart, and kidneys spoil easily so they are cooked and eaten immediately. Ribs are also eaten the night of the hunt. Women never eat the heart, as it is believed this will bring bad luck to the men’s hunt and for this reason it is never brought back to camp. If the animal brought down is too big, the bones are discarded and the meat is cut into strips and dried, thus reducing the weight of the load and preventing spoilage. Animal flesh is never eaten raw, but cooked in melon water, with a little added fat for flavour.” (Repository, UP, Ac.)

The use of intestines to hold blood and fat is particularly interesting. There are good records from the Khoe that woman would hang such intestines that have been stuffed with fat, blood and pieces of meat around their legs. Sweat from their bodies that came into contact with the meat would have cured it as a source of salt and nitrates. The fact that it was around the body would have made it easy to deal with flys and other scavengers. The practice was elegant and would have had the added advantage for the woman to have moisturized the skin. There are reports of sausages from the Germanic tribes and it is easy to see how the practice, in one form or the other, was universal.

The Twana-speaking farmers/ herdsman/ traders/ metalworkers of the Magaliesburg lived in relative tranquility until the early 1800’s when events tore the society apart. The winds of war swept through the region and transformed its nature. This, despite the fact that how food was prepared and what was on the everyday menu for ordinary people and royalty probably did not change much, irrespective of who was in charge, as far as the indigenous (as in non-European) people were concerned.


Understanding the ancient cultures of this region leads us into an appreciation of their culture and in particular, their food. We live in a unique land where cross currents and flavours from around the world converge to give South Africa a unique food heritage. Understanding it and reproducing these traditions for future generations is the adventure of a lifetime! It is, in particular, the African cuisine that takes front and center stage in these considerations.

Photos from my hike up Piesankloof to the mountain top settlement on Eastwick.


Layout and structure based on an article by Wild, Sarah. 2013. Walking in the ruins of a lost world in Melville Koppies.

Carruthers, V. 2014. The Magaliesberg. Protea Book House, Pretoria.

Sadr, K, Rodier, X.. 2011. Google Earth, GIS and stone-walled structures in southern Gauteng, South Africa. Journal of Archaeological Science. Journal homepage: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/jas

Discussion with Thys. https://photos.app.goo.gl/3DuKrLEQMW3fafw59

The Magaliesberg or ‘Cashan Mountains’, Repository, UP, Ac. The Magaliesberg (UP.ac)