Introduction to Bacon & the Art of Living
The quest to understand how great bacon is made takes me around the world and through epic adventures. I tell the story by changing the setting from the 2000s to the late 1800s when much of the technology behind bacon curing was unraveled. I weave into the mix beautiful stories of Cape Town and use mostly my family as the other characters besides me and Oscar and Uncle Jeppe from Denmark, a good friend and someone to whom I owe much gratitude! A man who knows bacon! Most other characters have a real basis in history and I describe actual events and personal experiences set in a different historical context.
The cast I use to mould the story into is letters I wrote home during my travels.
The Wiltshire Cut
I boarded the Union Shipping liner of Donald Currie & Company this morning en route to Cape Town. I was very excited to learn about James and Christel getting married.
I am glad that you managed to secure the building behind Combrinck & Co. in Newmarket street! I am bringing the plans for the abattoir with me and all the drawings that I sent in my previous letter.
Please see if I have the information about James and Christel correctly. They asked me to give a small speech at their wedding and I want to be sure that I have my facts right.
They have been friends since university. They formally saw each other for 6 months and in accordance with all sense and sensibility, got engaged 2 months ago. James is responsible for the financial affairs of our company. He gambled a lucrative career in the Bank of the Netherlands with his move to Woody’s, which I am confident, will pay off handsomely.
Together, Minette and I have hiked up Table Mountain a few times with him and Christel and I consider it a great privilege to know them. He is an upstanding citizen and Christel is everything a good wife should be.
Her dad knows Livingston, being a seasoned explorer himself. You told me that Christel’s dad is traveling through Kazakhstan. I am looking forward to hear his many stories at the wedding. Martin Sauer from Denmark’s dad also knows Livingston. He has been in Rhodesia to help farmers set up pork farms. Maybe they know each other.
I am planning my engagement with Minette and want to share some of my plans with you. When I was riding transport between Cape Town and Johannesburg I made many friends from the native communities.
One of the groups that I had a very good relationship with is the Korana. They are a nomadic Khoe group and got their name from a chief called Kora (or Gora), who was the first leader of the Gorachouqua (`-qua’ meaning ‘people of’). He splintered from this group with a band of followers and became the first great chief of the Korana. Some believe the name means ‘the real thing’.
Most of the Korana ended up living near the Gariep, Vaal and Harts rivers and others moved into the Overberg and the Karoo. I knew that their way of life, like that of the Bushman, was disappearing fast and I went out of my way to befriend them and always stayed over at their village on the Vaal river whenever I had to camp in the area. The chief gave me great information on how a young man would ask a girl to marry him. I am planning the same ceremony when I ask Minette to marry me.
Table Mountain is Minette and my cathedral. It is not only where we hear the voice of God, but where our souls soar! I am planning to hike up from Hout Bay and across to the front of the mountain. The total hike is around 15km’s and is across the 12 Apostles. Halfway one gets to some very peculiar rocks and a place that is very secluded and an ideal place to get engaged. I am planning to ask some of our mountain friends to take Elmar and Juanita and their son, Pieter Willem to this spot, but beginning from the front of the mountain. Tristan and Lauren know the area well and they will join the party from the front.
I am timing it such that Minette and I will be there before the rest of the group gets there. While we wait I am planning to ask her to marry me. Instead of a ring, I asked a jeweler from Cape Town to make a pendant for her that celebrates our relationship. I chose words from the Korana language that celebrates our relationship. After that, we will hike down with the family who is meeting us at the top and we will have a small function at Klein Constantia where our parents will join us. If you and Trudie will be in time to meet us up on the mountain, that will be exceptional. Alternatively, if you guys arrive too late, you can join us at Klein Constantia with more friends we invited.
So, Mr. Oscar, these are our plans. I am insanely excited!
Wiltshire Cut – Exported to Denmark
While I have the time to write to you, I want to address the matter of what the Wiltshire cut is. It is just as important as the brine. I introduced the Danish curing method to John Harris and I plan to take the Wiltshire cut to Denmark.
Have a look at the photos below. It does not look all that nice on the photo, but it is a brilliantly complete picture of what the bacon looks like, produced according to the Wiltshire cut!
The classic Wiltshire Cut is where the side, including the shoulder, middle, and ham are treated as one. The style of trimming originated in Wiltshire. The head is cut off as close to the jaw bone as possible. The sides are taken off the gambrels. It is placed on the tables the inside upwards. Remove all excess fat by scraping them. All the blood meat is cut off from the neck by the sticking hole. Te hams and belly are also trimmed; the steaks are cut out; front trotters are removed by cutting or sowing through the knee joint.
The neck and aitchbone are cut loose as close to the bone as possible. The spare rib and breast bone going along with the neck bone and the top of the ribs are sown off. Cut out the big vein in the neck. At the shoulder, make a hole as small as possible through which the blade bone can be drawn.
Before you attempt to draw the blade bone, first loosen it in the side. Do it with a long, narrow chisel that is inserted around the side and on top of and under the blade bone. When the meat has been loosened, a thong is slipped around the head of the blade bone. The thing is attached to a harness worn by the blade bone drawer. attach the thong and hold the shoulder and pull away from it and the blade bone will fly from its position in the side. You can use a mechanical blade bone catcher. Ensure that you do not tear the blade bone holder. It easily attracts taint during the salting process.
Marriage and Meat Curing in Africa
Oscar, life is interesting. The art of cutting meat and curing it developed very carefully around the world in the hands of skilled artisans. When I think back over the years as transport rider, I have seen such artisans among the Khoe, the San and the black native peoples of South Africa. They too developed their own unique way of “curing” and smoking meat. As is the case in Europe and England, the traditions developed and have been handed down for millennia through guilds and, as is the case in Africa, through the Sharmas and the woman of the villages over our vast continent. I am planning Minette and my engagement to be done in the tradition of these great people and one day, I hope, that we will feature their curing arts in our factory. To produce the best bacon on earth, not by way of copying what is done here in Wiltshire or in Denmark, but by giving the world something very special – cured meats done the way it has been done for many years in Africa. This way we celebrate their culture in the engagement of Minette and me and one day we will showcase their best meat dishes in our factory in Cape Town.
I am looking forward to meet everybody very soon. I will mail this letter as soon as we dock in Cape Town and await your imminent arrival.
Warm greetings from somewhere in the Atlantic ocean!
(c) eben van tonder
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(1) Elmar and Juanita is my brother and sister-in-law.
Trench, William Steuart, 1869, Realities of Irish Life, London, Longmans, Green, and co.
Images of the Khoe/ Korana: Sonqua