Chapter 19 – Roy Oliver.

Introduction to Bacon & the Art of Living

The story of bacon is set in the late 1800s and early 1900s when most of the important developments in bacon took place. The plotline takes place in the 2000s with each character referring to a real person and actual events. The theme is a kind of “steampunk” where modern mannerisms, speech, clothes and practices are superimposed on a historical setting.  Modern people interact with old historical figures with all the historical and cultural bias that goes with this.


summary – conclusions – case study in one person


Roy Oliver

One man personifies everything I have always sought through meat curing. That man was Roy Oliver. Roy taught me how to cure bacon and to link my experiences with the techniques of ages past. More than that, he taught me how to live life!

Roy is an exceptional human being in every respect, as a husband, a father, a grandfather, a master butcher, a man of God, a mentor, and a friend! So often we honour those who are closest to us only when they are not here anymore, and on this page, I want to celebrate this man, who has had such an enormous impact on my life. I want to thank him for our great friendship, tell his stories and share his world. Roy taught me how to make excellent bacon and the art of living!

The Early Years in Meat Processing: Braams, Consolidated and Stocks

Roy started working for the Amos brothers in 1986. His career in the meat industry started many years before that when he left school and joined the Polony producer, Braams Meat Purveyors on the Foreshore. Ben Braams established Braams in 1949 in the Western Cape. Braams had retail butcheries across Cape Town. Jaap Truyens was one of the managers at the company. Roy’s mom was a nurse and worked the night shift at the local hospital. On her day off, she worked at the home of the Truyens family. For 16 years, Mr. Truyens gave Roy’s mom the family’s meat for the week. They lent them washing machines to her so that she could do the washing. Roy remembers Mrs. Truyens taking them to go and see the performance of groups like Jack & Gill. When Roy left school, his mom suggested that he ask Mr. Truyens if he did not have work for him.

Roy’s first recollection of the day he started work was that they were busy making a batch of brawn. Mr. Truyens told him that if he is in the food industry, he will always have work because people must eat daily. You don’t build houses or cabinets every day, but you eat every day.

Roy started at Braams, earning R11 per week. Jaap left Braams but told Roy that he would take him on if he had an opening for him at the new company. Jaap went for Consolidated Meats in Maitland. Consolidated was in the building presently occupied by Exim Spices. In the meantime, Roy’s salary at Braams had increased from R11 to R20 per week.

Upon receiving Consolidated’s offer, Roy notified Braams of his resignation. Mr. Klinkhamer, who was the Managing Director of Braams in the Foreshore, asked the old men who were the best young man on the team. They all pointed to Roy despite there being 4 or 5 other young men. He saw that the best young man was the one who gave notice and gave Roy a new salary offer of R35 per week. Roy did not take the increase and left for Consolidated.

At Consolidated Roy learned how to make ham, the fat which they supplied to the prisons, how to work with the bowl cutter, etc. Roy was sent back when Consolidated bought Braams because he knew the Braams operation well.

It was at Braams that Roy worked on the cutter when he met a white man who would become one of his best friends. Every day he would buy food for himself, and Roy. Roy was received at his home and before he got married, he introduced Roy to his wife. Roy taught him everything he knew.

A story Roy told me many times was that, as a young man, he would not take off during lunch or tea breaks. He would find people still working at other working stations and then ask them to teach him what they know and how to do what they are doing. This way, he quickly taught himself every aspect of the business.

At this time, Roy got another job in the small town of Worcester, just north of Cape Town. This young white man took over the position that Roy had in Consolidated. Roy was 4 years in Worcester when someone approached him to say that there was a great job that he would be able to do well being advertised in Namibia. Roy read it and, in the notice, it stipulated that the person must be able to work with coloured people. He realized that the advertisement was for white people. The person who pointed Roy to the position insisted that Roy would apply, which Roy did. He wrote a letter to apply. Today, it would be called a CV, but in those days, he did not know about C. V.’s. He just wrote about what he can do and his experience.

The company he applied for wanted to send him for a test at Renown. Roy told them that he could not take off in the week to go for a test and that he was not in the business of lying to people about what he could and could not do. So, Roy got a position at Namibian Cold Storage, which was part of ICS.

The white friend left for Germany to qualify, presumably through the Master Butchers program. Roy recalls that his father was an attorney. He forced his mom and dad to look Roy up in Walfishbay and visit him there. When his friend returned from Germany, his paths crossed that of Clarence Amos. Clarence asked him if he knew someone who could work meat, and he then referred Clarence to Roy. He told Clarence that he knew someone, but Clarence must be willing to pay the man. Clarence said that if he can do what he claims to be able to do, he will be paid well. When Roy started at Stocks Meat Market, their production was all done for the day at lunchtime. Roy remembers that after he started, this happened for one more week and, thereafter never again.

Clarence appointed another German to work for him. He asked him if he would be able to work with Roy. Soon after he started, there were problems with the cooking cycles and temperatures. One day, Roy told Philip, Clarence’s brother, that he would not be able to continue working like that and would have to leave. Philip referred it to Clarence, his brother, and soon afterwards, the German left. In the end, Roy and the German became close friends. Their friendship lasted for many years.

Roy knew him from the time at Braams. When he started at Braams, he had just recently returned from Germany, where he did his training. The reason Clarence got Roy from Namibia was to extend the products and to work with the TVP.

Roy in Walvis Bay

One of the many stories that Roy tells is about Walvis Bay and when he arrived there. He was given an apartment to live in, which was in a white area. They never connected his electricity because a brown man was not supposed to live in a white area. It did not bother him because he only slept there, and his wife was in Cape Town. Roy remembers they distributed all the juices, margarine, ice cream, etc., for ICS. When the train arrived with their goods, up to 6 train trucks were packed with produce.

It included cheese and jam for the mines. Rose, his wife, would visit him for 3, 4 or 6 months and then return to South Africa again. Roy was there for only a week when they gave him the keys to the premises to open them if they had to supply a passing boat. The other ladies at work fought with him, telling him that because his wife was not there, he thought their husbands were not waiting for them at home.

When Rose visited Roy for the first time, the electricity issue had to be sorted out. Roy went to his boss, who happened to be the mayor of Walvis Bay also. He told him that the electricity was still off in the flat. Shocked and dismayed, Nico Retief told Roy to start walking home. The electricity would be on before he got there. It was so. When Roy got to the apartment, the power was connected.

It was when milk cultures were the craze in South Africa as a Ponzi scheme, and everybody got involved, including his bosses at Namibian Cold Storage. Roy had to guard the cultures. Nico called Roy one day and asked him if he knew the Bible. He told Roy he was telling him like Jesus told his disciples, “Pas my goed up!” (Guard my stuff!)

Namibian Cold Storage had three game farms in the country, and Nico was in charge. Roy had to do the meat for the managers before they went on the hunt. It had to be done right, and Nico was at pains to point out that he did not want to be ashamed of the meat in front of his friends. He knew that with Roy, this was never a possibility! When they returned from the hunt, Roy oversaw cutting the animals up and preparing biltong, sausages, and other delicacies from the meat.

Roy and Meat

Roy could see what would work with meat. He knows meat intimately.

– Roy On Hot Boning

Nico’s dad came from Germany and taught Roy how to do hot boning. The biggest benefit is that there is no weight loss and in sausages, the meat binds better. The issue is that the meat tears off. You cannot make bacon from hot-boned meat.

– Roy on meat-on-meat injection

Freeze the meat and then cut it. Keep heat off the meat as far as possible. The cutter must be cold. Prevent clotting at all costs. Do not pre-soak for longer than 12 hours. Don’t overdo the water absorption in the emulsification stage. Try pork rinds.

Inject into hams. It will melt into the hams upon heating.

– Roy on TVP

TVP in cutter with water; then add the meat. Cut until it gets stiff. Use ice water to control the heat.

– Roy on nitrite replacer

Colour the meat! Do NOT colour the water!

– Reformed Bacon

Kidney Plate; 13mm; 4mm. The small bits will lick up the water. The heat will help the injected bits to melt into the meat. You must blend it in properly. Especially with high-yield injections. Take the heat up to 55 deg C.

Interview

I interviewed Roy on 4 May 2023.

This is an interview I did with Roy while we were discussing the recipes I developed for Nigeria.

Roy at Stocks Meat Market

Roy at Woody’s Bacon

Roy at PB

Roy would have been instrumental in a new factory that was being planned, but Covid interrupted the plans.

Roy and COVID

Roy contracted COVID in 2020. Three ambulances were rushed to his home when he started extreme difficulty berating. They stabilised him, and he was immediately admitted to intensive care in Cape Town. He managed to survive, but his leg had to be amputated due to blood clots. He lost his ability to read and write.

Below are photos of Roy and his men!! He trained them into some of the best butchers and processing men on earth! A finer team does not exist! I am honoured to know you! Roy, you are a legend! Covid is not getting you down!! Whatever life throws at you, you will triumph through the support of your unforgettable family and friends and your unmovable faith in God, your keeper and rock!

Roy, the End

Roy worked with me on meat formulations for Nigeria despite being in a wheelchair. We continued to enjoy great conversations about life and meat. I visited Roy at the end of August 2023 before I returned to Nigeria. I called him to find out what his weekly order was for meat to use in trials when I received the news that he had complete kidney failure, and the doctor sent him home to be with his family in his final days.

Stanford, his son, contacted me to write something that he would read on my behalf at his dad’s funeral.

“Roy Oliver was one of the finest human beings ever to walk the face of this earth. The reason was simple. He was one hundred per cent genuine. The real deal. Nothing fake or pretentious. What you saw is what you got.

Roy needed a lift home when Stanford was working from Montague Gardens. I lived in Kenilworth so I would take him home daily. That drive home became the highlight of my day. He would tell me the story of his life. I gained a remarkable insight into the forces that made him. From the time he was a boy, he lived with a very strict father. The days when he ran away from home, and his mom put food out for him in the shed till he started his work in meat curing when he left school. The language and mannerism of speech was of a bygone era when there was authenticity in the words he used, the tone of his voice and the emotion behind every phrase. The content of his words was a story unlike any I would ever hear again. I could listen to him for hours, and when we were delayed due to traffic, I always rejoiced – I wanted to hear more and did not want the trip to end.

When I completed my book on bacon curing and what I learned about living life, Bacon & the Art of Living, I was looking for a final chapter. Thinking about everything I’ve discovered about meat science, the loftiest academic work on the subject, the total of at least two hundred years of discovery and progress of science and technology, when I consider the majesty of our craft and the deepest secrets and enigmas of our trade; the innumerable men and woman who contributed through many decades and what this taught me about being a human being, the most excellent final word I could come up with is the life of Roy Oliver. So, Roy became the last chapter in my book. I don’t want to repeat what I said there. It is available for anyone to read. Roy is the exclamation mark behind a work that took me 15 years to write.

Roy had an infectious joy. From his time as a youth, he had a mischievous streak in him. He often told me about the pranks he would pull at work and how often he got in trouble. But, the same steak manifested in an attitude that if something can be done, he can do it. If someone can teach something, he will be there to learn and has an insatiable thirst for learning. One day, I got a technical recipe book from the USA. By heading, it was columns of recipes followed by method of preparation. Hundreds upon hundreds of recipes. I made him a copy of the book, at least 300 pages. I gave it to him, thinking he would keep it and use it as a reference. A few days later, he came to me and said he finished the book. In shock, I asked him what he meant. “I read it all”, he said. Cover to cover, every single recipe, and he told me he was thankful that I gave it to him because he learned a few things. I am convinced that the book has never been read, cover to cover, by anyone besides Roy. But such was his thirst for knowledge.

Not discrimination from the old Apartheid South Africa, his difficult childhood years, or the many setbacks he had of people exploiting him for their own purposes to discard him as if he meant nothing ever changed his faith in humanity and the goodness of God. I have never heard him utter a bitter word in all the years I knew him; God knows he had many reasons for bitterness. When an unfair insurance industry and a heartless company fought him tooth and nail for insurance money after he lost his leg, Roy triumphed. When asked how he prevailed against such overwhelming odds, he leaned forward in his wheelchair and said, “Eben, I don’t give up. I never give up.” Even when he said it, it was not him boasting about it. It was just stating a fact.

When I presented him with the biggest challenge in meat science (as far as I am concerned), the technical detail I don’t want to bother you with, a riddle I devoted three years of my life to solve without success, Roy listed to me when I phoned him one day from Lagos. He told me that he needed to understand more about what I was trying to do and that I must come and sit with him. When I finally returned to Cape Town and we met, he told me I must leave it with him – he had to think. The last day I saw Roy, he gave me the results of his work and what he thinks the challenge is. A moment that is edged forever in my mind is the next day I woke up, and based on the description of the problem that Roy gave me – the answer was suddenly clear in my mind. At least, not the complete solution, but the two or three avenues that will, without question, lead to the resolution of the enigma.

In the last months, we spoke about his faith that sustained him. He had moments when he wanted to give up and ask God, “Why me?” – those moments were fleeting and seldom happened. His immovable faith was in God, who is just! And gracious, good and ever-loving!

When Roy’s kids told me that their dad had only a few short days to live and sadness washed over me as I imagined the waves of despair rolling over the Oliver family, the words of Spafford came to mind. After his son died, his wife and daughters returned to Europe from America. Anna and their four daughters were on the SS Ville du Havre, colliding with another vessel and sank in the Atlantic Ocean on November 22, 1873. Anna Spafford survived the shipwreck, but their four daughters perished. Spafford received a heartbreaking telegram from his wife with just two words: “Saved alone.” In his deep grief and reflection, Spafford penned the now-famous words:

“When peace like a river attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot,
Thou hast taught me to say, ‘It is well, it is well with my soul.’

In the last days, when I would pray for my friend almost without end, and the sorrow grew too much to bear, I would read these words and know that it is what Roy wanted me to know and all he wanted me to remember. Despite everything, amidst the greatest sorrow, it is well with his soul! What else is there to say about this remarkable man? His lot is certain in life and death, not based on broken and wicket humans and humanity, but his ever-loving and ever-faithful Saviour, Jesus Christ.

When I look at the life of Roy Oliver and the simple yet profound man he was, I have no arguments with his faith as much as I have no questioning of his meat science. Always practised, not from the perspective of academic papers or lofty arguments but simple and effective practicality. His sincerity and humility are two of the many crowns of his life, with that as a mentor, father, grandfather and loving husband. And a great friend! You live in us, Roy!  

He took a day’s leave at Woody’s one day and told me he wanted to take the train into Cape Town. He will walk alone through the old streets and buildings and be on his own. I have long known that Roy knows both how to make bacon and the art of living!


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(c) eben van tonder