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.
The man who had the greatest effect on my life, apart from my dad, was Roy Oliver. An entire chapter is dedicated to him in this work to celebrate him and his contribution to the meat-curing world. In the first place, it was Roy who taught me how to cure bacon and to link my experiences with the techniques of ages past.
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 such an enormous impact on my life, while he is still here. I want to thank him for our great friendship, tell his stories and share his world. Roy taught me both 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. Braams was established in 1949 by Ben Braam 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 their 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 as long as he is in the food industry, he will always have work because people must eat every single day. 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 if he has an opening for him at the new company, he will take him on. Jaap left 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 the offer from Consolidated, Roy gave notice to 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 man who gave notice and made 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. Consolidated bought Braams out and Roy was sent back 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 during lunch or tea breaks, as a young man, he would not take off. 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 is a great job that he will 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 cannot take off in the week to go for a test and he is not in the business of lying to people about what he can and cannot 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 knows someone, but Clarence must be willing to pay the man. Clarence said that as long as 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. Roy one day told Philip, Clarence’s brother, that he will not be able to continue working like that and that he 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 very 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 why 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 that 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 so that he could 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 that their husbands were not waiting for them at home.
When Rose came to visit Roy 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 in the time 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 knows the Bible. He then told Roy that he is 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 of them. 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 has the ability to 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.
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 managed to stabilize him, and he was immediately admitted to intensive care in Cape Town. He managed to survive, but due to blood clots his leg had to be amputated. He lost his ability to read and write.
Below are photos of Roy and his men!! He trained every one of 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 amazing family and friends and your unmovable faith in God who is your keeper and rock!
(c) eben van tonder