Chapter 11.03: The Jewish Master Curer and the Prince of Ireland

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 Jewish Master Curer and the Prince of Ireland

1 April 1920

Dear children,

Since the Boer War ended Minette and I returned to New Zealand often. For a time, we even considered moving there. It would seem though, that our lives and times are tied to Africa. I did not mind this. The thought of being continents removed from you is too much to even contemplate. On the other hand, it is Africa I fell in love with from my youth when I crossed the interior of South Africa many times riding transport. The ancient cultures and technology of the mysterious peoples, closely connected to the land in a way which Europe has lost, mesmerised me as I could see in their comings and goings a way of life completely appealing to me. In the end, Africa did not push me away as it does so many Europeans – she welcomed me and introduced me to her innermost secrets. I don’t think this had anything to do with being born here – she initiated it when I responded with awe and thankfulness, and in doing so she continued to reveal more, drawing me ever closer. This is an experience I will write about when I’m done with the great work of Bacon & the Art of Living.

You know that from the time when you can remember, my great passion has been to understand bacon curing. It was the purpose of my trip to Denmark and England where I was introduced to much of the story of bacon. The most ancient development was dry-cured bacon. The bacon curing system existed for hundreds of years and included only dry ingredients and later dry ingredients with wet brine added. The principal objective was to dry the bacon quickly using copious amounts of salt to remove moisture before bacteria could and the breakdown of the flesh could overtake the curing process. (Dry Cured Bacon)

Mild Cured Bacon was probably the first major progression from this where the power of the old brine was used to speed up curing allowing for a “milder cure.” The invention was by the chemist William Oake from Northern Ireland sometime before 1837. (Mild Cured Bacon) The Harris family in Calne gave us Sweet Cured bacon in the 1840s which did not use the old brine but hot smoking was the key feature that sped curing sufficiently up that less salt was needed resulting in a piece of less dry and far less salty bacon. Sweeter! The result was Sweet Cured Harris Bacon. Pale Dried Bacon likewise came from the Harris family in Calne under John Harris in the 1890s. It was dried with no smoking and rendered pale and dry bacon that could keep a long time. Wiltshire Curing or Tank Cured Bacon was used by the Wiltshire curers in the closing years of the 1800s or early 1900s, which was identical in almost every way to the mild cured technique of William Oake from Ireland. (Harris Bacon – From Pale Dried to Tank Curing).

Auto Curing was invented by William Harwood Oake, the son of William Oake from Limerick in Ireland who invented mild curing. William Harwood Oake in all likelihood was one of the people who brought mild curing to England when he opened a curing operation with two partners in Gillingham, Dorset. Tank curing was probably independently incorporated into the Harris operation when they got the technology from Denmark. The basics of Auto Curing were, however, not developed by Oake him but by an English team of researchers in America under Robert Davison. American Auto cured system was developed by Davison in 1843 and Oake’s Auto Cure system was a progression of this system. (Oake Woods & Co., Ltd., Rapid – and Auto Cured Bacon)

A revolution followed that saw the direct addition of nitrite to curing brines under American leadership replacing all these systems. Ladislav Nachmüllner invented the first curing brine legally sold containing sodium nitrites in 1915 in Prague. The system was made popular around the globe by the Griffiths Laboratories. The direct addition of nitrites to curing Brines is covered in two letters in Bacon & the Art of Living, namely The Direct Addition of Nitrites to Curing Brines – the Master Butcher from Prague and The Direct Addition of Nitrites to Curing Brines – The Spoils of War.

Within the grand story of bacon, there are two other developments that fit into the time before Harris invented Pale Dried bacon in the 1890s namely the alternative methods for producing mild cured bacon by the Irish firm of Henry Denny and the system of the Dutch master curer, Aron Vecht. It’s best to deal with these two progressions together because Vecht’s method was essentially the same as what Henry Denny patented with a slight temperature adjustment in shipping. While Denny’s work was focused on Ireland and Denmark, Vecht took the system to the southern English colonies.

I learned about Vecht in New Zealand. It was these islands that he covered from north to south on horseback. When a New Zealander, Dr James Anderson asked me if I know him, I did not. It was Jim who told me not only about Vecht, the Dutch Master Curer, the travelling Jew and adventurer who fought in the Anglo Boer war on the side of the Boers against the English, who claim to have invented his own form of mild cured bacon, essentially copying the method of Henry Denny and adapted bacon transport conditions on cargo ships operating between New Zealand, Australia and England to suit bacon better. It was in studying his curing method that I discovered the true genius of Henry Denny, the prince of Irish bacon curers who established one of the largest curing operations on earth and did the last remaining work on bacon curing before Vecht incorporated bacon transport to frozen conditions as opposed to chilling the meat. It would only be the direct addition of nitrites to curing brines that would overtake these developments, but even then, Vecht’s work on refrigeration would stand.

Aron Vecht: His Life

Aron Vecht was born in a small village in Holland and educated in trade and Jewish orthodoxy. The Jewish Herald, Victoria described him as “one of the earliest pioneers of Zionism.” Physically he had an impressive posture. He is described as a “commanding figure, long, black beard, and [his] lustrous eyes gave him a close resemblance in appearance to the great Zionist leader, Theodor Herzl.” (Jewish Herald) He is tall, and well built with an excellent carriage, with a pair of blazing, big eyes, tinged with the melancholic brown. People described him as the most excellent travel companion. I imagine him to be very persuasive and charismatic. A born leader!

He soon moved from Holland to England. In London, he made a living buying and selling bacon. The curiosity of an orthodox Jew who consulted the Code of Jewish Law or the Shulchan Aruch frequently, being the bacon trade was explained by him “that he never saw nor handled the produce.” (Jewish Herald) A claim is made that Vecht married a member of the wealthy Van den Bergh clan in London. Records from the Cape Archive indicates that he married Bernadine Vecht (nee Coopman). Dr Anderson explained that she was part of the Van den Berg clan; she was the daughter of Jacob Coopman and Catharina van den Bergh. Vecht’s first venture is into journalism and he launches the now-defunct Jewish Standard newspaper, to combat the Jewish Chronicle. In London, he met a young and aspiring Jewish writer, Israel Zangwill who makes his debut writing for this newspaper with a weekly humorous column, “Morour and Charouseth.”

After the failure of the newspaper, Vecht developed a desire to travel. This led to a lifetime of wondering which earned him the nickname, “The Wandering Jew.” The Jewish Herald reports that “this wandering Jew’s first trip sent him to Australia. He went not single-handed, but with a large family. They travelled in a slow boat; their stock of Kosher provisions gave out but that was a mere incident. To keep up his family spirits, Wanderer-in-chief got the ship’s printer to print a most remarkable imaginary menu for a Purim dinner, whilst bread and coffee were the only elements of the actual repast on the festival. In the same sportive mood, he won all the ‘sweepstakes’ on the daily runs, the whits prize, as well as a prize for the best fancy dress at a ball given during tho voyage.” (Jewish Herald)

At some point, he moves his family to Argentina. Here he started a frozen kosher meat export business, approved by European rabbis. (Lebrecht, 2019) He eventually sets his head office up in Buenos Aires. He frequently returns to England and moves across Europe.

Vecht arrived in New Zealand in early 1893 (his ship may have docked in Australia on the way). Vecht’s family joined him later in New Zealand — they are listed as passengers on the Ruahine that left London in July 1893. There is a story that he explored the island’s top to bottom on horseback. This account seems to be a fabrication and dr James pointed out that a free railway pass was issued to him by the New Zealand government. Vecht, with his experience in refrigeration, sets up New Zealand’s first bacon-curing plant, charging one shilling for each carcass he treats. (Lebrecht, 2019) From New Zealand, he went to Australia (October 1894) and from there to South Africa (1900). (Correspondence with Dr. James Anderson)

In South Africa, he participated in an interesting scheme namely De Beers Cold Storage. It is alleged by some that he participated in the Anglo Boer War but after an extensive search at the Anglo Boer War Museum in Bloemfontein, I could find no record of this. The contrary seems to be true, namely that his time was initially spent in and around Cape Town till he was sent on a business trip through the country by Cecil John Rhodes. His skill in refrigeration caught the attention of Cecil John Rhodes who, at the time, was regarded as the wealthiest man in Britain. Rhodes asked him to assist in matters pertaining to refrigeration for his De Beers Cold Storage Co. which Rhodes set up in opposition to the refrigeration chambers of David De Villiers Graaff. The instruction from Rhodes to set such a company up came in 1889. From the records available to me it seems that the request from Rhodes came to him towards the end of the war since the Jewish herald reports that his contract with Rhodes included “a clause providing that he should do no manner of work on Jewish Sabbaths or festivals. Doing an expert in refrigeration, he got the British Secretary of the Colonies, and the Secretary for Foreign Affairs/ and the War Office, to conspire together against the military regulations and issue a pass to him to pass through the British lines during the Boer war — a thing permitted no other foreigner. Strangest of all, he cut all the strands of red tape of all these offices in one day, and that a short one, too, for it was a Friday in the winter of 1902. . .” (Jewish Herald) Records at the Cape Archive indicates a number of interesting facts about his stay in the Cape.

Due to business interests in the Cape, the death notices of both Vecht and his wife Bernadine was filed at the Cape to set in motion the winding up of their respective estates. Bernadine passed away on 21 July 1926 close to Antwerp at age 69. At least two of their children remained in South Africa for a time. Florance was appointed in the Cape as executor of her mother’s estate on 5 January 1927. Vecht’s oldest daughter, Rosa Vecht, married Jacob Politi in Wynberg in Cape Town on 3 February 1903. Jacobs occupation was listed as a manager for De Beers Cold Storage and he resided in Wellington where I assume he also worked. Rosa was listed as living in the upmarket suburb of Constantia, Cape Town, very close to Wynberg presumably with the rest of the Vecht family.

This bit of information leads to some interesting observations. Instead of the picture of a Boer supporter who partook in the Anglo Boer War, the picture that is emerging is one of a very well off family who resided in Constancia, Cape Town. If Vecht arrived in Cape Town in 1900, it did not give him much time to get involved in the Wellington operations of De Beers Cold Storage, sufficiently so for him to get to know Jacob Politi who at some point was introduced to Vecht’s daughter, Rosa. The image we have of Vecht is a sophisticated businessman, in the style of Rhodes and Dawid De Villiers Graaff who would later buy De Beers Cold Storage from Rhodes. Between Rhodes, Vecht and De Villiers Graaff, it would seem if Rhodes was the one who got the deepest involve in direct conflict during the siege of Kimberley and not Vecht as has been reported. Rhodes remained in Kimberley almost for the full duration of the siege and his De Beers was active in the manufacturing of articles for the war.

We will later see that the British commodity trader Trengrouse and Co., who is an interesting link between Vecht’s business and Phil Armour from Chicago’s packing plant, was also located in the Boland town of Wellington with a South African Canning company, Langeberg Foods. Langeberg Foods supplied canned fruits to Trengrouse and Co..

The relationship between De Beers Cold Storage and Langeberg Foods is something for further investigation since Langeberg had a requirement for cold storage facilities right at the time when refrigeration was introduced into South Africa. It is interesting that in this one location we find Vecht, Rhodes, Langeberg, De Beers Cold Storage and Trengrouse and Co. Could it have been Trengrouse who introduced Vecht to Rhodes? Could they have told Vecht about the opportunities which were emerging with the creation of De Beers Cold Storage? At the moment these are no more than tantalising possibilities but it definitely warrants further investigation.

The reported support that Vecht had for the Boer course, was in reality probably no more than sympathy, in the same way as Dawid de Villiers Graaff had sympathy for the Boer course, but never actively supported them in any way. After all, De Villiers Graaf’s company won the contract to supply the British army with meat during the war. If Vecht actively supported the Boers in any way, having lived in Constantia, it would probably have landed him in jail and would most certainly have been the end of his collaboration with Rhodes. Rhodes later sold De Beers Cold Storage to De Villiers Graaff, proving that supporting the English was financially a good decision as was the case with many wealthy Afrikaner business people at this time. I think that comparing Vecht’s emotional sympathy with the Boer course with that of De Villiers Graaff’s is a fair comparison. In any event, I seriously doubt if in Vecht’s case it was anything more than that.

Dr Anderson writes that “although residing in South Africa, in 1903 he represented Australia at the 6th Zionist congress in Basle, Switzerland. Shortly after this he moved with his family to Holland and then to Argentina for fifteen months (dates unclear) before finally settling in Belgium. (Infuriatingly, the Belgian immigration archives record the arrival of the Vecht family, but without a date – probably 1907 or early 1908). (Correspondence with Dr James Anderson)

Vecht’s children were not all born on one continent. “His eldest daughter was born in Holland (in Vecht’s hometown of Elburg); the next six children were all born in London, UK; his two youngest sons were born in Melbourne and Sydney, respectively. (Dr James Anderson) His children were Rosa (Roosje), Moses (Mozes), Florance, Jacob Emile, Constance, Nora, Deena, Victor and Phillip. Eventually part of the family returned to Antwerp. Here he underwent gall-bladder surgery. He passed away from complications following the surgery on 8 November 1908 at the age of 54. (Cape Archives) (Lebrecht, 2019)

Aron Vecht: His Business

Aron Vecht was involved in a number of business ventures, mainly related to refrigeration and meat. We know, for example, that sometime before 1889 he was in business with Samuel Hamburger, Ellias Levi, Aron Vecht, and Carolina Wolff in the Dutch town of Ede. “A New Zealand report claims that in Holland ‘he and his brother had successfully introduced the mess-pork industry in 1879’ (Dr James Anderson)

Vecht probably used several trademarks which were associated with his products. Dr James Anderson points out that one was “Morepork,” traded under Vecht & Stokvis. Vecht took out patents in 1894 in New Zealand related to the singeing of pigs and the preservation of meat. His method of preservation was called the “Vecht Mild Cure Process.” He masterfully tied the patent to his own bacon brand. One such brand was York Castle. The patents were presumably owned by his business in New Zealand which he had with William Stokes called the Christ Church Meat Company, Ltd. (1)

I was first alerted to the trademark from a liquidation sale advertised in The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW, Tue 29 Jun 1909).

The notice read as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

The Vecht Mild Cure Process was tied to the Christ Church Meat Company and Vecht and Stokes individually as is clear from the further provision in the notice that “any Assignment of Item 3 is subject to consent of ARON VECHT, WILLIAM STOKES, and the CHRIST CHURCH CHURCH MEAT COMPANY, Limited.

Lists of the Plant, etc may be inspected, at the Office of THOMAS MARIOTT, Esq. and the Auctioneers, at Nowra, and at the Offices of Messrs. PERKINS, STEVENSON, and CO., Solicitors, Sydney.

So far then there is no direct link between the “York Castle” trademark for bacon and the Vecht Mild Cure Process even though the fact that they are joined in one notice raises the possibility that they were indeed somehow connected. The connection becomes clear when we examine events related to a trademark dispute after the passing of Vecht but related to Stokvis. William Stokvis of Brussels instituted legal action against Barnes Bacon Company Ltd. (Mr WJ Gale being the managing director at this time). The lawsuit related to the use of a secret curing formulation for bacon and hams in 1936. The plaintiff alleged the unlawful use of the trademark and he claimed that this secret method was alleged to be used for bacon made under this trade name when in reality, so he alleged, it was not always used. Two tradenames were involved in the agreement being “York Castle” and “More Pork. The lawsuit is reported in The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 16 Jun 1936.

From a lawsuit related to the York Castle trademark in New South Wales, Australia, and despite it taking place sometime after Vecht’s passing, we get possible further insight into how he managed his intellectual property. The trademark and his secret method of curing went hand-in-hand. Only the Vecht Mild Cure Process could be used to produce the York Castle brand of bacon. Vecht would receive monetary compensation for every pig so cured in a territory. (2)

Dr Anderson wrote to me that Vecht used the “York Castle” trademark in NSW and the “Yorick” trademark in Victoria. He also sent me a copy of the Victoria Government Gazette from October 1900 where the trademark is published.

Victoria Government Gazette, October 1900, p 19.

I found the following Yorick poster from A Legal History of Lithography, Dr Amanda Scardamaglia. It shows that the brand was used before Vecht registered it in 1900. It could have been an older brand that he took over. It is a notable example of old bacon branding. Interestingly the bacon is advertised as “special mild”. It appeared before Vecht arrived in Australia in ’94. What the “English system” would be a reference to is a matter of great interest. It sets the background for Vecht’s presence in the Victorian market.

Yorick Bacon and Hams (circa 1881-1890) Printed by Troedel & Co, Lithographers & Printers, State Library Victoria

Let’s return for a moment to the publication in the Victorian Government Gazette in 1900. Dr Anderson made the interesting comment that “Vecht used the ‘York Castle’ trademark in NSW and the ‘Yorick’ trademark in Victoria.” The Victoria Government Gazette was published in October 1900 where the trademark appeared. Dr Anderson commented that “the date is interesting because the following month it was reported in New Zealand that Vecht was on his way to South Africa. Perhaps the Victorian government was slow to publish?” (Private correspondence with Dr Anderson) The timing was of great interest to me. What was happening in South Africa at this time that could have possibly created such an emergency or necessity for him to leave behind all the prospects and possibilities in New Zealand and Australia and move him to go to South Africa?

The backstory becomes very interesting. Cecil John Rhodes, the prime minister of the Cape from 1890 to 1896 had made refrigeration a primary focus. There were two main areas of direct interest to him. The one was the export of fruit. The first consignment of fourteen cases of peaches was loaded onto the Drummond Castle on Wednesday, 13 January 1892 for export to England. It arrived in London on 31 January. Rhodes appointed a select parliamentary committee on fruit culture and fruit exports in that same year. Merriman was the minister of Agriculture in Rhodes’ Government. He happened to be in London on 31 January when the peaches arrived aboard the Drummond Castle. Percy Molteno shared his recollections of this event in the Cape Times: “I remember mentioning to Mr Merriman that a shipment had arrived and invited him to accompany me to see the cases opened. This he readily did. With great delight, we saw case upon case opened up in splendid condition. The public sale of this fruit created a great sensation in the fruit world.” (De Beer, 2003)

Rhodes, after being forced to resign as Prime Minister in 1896 after the unsuccessful Jameson Raid set his sights squarely on the development of the fruit industry. He purchased twenty-nine farms in the Franschhoek, Tulbagh and Wellington districts. These were mainly wine farms, and he converted them to fruit farms. They, collectively, become known as the “Rhodes Fruit Farms” with Harry Pickstone as managing director. They plant approximately two hundred thousand trees on these farms. (De Beer, 2003)

With Rhodes backing the industry to this extent, not only did cold storage facilities become a major drive but steamship companies raced to increase their cold storage capacity. Shortly after the end of the Anglo Boer War, “Table Bay became the first harbour in the world to boast a cold storage terminal specially designed for fruit.” (De Beer, 2003)

The second point of application of cold storage was in relation to meat. The Anglo Boer war was the first time where frozen meat was used to provide an army with meat. David de Villiers Graaff’s company was ideally positioned to capitalise on this and his huge investments in the area of cold storage paid off handsomely when his company secured the contract to supply the English forces in South Africa with meat. This saga overshadows the creation of cold storage works related to the fruit export trade both in terms of its financial scope and the personal investment of Rhodes in the projects. Vecht must have been involved in the fruit project also through De Beers Cold Storage works in Wellington where the fruit was packed and canned as we have seen from the marriage of his oldest daughter to a manager of De Beers Cold Storage in Wellington, but that his prime focus was probably related to the meat contracts becomes clear.

De Villiers-Graaf installs the first refrigeration equipment in the new head office of his company, Combrinck & Co. in Strand Street in Cape Town in 1892. I have been inside these refrigerated rooms many times in my life. His focus was initially only restricted to meat, but soon they expanded to include butter and cheese in the product offering.

In March 1896 his firm Combrinck & Co. orders ice containers from a firm in New York. They order the first ammonia compressors from Glasgow. By 1897 his firm had eight ice and freezing facilities with six in the Cape Colony, one in Aliwal-Noord and one in Kimberley. One was in Beaufort-Wes, one in Piketbergweg (Gouda) and two more in Cape Town. One is in Port Elizabeth and one in Johannesburg.

The name on the building below was later changed to the Imperial Cold Storage & Supply Company but was the first refrigerated chambers erected by the Graaff brothers.

His agents in Australia is identified as Willoughby C. Devlin van Dunn & Co. in Queen’s Place, Sydney.
A suggestion that Graaff appoints a marine engineer now becomes of the greatest importance to our current discussion. In response to this suggestion, Graaff replies that he decided to appoint a properly trained refrigeration engineer from abroad since such expertise was lacking at this time in the Cape Colony. It is possibly this exact same thought, not from De Villiers Graaff, but from Rhodes which led to the seemingly abrupt move from Aron Vecht to the Cape of Good Hope in 1900. (Dommisse, 2011)

Rhodes gave instructions in 1889 that his Diamond company, De Beers must construct cold storage facilities in Kimberley and Cape Town. This happens when he tries to persuade the Schreiner government in the Cape to construct additional freezing space and they refused. He saw the cooling chambers of De Villiers Graaff as a monopoly. He remarked, “This close monopoly must not be allowed to go on.” Initially, De Villiers-Graaff was willing to work with Rhodes and Stephenson tried to convince Rhodes that such an arrangement would work well. (Dommisse, 2011)

In the end, Rhodes could not work with De Villiers-Graaff and gave instructions for the establishment of De Beers Cold Storage. Rhodes was known not to be shy to spend on the right equipment and saw to it that his cold rooms boast with the latest cooling equipment. Construction is completed in February 1900. I am fascinated to learn what Vecht’s contribution was to this building project. It remains an ongoing project! The Cape premises is hugely successful as was the Kimberly operation and four months after the opening of the Cape facility, the management recommends the packing facilities to be expanded from 160 000 cubic feet to 220 000. (Dommisse, 2011)

De Villiers-Graaff transformed his company, Combrinck & Co into the South African Supply and Cold Storage Company which is listed in London. De Beers Cold Storage tried to compete with the Graaff brothers, but the South African Supply and Cold Storage Company was so well entrenched in the supply and distribution of frozen products that De Beers Cold Storage stood no chance. A major stumbling point was that De Beers completely underestimated the importance of owning the refrigerated carriages to transport the meat. It was this exact point which I speculate De Villiers-Graaff learned from Phil Armour, and it would not surprise me if Vecht had any direct dealings with the Armour company, that they would have educated him on the importance of this exact point. De Villiers-Graaff returned from his only recorded visit to Chicago and copied Armour by constructing his own refrigerated railway carts for the transport of frozen products. He also ensured a close relationship with the railways.

De Beers Cold Storage had none of these and meat reported arrived at its destination in a rotten state. The desperation of the situation mimics the report from the Jewish Herald about the unprecedented travel authorisation given to Vecht in 1902 to travel through the country when it reported that Vecht “got the British Secretary of the Colonies, and the Secretary for Foreign Affairs/ and the War Office, to conspire together against the military regulations and issue a pass to him to pass through the British lines during the Boer war — a thing permitted no other foreigner. Strangest of all, he cut all the strands of red tape of all these offices in one day.”

Prospectus of the South African Supply and Cold Storage Company, Ltd.

During the late 1901 and early 1902, Rhodes were frantic in his efforts to win the British army contract to supply meat and to prove that his company was able to deliver. Rhodes never saw De Beers Cold Storage receive the lucrative meat contracts from the British army. He passes away in a small cottage in Kalk Bay on 26 Maart 1902. This is also a location that I often visited over the years and stood next to the bed in which he passed away many times. The meat contracts he wanted to win so desperately and for which Vecht was presumably dispatched throughout the country in 1902 were awarded to De Beers Cold Storage and come into effect on 1 April 1902. The peace treaty of Vereeniging was signed on 31 Mei bringing the devastating war to an end. (Dommisse, 2011)

The loss of the British meat contracts forces the Graaff brothers to reevaluate their strategy. The years 1898 to 1901 becomes the last years that when the South African Supply and Cold Storage Company had the lucrative Britse meat contracts. Trading in imported frozen meat escalated in this time from 1 965 000 pounds to just below 43 000 000 pounds from Australia. The Graaf’s created a new company, the South African & Australasian Supply and Cold Storage on 27 February 1902, only eight days after Rhodes registered the Imperial Cold Storage & Supply Company Limited in Pretoria to take over all cold storage works and the trading of meat from De Beers Consolidated Mines. Following the war, even the South African & Australian Supply and Cold Storage would cease trading and the Graaff’s would take large shareholding up in the Imperial Cold Storage & Supply Company. These events create a beautiful backdrop for the context of the work of Vecht in South Africa from the time he arrives in South Africa till his departure.

Dr Anderson wrote to me that Vecht seems to have moved around a lot during 1900/1901 before going to South Africa. This would probably mitigate against the picture of him “rushing” to South Africa, but once here, events in South Africa clearly shows that he had his work cut out for him.

Aron Vecht: The Incorporation of Temperature into Cured Transport

When refrigeration was introduced into international trade, its impact on meat quality was unknown. People opted for the less harsh conditions of chilling temperatures and tried to avoid freezing the meat. A drawback of mild cured bacon is that it did not last on long sea voyages under chilled conditions. The English market has, by the time Aron Vecht arrived on the scene, became used to mild cured bacon as opposed to heavy salted which was the kind of meat produced under the Rapid Cure process of Robert Davison. An attempt was made to use the sea voyage for the curing to take place and to pack the pork on ice. Famously the Harris brothers of Calne was involved in exactly this scheme. The Waikato Argus who reported on this in 1901 said that the lowering of the temperature below 32o Fahrenheit (0o C) has ‘invariably faded the flash into a pale, unpleasant colour and alienated the affections of the British matron.” What I think they meant was that lowering it to 0o C was ineffective in securing a good product that would arrive in London. At chilling schilling temperatures, when the meat has not been heated through hot smoking, the curing colour, resulting from the effect of nitric oxide on the meat proteins, giving it a bright pinkish/ reddish appearance would be reversed. If, however, the meat is frozen, such reversal would not take place. The meat would then be smoked when it arrived at its destination and the colour would be “fixed” through the unfolding of the proteins.

The Waikato Argus reported on this progression by Vecht as follows: “Now, however, by what may be called a triumph of transit and cure, a most promising and important trade has begun between New Zealand and England. By employing the Vecht curing process, a New Zealand firm is shipping pigs from that distant colony, placing them in refrigerators with a temperature of 20 deg Fahrenheit (-6 deg C), and curing them here on the banks of the Thames with apparently perfect success.

It was not well understood at the time and it was incorrectly believed that the method of sterilisation of the meat which was part of the Vecht process was responsible for preventing the cured colour from fading. What is true is not that it would have prevented the cured colour from fading, but that it would have stopped bacterial and enzymatic action which spoiled the meat and degraded the meat quality and this would undoubtedly also have affected the meat colour, even though it was by no means the only reason why the colour faded.

The article reported on this as follows. “This success is obtained by first treating the carcase*, before they leave New Zealand, by the Vecht curing process, which allays the action of the cold, and so sterilises the flesh as to prevent the changes which have hitherto interfered with the successful curing at Home of what is grown abroad.” (3)

The Waikato Argus which we quoted above related to the use of temperature and the curing of meat made also provides us with another very valuable bit of information related to the trading of bacon cured with the Vecht method. It reported that “Messrs Trengrouse and Co., who are colonial shippers on a huge scale and the British agents of Armours, of Chicago, are encouraging this new process, and prophesy for it a vast influence on the bacon trade.” (3) The mention of the agents of the legendary firm of Phil Armour is of extreme interest as is the link between Armour’s company and the propagation of Vecht’s method of curing. Armour was the pioneer of freezer technology for the distribution of meat in America and owned probably the largest curing works in Chicago in the world. Vecht was an expert in the refrigeration of meat in particular. Phil Armour was carefully plotting his way to introduce sodium nitrite directly as a curing brine but not wanting to be left out of the huge and lucrative international bacon trade, must have seen Vecht as a brilliant ally to secure bacon for his own trade while avoiding the expensive curing systems such as Auto Cure which Armour knew would be replaced by the direct addition of nitrite to curing brines.

Aron Vecht: His Curing Method

In New Zealand, Dr James Anderson elucidated the secret method of curing of Aron Vecht as follows. He told me that “his mild-cure method of preserving pork involved first roasting and cooling the carcass which was then injected with an antiseptic fluid invented and patented by him (Vecht). It involved hanging the carcass for 13 seconds in a furnace, bathing it in cold water and removing the two outer skin layers. ‘This removes the sweat glands of the pig … and the layer of fat next to the skin having been melted in the furnace saturates the thin paper-like inner skin, and when suddenly cooled hermetically seals the pig.’ The carcass is then split in two and the spine removed, allowing the serum to escape and finally treated with salt at such a temperature as to render the chloride constituent inoperative, thus retaining the albumen which is lost in the ordinary salting method. A newspaper article appeared in New Zealand on 18 September 1893 which reports an interview done by Aron Vecht where he describes his curing method first hand. (4)

In his description, he uses a phrase that stands out. He describes the process in similar terms as what Dr Anderson related to me. He mentions nothing of a vacuum vessel as in the Rapid Cure system of Robert Davison or the Auto Cure equipment of William Henry Oake. He simply states that his saltpetre based, patented brine is “pressure injected into the carcass, which becomes wholly impregnated, and the curing is complete.” (4)

I have often thought about what made Aron Vecht’s patented system unique and different from his compatriots. The singeing of the pork was undoubtedly something he got from the curing method of Henry Denny in Ireland. I will deal with this subsequently and you will see what I mean. Vecht gave the clue in the interview he did with a reporter in New Zealand. (4) He said that after slaughtering, the animal is allowed to cool down. His method of curing allowed for “year-round” application. His system cannot be confused with that of William Henry Oake or Robert Davison. That his patented blend of antiseptics would not have an impact on the meat colour is certain. Only one molecule can cure meat which is nitric oxide, derived in all quick curing systems from sodium nitrate which is turned into sodium nitrite. From the same interview (4) we know that his was saltpetre based (nitrate). At first, I suspected that Vecht probably incorporated the old brine into his process which, by this time was almost universally used in Australia. After I discovered the 1911 process description which fits his in every other way, I realised that he probably did not use old brine as was the cornerstone of William Oakes original mild cure system. I discuss the complete system below with particular reference to the brine he used. If he cooled the carcass down through refrigeration after slaughter, he most definitely did so after the brine was injected “under pressure.”

The fact that the carcasses were transported in refrigerated conditions meant that curing would not have progressed much further en-route to England. Once there, when they were hot smoked before sale, the curing reaction would undoubtedly have continued. Heating the carcass to around 50o C and keeping it at that temperature for as long as 60 minutes is a method that I use myself when there is not enough time to “rest” the cured meat before smoking. The heat allows the brine to be spread through the meat and the smoke materially contribute to nitric oxide formation which results in cured meat.

Messrs Trengrouse and Co

I told you that the one interesting aspect about Vecht was his method of curing. I referred you to the Waikato Argus which did an article on his life from where we got the all-important information on the temperature during the shipment of the meat. The same article mentions that Vecht’s products were sold through the firm of Messrs Trengrouse and Co.. They are described as colonial shippers on a huge scale and the British agents of the Armour Packing Company from Chicago, who are encouraging his new process. This brings us to the next fascinating aspect of this remarkable man’s life namely his link to the legendary provisions and general commission merchants of Messrs Trengrouse and Co.

The firm was officially called Trengrouse, H & Co., and was described as “Provision Agents and General Commission Merchants” Their address was 51, 55, Tooley Street, London, S.E. The firm was established in 1875 by Henry Trengrouse and his brother, who retired in 1908. They had agents in Liverpool, Manchester, Bristol, Cardiff, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Dunedin, (N.Z.), Monte Video, Buenos Ayres and they specialised in butter, cheese, bacon, eggs and canned goods. They claim to have pioneered the trade in New Zealand and Australia in dairy products. Most importantly for our purposes is that they were the agents for Armour & Co. from Chicago and by 1914 they have been Armour’s agents for upwards of thirty years. (1914 Who’s Who in Business) This means that Phil Armour probably set them up himself and dealt directly with them. Phil passed away at the turn of the century.

The grandfather Henery Trengrouse after whom he was named was a legendary figure in his own right. He devoted his life to the invention of a number of methods to improve safety aboard ships after he witnessed the sinking of a ship with a tragic loss of life close to his hometown when he was a young man. (5) Adventure and perseverance ran in the family and, I am sure, accounted for their success in no small way!

Messrs Trengrouse and Co in South Africa

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

Until Dr James Anderson informed me about Aron Vecht, I was unable to discover the name of the agents for Philip Armour. Introducing me to Vecht, led me to the discovery of the agents of Armour being Messrs Trengrouse and Co who did not do business with Combrinck & Co. (Later the Imperial Cold Storage and Supply Co. of De Villiers Graaff) as I suspected but with Langeberg Foods on canning, presumably from the Boland town of Wellington in the Cape Colony.

I know Langeberg Foods very well and will take this up with them directly as well as securing the book where the reference is made -> Langeberg: 50 Years of Canning Achievement, 1940-1990 – Page 27, D. J. Van Zyl, 1990

Developments in Ireland – 1866: The Patent of Henry Denny

Let’s first get some background on Denny. Ireland in the first half of the 1800s was a fertile field for innovation. An excellent example is found in the person of Henry Denny. Part of his remarkable legacy is a firm that once was the largest bacon producer in Europe, Henry Denny & Sons. Henry was born in Waterford, Ireland in 1790.

Denny started out as a provisioner merchant in Waterford. The first reference to him as a bacon merchant comes to us from 1846. In 1854 he started using ice in bacon curing which allowed him to cure meat all year round like his colleagues in Calne. The bacon he cured was also referred to as mild cured bacon and a patent was granted in 1857 on his process. I failed to discover the exact nature of his patented process till Aron Vecht introduced me to it. Like the process invented by C & T Harris, which they called Sweet Cured Bacon, Henry’s process used much less salt. The priority for inventing the first mild cured system, however, goes to William Oake from Ulster whom we know invented this at around the time when Denny had his merchant business or shortly after this and well before Denny entered the pork processing trade. Denny undoubtedly achieved mild cured bacon in a way different from William Oake.

Henry’s curing system is described in one source I consulted (Geocaching) which seems to be a copy from another work that is unfortunately not referenced and all my attempts to locate the original publication has been in vain. The author describes it as follows: “Until the early 19th century, pork was cured by soaking large chunks of the meat in barrels of brine for weeks. Shelf life was poor, as often as the inside of the chunks did not cure properly, and meat rotted from the inside out. Henry Denny and his youngest son Edward Denny introduced a number of new innovations – he used long flat pieces of meat instead of chunks; and they dispensed with brine in favour of a dry or ‘hard’ cure, sandwiching the meat in layers of dry salt. This produced well cured bacon with a good shelf life and revolutionised Ireland’s meat industry. Irish bacon and hams were soon exported to Britain, Paris, the Americas and India.“

Reference is made to the fact that Denny invented several curing techniques and if the description given is correct, it would be one of several inventions. Taken at face value I doubt the superiority of his system over Oake’s invention. It also comes so late in terms of dates that I seriously doubt if this could be the patent that was awarded in 1957. By this time meat injection was already well established which solved the shortcomings of William Oakes invention in his mild cured system of simply filling the curing tanks with brine to diffuse into the meat “naturally.” If this was in fact the patent that was granted in 1857, it would represent a serious step backwards.

A great contribution to my understanding of Denny’s system is the fact that he acquired a meat curing company in Denmark in 1894. The reference is Lets-Look-Again who also seems to quote an uncredited source. They make a statement that this purchase “introduced Irish meat curing techniques to Denmark.” I have over the years come across several authors who made the same claim that the Irish meat curing system was introduced to Denmark in the late 1800s after an Irish firm acquired a Danish processing company. They never gave the name of the Irish firm in question. The end of the 1800s is, however, the wrong time for the introduction of William Oake’s system to Denmark. By this time it was already well established in Denmark and the likely transfer of the technology to C & T Harris took place from Denmark either at this time (closing years of the 1800s) or in the opening few years of the 1900s. For this reason, I never used the reference but I was always curious who the Irish firm was, wrongly credited for the transfer of the original mild cure technology to Denmark. If, as I now suspect, the Irish firm referred to was that of Henry Denny, the question comes up as to exactly what the invention was that he took to Denmark!

Denny could very well have been the inventor of the pork rasher. Geocaching quotes an unnamed source that “the rasher (a piece of bacon to be cooked quickly or rashed) was reportedly invented in 1820 by Henry Denny, a Waterford butcher who patented several bacon curing techniques still used to this day.” It must be mentioned that Denny’s career only started in 1820 but that was not as a butcher. It was as a merchant and he entered the pork processing business only in 1854. There could still be credibility to the claim which I base on the widespread nature of the story in Ireland. Maybe he was a young man with unusual interest and creativity in selling pork at his trading business. The claim may however be apocryphal.

This now brings us to the link between Aron Vecht and Henry Denny which lead me to discover the real invention of Henry Denny and his mild curing process. One aspect of pork curing that I overlooked for years was the importance of singeing. Singeing pork was nothing new. Removing the hair off the carcass and retaining the “rind” was done with straws for centuries. The old method is beautifully illustrated by Тихомир Давчев in their set of photos featured below.

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

Molander (1985)

His fame was in the first place due to his invention of the automated process of pork singeing. He may have, of course, also called his process “mild cured” as with the aid of refrigeration he would have obtained the same result as did William Oake who actually invented the original mild cured process. It is what I suspect Aron Vecht did and his claim that the key feature of his process is his secret antiseptic brine formulation. Since no brine formulation could secure the cooked/ cured look of bacon, I suspect that it was an attempt by him to divert attention from the fact that he essentially copied a patented process that was owned by Henry Denny. The real brilliance of Vecht was in the adjustment of cold storage temperatures from chilled to below freezing point.

Was this disingenuous for him to also have called it “mild cured”? I think not. It illustrates the inherent problem in using the result of the process (i.e. milder bacon) as the name of your product. If the result is the same but a different process was used to arrive at it, how would the consumer know (or care)! From a trademark perspective, it makes it tricky since the words seem to be difficult to protect as it would be the general way people would refer to the bacon, not heavily salted. It is like trying to trademark the phrase “well cooked.”

The one point, which as it stands right now, I believe, is that Denny invented the automated process of singeing the carcass. The publication I site above is the earliest mention of automating the process that I could find and I am now convinced that Vecht got his method from Denny. Auto Curing requires the use of pressure cylinders (autoclaves or retorts) which make the auto cure bacon’s production even more expensive than mild cured bacon. It is the only process that was really patentable because neither sweet cure nor mild cure nor Vecht’s process, neither Denny’s singe process is so unique that it cannot be copied by someone with even mediocre technical skills and is not really patentable. The existence of Aron Vecht and his process proves this.

In this regard it is similar to the refrigeration patent which Harris took out – may I add. Anybody could, and I am sure would make small changes to the system to show it to be unique and to overcome the trademark issue. This was not the case with Auto Cure which relied on unique equipment. To this day, people buy bacon and the exact process is, as it were, lost in the final product. Trade marks speak to consistent quality, but in the final analysis, bacon has always been and still is today a commodity that most people buy on price (given a relatively wide range of acceptable product quality)

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

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

Have a look at the article below, Effect of Singeing on the Texture and Histological Appearance of Pig Skin. (6) It beautifully describes the process, and it ascribes the tradition to be Danish. The reason I will still give priority to the invention of Denny is that Denny created bacon curing plants in Denmark. I believe that the technology was invented by Denny, transferred to Denmark where it was used on a large scale and subsequently made its way to the Harris operation in Calne and other Wiltshire curers (including Oake Woods – son of William Oake who invented Mild Curing).

There are many traditions that mild curing for example was invented by the Danes, but after 10 years of research, I know that this is incorrect. As I already discussed, I can imagine that through his process Denny also arrived at a “milder cured bacon” but he was by no means the first to have done so. The invention is Irish and was kept a secret till disgruntled Irish curers (on strike) were lured to Denmark under a Danish continual learning scheme where they were paid handsomely to train the Danes in Mild Curing.

1911 Description of what Denny and Vecht’s Process Looked Like

There is a further rear description from the Journal of the Royal Society of the Arts, 1911 describing mild cured bacon production without the use of curing baths or old brine. It has all the elements of the Denny/ Vecht system.

It, interestingly, says that it was not too long ago when curing methods were closely guarded secrets, handed down from one generation to the next orally. By 1911 this was not the case any longer and the account which follows is in this new tradition.

The animal is stunned and bled after which the carcass is placed in a tank with 70 – 85 deg C (160 to 185 deg F) water where the carcass is scalded and the hair removed.

The carcass is then pushed into the singeing furnace. It specifies that where Wiltshire bacon is produced, singeing is always used.

Sculping table to the singeing furnace. This furnace was invented by Denny and copied by Vecht.

The carcass is left in the furnace for 25 seconds. The subcutaneous fat which would be soft is changed to hard fat after the carcass has been removed and is cooled down in a cold water bath.

The carcass is hung on dressing bars where it’s cleaned and disembowelled. Singed and unsinged carcasses are from this point onwards treated in the same way.

They are cleaned with cold water and scraped clean. The intestinal offal is removed and handled separately. Kidney fat is still in the carcass at this point.

The carcass is now split and the backbone or vertebral column removed. Secondary offal is removed being the head, feet and kidney fat. It is the removal of the vertebral column which liberates the two sides. The sides were then hung until they sufficiently cooled down, to around 38o F or 3o C.

Scoring – remove the backbone and separate the sides.

The process following is described as follows. “When the temperature is riched, transfer the carcass to the curing cellar. Here the blade bone is drawn out.” Curing according to their method did not involve the re-use of the old brine. Instead, a fresh pickle is pumped into each side at a pressure of 40 lbs. to the square inch. “The pickle is pumped through a pickle needle with a number of perforations arranged in a spiral manner through which the pickle is discharged. The sides are now laid one by one on the floor of the curing cellar which is maintained at a temperature of 42o F or 5o C. The atmosphere must be humid and moist. Each side is covered over by an equal mixture of salt, saltpetre and curing preservative on top of which is placed a heavy layer of salt.” (Journal of the Royal Society, 1911) No mention is made of a liquid pickle.

Curing cellar in an Irish Bacon factory.

“Under these conditions the curing proceeds and the salt, as it melts, take the place of the meat juices.” (Journal of the Royal Society, 1911) In their view, the salt and the rest of the cure “replaced” the meat juices which were drawn out. They worked out that under refrigerated conditions, less salt can be used. The process laster 14 days. A statement is made that the bacon can then be sold as “mild cured bacon”. Alternatively, the bacon could be washed, dried, smoked and sold as smoked bacon.

An interesting comment is made that the bacon would not keep very long in the mild-cured condition. For the bacon to last long, it had to be kept in the salt. Farm cured bacon is typically kept in the salt for 28 days.

Bacon pumping in Denmark. In Denmark, only Wiltshire sides of bacon are produced, and the bacon is all pumped before being placed in the curing bed and covered with salt and saltpetre.

A fascinating and insightful section follows where the curing process is discussed in some detail. “The exact process which goes on in the production of bacon is not merely the displacement of the meat juices by a solution of salt and curing material. There is also the presence of micro-organisms which are always to be found where flesh of any kind exists. These putrefactive organisms assist in the curing process by breaking down some of the tissue of the meat, notwithstanding the presence of salt, which has no antiseptic effect on some of them. This is how the bacon flavour arises as distinguished from fresh or pickled pork. The flavour is largely due to decomposition.” (Journal of the Royal Society, 1911) That there has been a serious progression of scientific thought by this time, is clear. The use of the word micro-organisms is instructive, but surprisingly, they were at this point in Britain completely ignorant of the work in Germany related to the chemical reactions as the basis for curing – at least the bacon curing community was.

Sides of Wiltshire bacon in a curing cellar. In the curing of Wiltshire bacon, the sides are uniformly stacked as in this picture.

What we have here is clearly the Denny/ Vecht curing system and not tank curing which was invented by William Oake and later became part of the Wiltshire brine system. Another observation is in order related to the use of the Wiltshire cut in New Zealand. The largest bacon producer in New Zealand, Hellers, to this day use the Wiltshire cut in its deboning hall. In all probability, this was introduced by Vecht and was part of his curing system as is described in the Journal of 1911.

International Bacon War: Quest for Supremacy

I thought it important to deal with Vecht, Trengrouse and Denny in one letter since it speaks to the state of international competitiveness of the newly emerging superpower of the United States relative to the diminishing influence of England. We must not lose sight of the fact that Vecht’s process was a short-lived attempt by the Dutch (Vecht) and the Americans (Armour) to wrestle away control of the international bacon market from the British.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Conclusion

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

I am thrilled that you continue to live so close to the meat trade which I have dedicated my life to and the history of which I am discovering more about every single day!

Lots of love,

your dad.

(c) eben van tonder


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Notes

Note 1: Liquidation Sale Notice

The notice of the liquidation reads as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

By order. THOMAS MARRIOTT, Liquidator, ‘

The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW, Tue 29 Jun 1909)

Note 2: York Castle Bacon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia) · 16 Jun 1936, Tue · Page 6

Note 3: From the The Waikato Argus, Friday, November 22, 1901.

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

“Frozen pigs are arriving in England from New Zealand, to be ‘borne cured’ for the British breakfast table (say the Daily Mail). This explanation is that the world is short of pigs, and as people still insist on eating pork the shippers and curers are straining every nerve to reach the remotest parts where the pig is sold. This is why England is buying bacon from Siberia, Russia, Denmark, Holland, Canada, the United States, Australia, and a score more of our colonial friends and foreign rivals. Hitherto this foreign bacon has always arrived in England already cured, and since it is ‘mildly cured ’ to suit the British palate, a very large portion of the bacon sold to the householder is slightly tainted. To prevent this numerous attempts have been made to put the dead pig into ice and turn him into bacon on arrival in England. But the lowering of the temperature below 32deg Fahrenheit (0 deg C) has ‘invariably faded the flash into a pale, unpleasant colour and alienated the affections of the British matron. Now, however, by what may be called a triumph of transit and cure, a most promising and important trade has begun between New Zealand and England. By employing the Vecht curing process, a New Zealand firm is shipping pigs from that distant colony, placing them in refrigerators with a temperature of 20 deg Fahrenheit (-6 deg C), and curing them here on the banks of the Thames with apparently perfect success. This success is obtained by first treating the carcase*, before they leave New Zealand, by the Vecht curing process, which allays the action of the cold, and so sterilises the flesh as to prevent the changes which has hitherto interfered with the successful curing at Home of what is grown abroad. Messrs Trengrouse and Co., who are colonial shippers on a huge scale and the British agents of Armours, of Chicago, are encouraging this new process, and prophesy for it a vast influence on the bacon trade.”The Waikato Argus, Friday, November 22, 1901

Note 4: Interview with Aron Vecht

Note 5: Interesting link to the Grandfather of Henry Trengouse

In my quest to trace the history of bacon curing I wondered many times over 10 years why I cannot find any information about the Armour packing plant in Chicago trading in bacon. It was one of the largest meatpacking plants on earth. I discovered through investigating the life of Aron Vecht, the orthodox Jewish meat curer and inventor of his own curing system, the agent for Armour was the English firm of Henry Trengrouse and they were huge traders in bacon on Armours behalf.

The grandfather of Henry Trengrouse who owned the firm with his brother, Richard, turns out to be a particularly interesting man. He was also Henry Trengrouse. It strikes me that much of his spirit lived on in his grandson. I quote this section from the book Cornish Characters and Strange Events by S. Baring-Gould:

HENRY TRENGROUSE, INVENTOR

Helston is a quaint old town, once of far more importance than at present. It possessed an old castle, that has now disappeared. It was one of the six stannary towns, and prior to 1832 returned two members to Parliament. It still glories in its “Furry Day,” when the whole town goes mad, dancing, in spite of Methodism. It has on some of its old house-gables pixy seats, and it had a grammar school that has had notable masters, as Derwent Coleridge, and notable scholars, as Henry Trengrouse. It is the key and capital to that wonderful district, rich in geological and botanic and antiquarian interest, the Lizard.

The great natural curiosity of Helston is Loe Pool, formed by the Comber, a small river, penned back by Loe Bar, a pebble-and-sand ridge thrown up by the sea. The sheet of water lying between wooded hills abounds in trout, and white swans float dreamily over the still water. The banks are rich with fern, and yellow, white, and pink mesembryanthemum. Formerly the pool rose till it overflowed the lower parts of the town; now a culvert has been driven through the rocks to let off the water as soon as it has attained a certain height.

Henry Trengrouse was born at Helston, 18th March 1772, the son of Nicholas Trengrouse (1739-1814), and of Mary, his wife, who was a Williams.

The family had been long among the freeholders of Helston, and possessed as well a small estate, Priske, in the parish of Mullion; but the family name is taken from Tref-an-grouse, the House by the Cross, in the same parish.

Henry was educated in Helston Grammar School, and became, by trade, a cabinet-maker.On 29th December, 1807, when he was aged thirty-five, a rumour spread through the little town that a large frigate, H.M.S. Anson, had been driven ashore on Loe Bar, about three miles distant. Mr Trengrouse and many others hastened to the coast and reached the bar.

The Anson, forty-four guns, under the command of Captain Lydiard, had left Falmouth on Christmas Eve for her station off Brest as a look-out ship for the Channel Fleet.

A gale from the W.S.W. sprang up, and after being buffeted about till the 28th, with the wind increasing, the captain determined to run to port. The first land they made was the Land’s End, which they mistook for the Lizard, and only discovered their mistake when the cry of “Breakers ahead!” was heard from the man on the lookout. They were now embayed, and in face of the terrible storm, it was impossible to work off, so both cables were let go. The Anson rode to these till the early morning of the 29th, when they parted, and the captain, in order to save as many lives as possible, decided to beach her on the sand off Loe Pool. A tremendous sea was running, and as she took the beach only sixty yards from the bar, she was dashed broadside on, and happily for the poor fellows on board, heeled landwards. Seas mountains high rolled over her, sweeping everything before them. Then her masts went by the board, her mainmast forming a floating raft from the ship almost to the shore, and over this scrambled through the maddened waves most of those who were saved.

It was a terrible sight to witness for the hundreds of spectators who had by this time collected on the beach, but it was almost impossible for them to render any assistance.

At last, when all hands seemed to have left the ship, two stout-hearted Methodist local preachers—Mr. Tobias Roberts, of Helston, and Mr. Foxwell, of Mullion—made an attempt to reach her, so as to see if anyone remained on board. They succeeded and were soon followed by others, who found several people, including two women and as many children. The women and some of the men were safely conveyed ashore, but the children were drowned. There were altogether upwards of a hundred drowned, including the captain, who stood by the frigate to the last. The exact number was never known, as many of the soldiers deserted on reaching the shore.

The survivors salved a good deal from the wreck, amongst which were watches, jewellery, and many articles of considerable value. They were placed all together in a bedroom of the old inn at Porthleven, with a soldier with drawn sword on guard. One of the beams that bent under such an unusual weight may be seen bowed to this day. A local militia sergeant was soon afterwards sent to Helston in charge of a wagon-load of these valuable goods, and when halfway to his destination was accosted by a Jew, who offered him £50 in exchange for his load. “Here is my answer,” said the sergeant, presenting a loaded pistol at his head, and the fellow hurriedly took his departure.

Much indignation was raised at the time by the way in which the victims of the disaster were buried. They were bundled in heaps into large pits dug in the cliff above, without any burial service being performed over them. It was customary everywhere at that time for all bodies washed ashore to be interred by the finder at the nearest convenient spot. But as a result of the indecent methods of burial of the Anson victims, an Act of Parliament was framed by Mr Davies Gilbert, and passed on 18th June 1808, providing “suitable interment in churchyards and parochial burying-grounds” for all bodies cast up by the sea.

The Anson was a sixty-four gun frigate cut down to a forty-four and had seen much service. Among many fights, she figured in Lord Rodney’s action on 12th April 1782, formed part of the fleet which repulsed the French squadron in an attempt to land in Ireland in 1796, helped in the seizure of the French West Indies in 1803, and in 1807 took part in the capture of Curaçao from the Dutch. It was not long after her return from this latter place that she left Falmouth for the cruise on which she met her fate.

In 1902 the hull of the Anson, after having been submerged for ninety-five years, came to light again. She was found by Captain Anderson of the West of England Salvage Company, whose attention had been directed to the wreck by a Porthleven fisherman. Unfortunately at the time, the weather was so stormy that Captain Anderson could not proceed with any efforts of salvage, and with the exception of one visit of inspection the interesting relic was left untouched. But in April 1903, with a bright sky and a light breeze from the northeast, he proceeded to the spot and inspected the remains. The hull of the vessel was not intact, and several guns were lying alongside. One of these, about 10 ft. 6 in. long, Captain Anderson secured and hoisted on to the deck of the Green Castle by means of a winch, and afterwards conveyed it to Penzance. It was much encrusted. Amongst the mass of débris also raised were several cannon-balls.

But to return to Henry Trengrouse, who had stood on the beach watching the wreck, the rescue of some and the perishing of others.

Drenched with rain and spray, and sick at heart, Henry Trengrouse returned to his home and was confined to his bed for nearly a week, having contracted a severe cold. The terrible scene had made an indelible impression on his mind, and he could not, even if he had wished it, drive the thought away. Night and day he mused on the means whereby some assistance could be given to the shipwrecked, some communication be established between the vessel and the shore.

He was a great friend of Samuel Drew, whose life was devoted to metaphysics, and it was perhaps the contrast in the two minds that made them friends—one an idealist, the other practical.

Trengrouse had a small competence, besides his trade, and he devoted every penny that he could spare to experiments, first in the construction of a lifeboat, but without satisfactory results.

The King’s birthday was celebrated at Helston with fireworks on the green; and as Henry Trengrouse looked up at the streak of fire rushing into the darkness above and scattering a shower of stars, it occurred to him, Why should not a rocket, instead of wasting itself in an exhibition of fireworks, do service and become a means of carrying a rope to a vessel among the breakers? When a communication has been established between the wreck and the shore, above the waves, it may become an aerial passage along which those in distress may pass to safety.

Something of the same idea had already occurred to Lieutenant John Bell in 1791, but his proposal was that a shot with a chain attached to it should be discharged from a mortar. Captain George William Manby had his attention drawn to this in February 1807, and in August of the same year exhibited some experiments with his improved life-preserving mortar to the members of the Suffolk House Humane Society. By the discharge of the mortar, a barbed shot was to be flung onto the wreck, with a line attached to the shot. By means of this line a hawser could be drawn from the shore to the ship, and along it would be run a cradle in which the shipwrecked persons could be drawn to land.

Manby’s mortar was soon abandoned as cumbrous and dangerous; men were killed during tests; notwithstanding which he was awarded, £2000. The great merit of Trengrouse’s invention was that the rocket was much lighter than a shot from a mortar, and was, moreover, more portable, and there was a special line manufactured for it that would not kink, nor would it snap, because the velocity of the rocket increased gradually, whereas that from a discharge of a mortar was sudden and so great that the cord was frequently ruptured.

The distinctive feature of Trengrouse’s apparatus consisted of “a section of a cylinder, which is fitted to the barrel of a musket by a bayonet socket; a rocket with a line attached to its stick is so placed on it that its priming receives fire immediately from the barrel”; whereas a metal mortar could not be conveyed to the cliff or shore opposite the scene of disaster without being drawn in a conveyance by horses, and where there was no road with the utmost difficulty dragged over hedges and ploughed fields by men. Not only so, but a shot discharged by Captain Manby’s mortar was liable to endanger life. Wrecks generally happened in the dark, and then the shot would not be visible to those on the wreck. But Trengrouse’s rocket would indicate its track by the trail of fire by which it was impelled and could be fired from either the ship or the shore.

Trengrouse expended £3000 on his experiments and sacrificed to this one object—that of saving life—his capital, his business, and his health. He cut off the entail on Priske, which had belonged to the family for several generations, and sold it to enable him to pursue his experiments. There was much that was pathetic in his life: there were the long and frequent journeys to London from Helston, four days by coach, sometimes in mid-winter and in snowstorms, with the object of inducing successive Governments to adopt the rocket apparatus, meeting only with discouragement. Nor was this all. After all his own means had been exhausted, he received a legacy of £500 under a brother’s will, and this sum he at once devoted to further endeavours with H.M. Government for the general adoption of his rocket apparatus.

The Russian ambassador now stepped forward and invited Trengrouse to S. Petersburg, where he assured him that, instead of rebuffs, he would experience only the consideration due to him for his inventions. But Trengrouse’s reply was, “My country first”; and that country allowed him, after the signal services he had rendered to humanity—to die penniless.

His original design was to supply every ship with a rocket apparatus; as vessels were almost invariably wrecked before the wind, the line might the more easily be fired from a ship than from the shore.

Trengrouse once met Sir William Congreve, who also claimed to be the inventor of the war-rocket; and Trengrouse said to him in the course of their discussion, “As far as I can see, Sir William, your rocket is designed to destroy life; mine is to save life; and I do claim to be the first that ever thought of utilizing a rocket for the saving of human lives.”

Trengrouse moreover invented the cork jacket or “life preserver.” This was a success and has never been improved on. It has been the means of saving many hundreds of lives. He also built a model of a lifeboat, that could not be sunk, and was equal to the present lifeboats of the Royal Lifeboat Association in all respects except the “self-righting” principle. It was not until February 28th, 1818, after many journeys to London, and much ignorant and prejudiced objection that he had to contend against, such as is found so usual among Government officials, that Trengrouse was able to exhibit his apparatus before Admiral Sir Charles Rowley. A committee was appointed, and on March 5th it reported favourably on the scheme.

In the same year the Committee of the Elder Brethren of Trinity House reported in high terms on the invention, and recommended that “no vessel should be without it.”

Thereupon Government began to move slowly; in the House, the matter was discussed and haggled over. One speaker exclaimed: “You are guilty of sinful negligence in this matter, for while you are parleying over this invention and this important subject, thousands of our fellow-men are losing their lives.”

At last, Government ordered twenty sets of the life-preserving rockets, but afterwards resolved on making the apparatus itself, and paid Trengrouse the sum of £50, the supposed amount of profit he would have made on the order. Fifty pounds was all his ungrateful country could afford to give him. In 1821, however, the Society of Arts pronounced favourably on his apparatus and presented Trengrouse with their silver medal and a grant of thirty guineas.

Through the Russian ambassador, the then Czar sent him a diamond ring, in consideration of the great advantage his apparatus had proved in shipwrecks on the Baltic and the Black Sea. Even this he was constrained to pledge, that he might devote the money to his darling project.

With these acknowledgements of his services, he had to rest contented, but ever the news of lives having been saved through his invention was a solace to an even and contented mind.

Henry Trengrouse died at Helston on February 19th, 1854.

As he lay on his deathbed with his face to the wall, he turned about, and with one of his bright, hopeful smiles said to his son, “If you live to be as old as I am, you will find my rocket apparatus all along our shores.” They were his last words; in a few minutes he had passed away.

The rocket apparatus is along the shores at 300 stations, but not, as he had hoped, onboard the vessels. He had despaired of obtaining that, yet that is what he aimed at principally.

In April 1905, owing to the loss of the Kyber on the Land’s End coast, questions were asked in the House of Commons relative to wireless telegraphy between the lighthouses and the coast. On that occasion one of the most valuable suggestions was made by a shipping expert, who considered that the Board of Trade should make it compulsory that a light rocket apparatus should be carried by all vessels, so that, when in distress if near the coast, the crew could send a rocket ashore. This marine engineer said: “On shore the rockets must be fired by practised men, such as coastguards because they have to strike a small object; but on a vessel, they have only to hit the land, and if people are about, the line will quickly be seized and made fast. At present, too, horses and wagons have to be used, and sometimes it is difficult to find a road leading down to the spot from which help must be rendered. Probably for twenty pounds an appliance could be kept on board a vessel which would send a line ashore in less time and with more certainty than at present. When a vessel is being blown ashore, I have seen rockets fired from the land return like a boomerang to the cliff on account of the strength of the gale. In my judgment, mariners should assist in their own salvation.”

On this Mr H. Trengrouse, grandson of the inventor, wrote to the Cornishman, 24th April 1905:—

“Your suggestion in the Cornishman of the 15th instant … that all vessels should be compelled by the Board of Trade to carry this apparatus, is very practical, and should, and I trust may be soon adopted.”

It may interest your readers to learn that the inventor, my grandfather, the late Mr. Henry Trengrouse, of Helston, urged this upon successive Governments without any encouragement whatever, and I on two occasions have also suggested it to the principals of the Marine Department of the Board of Trade, who have informed me of a strong opinion always entertained, that on the occasion of wreck, there would probably not be any one on board possessing sufficient knowledge of the use of the apparatus to render it of any value; which seems very strange indeed, and might be readily obviated by, at least, the captain and officers of vessels being instructed in its use—surely simple enough. My grandfather devoted much time to make it so; and the advantage of an appliance for use on board is so palpable, and the loss of life during many years by its absence so considerable, that it is extremely gratifying to observe a renewed and increasing interest in the subject, which I hope, Sir, as you state, being so important, may now be kept to the fore.”

I am, Sir,

“Your obedient servant,”

“H. Trengrouse.”

That this admirable letter to the Cornishman should at the time produce no effect on the Board of Trade is what every one who has had any dealings with that Board would predicate.

At length, however, some goading has roused that obstructive, inert body into inquiring into this matter. I read in the Daily Express of 27th January 1908: “The question whether the carrying of rockets for projecting lifelines should be made compulsory on all British ships is being investigated by a special committee appointed by the Board of Trade. One witness before the committee said that he had seen fifty men drowned within sixty yards of the shore in a gale, and that all might have been saved had the vessel been equipped with line-throwing guns.”

So—after the lapse of eighty-six or seven years, and the loss of thousands of lives that might have been saved had not the Board of Trade been too inert to move in the matter—an inquiry has once more been instituted. Let us hope that after this inquiry the matter may not be allowed to fall again into neglect.

That the rocket fired from the shore has been already the means of saving lives, the following report on it made to the Board of Trade, for the year ending 30th June 1907, will testify:—

“During the year ended as above, 268 lives were saved by means of the life-saving apparatus, that is to say, 127 more than the number saved by the same means during the previous year, and 67 more than the average for the previous ten years. The total number of lives saved by the life-saving apparatus since 1870 is 8924. This number does not include the large number of lives saved by means of ropes and other assistance from the shore.”

After the loss of the Berlin, belonging to the Great Eastern Company, in 1907, the attention of the Dutch Government was called to the advantage of having the rocket apparatus on board ship, and legal instructions were drafted, making it obligatory upon all vessels of over two hundred tons gross to carry rocket apparatus.

Henry Trengrouse’s noble life was a failure in so far as that it brought him no pecuniary results—covered him with disappointment, reduced him to poverty. He received, in all, for his life’s work, and the sacrifice of fortune and the landed estate of his ancestors, £50 from Government, £31 10s. from the Society of Arts, and a diamond ring that in his time of need he was constrained to pawn, and which he was never able to redeem.

Russell Lowell puts these lines into the mouth of Cromwell, in his Glance behind the Curtain:—

My God, when I read o'er the bitter lives
Of men whose eager hearts are quite too great
To beat beneath the cramp'd mode of the day,
And see them mocked at by the world they love,
Haggling with prejudice for pennyworths
Of that reform which this hard toil will make
The common birthright of the age to come—
When I see this, spite of my faith in God,
I marvel how their hearts bear up so long;
Nor could they, but for this same prophecy,
This inward feeling of the glorious end.

Henry Trengrouse married Mary, daughter of Samuel and Mary Jenken, 19th November 1795. She was born at S. Erth, 9th September, 1772, and died at Helston, 27th March 1863. By her he had one son only who reached manhood, Nicholas Trevenen Trengrouse, who died at the age of seventy-four; and one daughter, Jane, who married Thomas Rogers, solicitor, of Helston; Emma, who married a Mr Matthews; and two, Mary and Anne, who died unmarried, the first at the age of eighty, the latter at that of ninety-four.

To Mr. Henry Trengrouse, the son of Mr Nicholas T. Trengrouse, I am indebted for much information relative to his grandfather, as also to a lecture, never published, delivered in 1894 by the Rev. James Ninnis, who says in a letter to Mr H. Trengrouse, junior: “Most of the detail I have taken from notes of my father, dated 1878; he got them from a conversation with your respected father.”

Mr J. Ninnis’ grandfather had stood on the beach by the side of Henry Trengrouse, watching the wreck of the Anson.

A portrait of the inventor, by Opie the younger, is in the possession of the family at Helston, as is also the picture of the wreck of the Anson sketched at the time by Mr. Trengrouse. For permission to reproduce both I am indebted to the courtesy of the grandson of the inventor.

Note 6: Effect of Singeing on the Texture and Histological Appearance of Pig Skin


References

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

De Beer, G., Paterson, A., and Olivier, H.. 2003. 160 Years of export. The History of the Perishable Products Export Control Board.

Dommisse, E.. 2011. Sir David Pieter de Villiers Graaff: Sakeman en Politikus aan die Kaap 1859 –1931.

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

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

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

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

Journal of the Royal Society of the Arts, no 3078, Vol LX, 17 November 1911

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

Molander, E.. 1985. Effect of Singeing on the Texture and Histological Appearance of Pig Skin. Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University, Department of Meat Technology and Process Engineering, 11 Howitzvej, DK-2000 Copenhagen F, Denmark

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

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

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

The Waikato Argus, Friday, November 22, 1901


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The Life and Times of George Samworth: Prepared for Greatness!

The Life and Times of George Samworth: Prepared for Greatness!
Eben van Tonder 
3 September 2021

Introduction

One of the iconic food producers in England is without question, the legendary Samworth Brothers. As an amateur food historian, my interest in the company is obvious. They owe their existence to the visionary work of 4 generations of Samworth brothers of successive generations beginning with George Samworth who, born in 1868, as a young man entered the business world as a member of a consortium of Birmingham pig buyers. As will be seen in this article, their legacy actually started at least a generation earlier with Georg’s dad, also named George. Twenty-eight years later, in 1896, George junior set up his own business as a pig dealer in Birmingham. Their existence spans a time in England when the English pig breeds were established, the industrialisation of the meat processing trade took place and when the English producers had to weather the storm of the intense onslaught of foreign firms trying to wrestle slices of the lucrative English meat market from their hands. In the immortal words of Charles Dickens, “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness,” and in the life of George Samworth, it was his spring of hope.

Despite the lack of information on his early years I pressed on to glean insight into the times he lived and the man he was. I ordered my copy of A Taste of Tradition: The Story of the Samworth Family Business (1896 – 1996) yesterday and will receive it before the end of the month. Still, there are two distinct but highly productive avenues of investigation open to me while I wait for the right source material.

The first is to take the two-dimensional pictures so often presented by historians and create a three-dimensional view of George Samworth by getting into his mind. What was the burning issues that occupied his thoughts?

The second approach is to make the best use of the time while I still have limited information available. While I wait for the avalanche of information to arrive, I can focus on seemingly less important information. I hope to see things that I would otherwise have missed in the context of too much information. The implications of a seemingly unimportant reference can be interrogated longer and with focus and in the process of looking, it often happens that you start to see something you would otherwise have missed.

Both these approaches will be valuable in our first look at the founder of Samworth Brothers, George Samworth.

The first question is if it is possible to know what the discussions would have been around the dinner table of a pig trader in Birmingham towards the last half of the 1800s.

Birmingham Above Knockcroghery

Before we delve into the question of dinner conversation in the Samworth household, let’s first set the scene generally by highlighting the importance of Birmingham. Birmingham, at this time, was and remained a key hub for the hog trade, linking the central and northern counties with the all-important southern counties well into the 1900s. The south with its dairy industries took the lead in hog production but this does not mean that the north and centre of England were not important and the key hub in this epic drama was Birmingham!

An example of its importance into the first half of the 1900s can be seen from a comparison that was made between Birmingham and the Irish village of Knockcroghery in the county of Roscommon almost right in the centre of Ireland. In a 1939 publication (Díosbóireachtaí Párlaiminte) the author mentions that if pork producers from this Irish town would bring their pigs to the Birmingham market, they would leave with £2000 more in their pocket than if they sold it in their home town the next day.

Joseph Harris, writing his epic work on pork husbandry in 1885 writes about the Birmingham pig market and says “Birmingham has long been one of the greatest pig markets in the kingdom, and the pig breeding of the district has been not a little affected and improved by the winter fat-stock show which has for some years been held here at Bingley Hall, with great success.” This places George Samworth in a city, as important to the hog trade as Calne and Gillingham.

Getting into the Mind of a Hog-Man in the late 1800s

Besides confirmation of the importance of Birmingham, Harris’s writing gives us a glimpse into the mind of a hog man in the late 1800s and by extension, into the mind of George Samworth. This was his world and these are the times when he was growing up and when he started his career. In the dinner conversation with George and his family, these are exactly the kind of things that would be discussed.

The development of pig breeds through the incorporation of Chinese hogs into the English pig herds, the migration from lard pigs to the development of bacon pigs and re-organising the way pig husbandry was being done were all central issues at this time. See a series of articles I did on the subject The Old and the New Pig Breeds and The English Pig, the Kolbroek and the Kune Kune in Bacon & the Art of Living.

Hot topics at this time were the development of the Berkshire and Tamworth breeds and here Birmingham played a key role. Harris writes, “The town of Birmingham unites Staffordshire and Warwickshire. The old Warwickshire breed was a white or partly-coloured animal of the old-fashioned farm-yard type and has never been improved into a special breed. The Staffordshire breed was the “Tam worth.” At present, the Tamworth is rapidly going out of favor with farmers, from the want of aptitude to fatten, and are being replaced by useful pigs, the result of miscellaneous crosses of no special character. The best is the middle-sized white pigs, a cross of the Cumberland-York with local white breeds, often called the Cheshire. The northern cross improves the constitution, and gives hair of the right quality, hard, but not too much or too coarse.” (Harris, 1885)

At Bingley Hall, the class of Berkshire breeding-pigs under six months old generally brings from twenty to twenty-five pens. At present, however, the Berkshires in the Birmingham district are chiefly in the hands of amateur farmers, tenant farmers not having taken very kindly to them.” (Harris, 1885)

But the breed must be spreading rapidly if the ready sale of the young pigs at the Birmingham show be taken as evidence.” (Harris, 1885)

Mr Joseph Smith, of Henley-in-Arden, one of the most successful exhibitors of Berkshires, keeps three or four sows, and sells all their young; and others find the demand for young pigs constant throughout the year.” (Harris, 1885)

Mr Thomas Wright, of Quirry House, Great Barr, (who did so much toward founding the Bingley Hall show) considers the cross of the Berkshire with the Tam worth produces the most profitable bacon pigs in the kingdom, the Berkshire blood giving an extraordinary tendency to feed, and securing the early maturity in which alone the Tamworth breed is deficient. The cross of the Berkshire boar with large white sows has been found to produce most satisfactory results to plain farmers. My own notion with regard to all agricultural stock is, that we should abandon crosses and stick to our pure breeds, adapting them to our particular wants by careful selection.” (Harris, 1885)

The Tamworth breed is a red, or red-and-black pig, hardy, prolific, and the best specimens well-shaped, but slow in maturing. It seems a near relation to the old Berkshire; but modern Berks breeders carefully exclude all red-marked pigs from their breeding-sheds. Reddish hairs at the tips of the ears of Essex would be permitted and admired. Mr Alderman Baldwin, of Birmingham, is a noted breeder of this hardy, useful pig, which, however, does not seem to have any success as a prize winner. At the Royal Agricultural Show at Warwick, 1859, the Yorkshire and Berkshire breeds divided all the honors.” (Harris, 1885)

Improving the breeds was the talk of the town and George Samworth found himself in the middle of these developments.

Improved Oxfordshire

Birmingham with its close proximity to Oxfordshire would have been up to date with developments from this productive part of the country. The information is fascinating as it gives us the mechanism of introducing foreign genetics into the English hog gene pool.

An Essex Boar (Harris, 1885)

Harris writes about the Improved Oxfordshire the following: “These black pigs,” says Mr Sidney, “although they are scarcely numerous enough to enable them to claim the title of a breed, are interesting, because representing a successful attempt to unite the best qualities of the Berkshire and improved Essex. The old Oxfordshire breed was very like the old Berkshire. The first great improvement is traced to two Neapolitan boars imported by the late Duke of Marlborough when Marquis of Blandford, and presented by him to Mr Druce, senior, of Eynsham, and the late Mr Smallbones, in 1837. These Neapolitans were used with Berkshire sows, some of which were the result of Chinese crosses. Two families of jet black pigs were formed by Mr Smallbones and Mr Druce. On the death of Mr Smallbones, Mr Samuel Druce, jun., purchased the best of his stock, and had from his father, and also from Mr Fisher Hobbs, improved Essex boars. The produce was a decided “bit,” and very successful at local, Royal, and Smithfield Club shows. The improved Oxfords are of fair size, and all black, with a fair quantity of hair, very prolific, and good mothers and sucklers.” (Harris, 1885)

Mr Samuel Druce writes me: ‘I have recently raised one of Mr Crisp’s black Suffolk boars. In fact, wherever opportunity offers, I obtain good fresh blood of a suitable black breed, with the view of obtaining more lean meat than the Essex, better feeding qualities than the pure Berkshires, and plenty of constitution. I have never been troubled with any diseases among my pigs. Without change of boars of a different tribe, if of the same breed, constitution cannot be preserved. Where breeding in and – in from a limited stock is persisted in, constitution is lost, the produce of each sow becomes small in size and few in number. ‘The Oxford dairy farms have a first-rate market for pork in the University. Porkers at thirteen to sixteen weeks are wanted to weigh 60 lbs. to 90 lbs.; bacon pigs at nine to ten months, 220 lbs. to 280 lbs., but at that age, the improved Oxfords are easily brought to 400 lbs.” (Harris, 1885)

Essex Sow (Harris, 1885)

These were some of the things that were important to hog-men in Birmingham when George Samworth was cutting his teeth in pig dealings. It is clear that there was a lot of technical developments taking place at this time. It is strange to think that pig breeding was at one point the “Silicon Valley-style” cutting edge technology that grabbed the attention of young people but such were the times when George Samworth started his career. He certainly had the mind to understand it and the skill to put his knowledge to use.

The Pig Buyer

It is true that companies and people who excel in bacon and ham production have an intimate knowledge of pork farming and nutrition. The different disciplines go hand in hand. Over the years I have become familiar with most positions held related to the pork trade by, at some point, doing every conceivable job in the processing plant. I spend many days on pork farms as we integrated the requirements from the processing plant with what is delivered to the abattoir by the farmer. The one position which I never gave a second thought to and that suddenly became the focus of my interest after started doing work on the life of George Samworth is the role and life of the pig buyer.

The key function is fairly obvious – they bought pigs as intermediaries between the farmer and the factory. We get a glimpse of the role of the pig buyers from Ruth Guiry (2016). She is writing about life in another key hog-town, Limerick in Ireland, but the function and role of the pig buyer could not have been much different in Birmingham. She writes that “the number of pigs produced by ‘small man’s industry’ in the city’s lanes could not meet the constant demands of the bacon factories, so a constant supply of good quality pigs from elsewhere was necessary to ensure the continual working and profitability of the bacon factories. The pig buyers … therefore played a central role in the success of the bacon industry, linking the farmers who produced the pigs with the factories that processed them. While many buyers were independent, others were employed directly by the bacon factories to source pigs at fairs..” (Guiry, 2016)

The pig trader was a skilled person. Guiry gives the following insight on the skill of the pig buyer which dovetails beautifully with the preceding section where we tried to glean insight into the dinner conversations in the Samworth household. She writes that “these pig buyers were known to be skilled, knowledgeable men who were able to quickly and accurately estimate the value of an animal …. They ensured a high quality of animal for the bacon factories, checking that a pig wasn’t too fat or too lean, that its limbs were of the right proportion and the health of the animal adequate.” (Guiry, 2016)

She mentions that the pig buyer often had to travel through the country in the course of their work. The “pig buying” happened at the station, at shows and also in the country. She describes the comradery among the pig buyers. Again, her focus is on the pig buyers in Limerick, but it is easy to see how it could be transferred to the buyers in Birmingham. She writes, “The Gores, they were from Waterford, now I know some of the Cork people, in rugby, and there’s one of them there, but Noel Murphy people were in Cork Rugby, they were pig buyers as well from Cork…well involved, they would all book into the same place …. these nights away … before the fairs, were sort of rousing affairs, you get all the pig buyers from … in the one boarding house … the crack was good like.” (Guiry, 2016)

The pig buyers often had their own lorries to transport the pigs to the abattoirs. Pig buying was a lucrative business with many pig buyers owning large properties so that they could keep some of the pigs in their back yard or somewhere else on their property. One of their other duties became the calibration of the scales. Falconer (1916) reports that it became customary for the pig buyers in Birmingham to calibrate the scales every morning. They would place half a cwt* or cwt* on the platform and then they adjusted the index till it showed a cwt* or half a cwt*.

The legendary Phil Armour from Chicago generated the funds required to start his packing plant through retail stores he started after selling equipment at the Californian gold rush. Sir David de Villiers Graaf of South Africa secured the funding for his meat enterprise through clever legal footwork after the Cape government forced him out of his shop to build the Cape Town Railway station. George Samworth, I suspect, did this through pig buying! Far from being a peripheral function, I now understand that the role of the pig buyer was key to the success of the meat processing trade and there was a lot of money in this line of work.

Is there any clue from history of the kind of man that the young George Samworth was? Not just generally as we have been considering till now, but specifically linked to the man himself. I believe there is and it comes to us courtesy of the Birmingham Daily Post, 3 December 1892.

A Great Heritage: George Samworth, Sen.

An article appeared in 1892 about a pig dealer from New Canal Street, Birmingham, who was summoned for selling ten pigs at the cattle siding of the London and North-Western Railway in Fazeley Street in violation of the markets clauses of the Consolidations Act. Mr Bell (from the Town Clerk’s office) appeared to prosecute, and Mr O’Connor defended. Mr Bell said that inspector Wiltshire went to the Fazeley street siding on the 27th of October, and from what he heard went to the defendant and asked him if he had sold any pigs there. He said he did not, but the inspector subsequently saw a man named Laxton, of Coventry, who would be called, and who would state that the defendant sold him the two pigs remarking that he was fairly caught. Mr Bell then read the 90th of the Consolidation Act of 1883, under which the summons was taken out, however, because it was a fact that dealers carried on business in the cattle siding, which was an improper place, whilst the Corporation had provided a pig market at an expense of some £34 000.

“Mr Brame: Is this part of the new pig market that the pig dealers themselves have provided?”

– “Mr Bell: Oh, no.”

– “Arthur Wiltshire, an inspector, gave evidence bearing out Mr Bell’s opening statement and said that defendant remarked “They tell me you have fairly caught me, but I will not let you do it any more. I am not going to sell any more pigs on the sidings.” The new market was open at the time“.

– “Mr Carter: It is not customary to allow pigs to be sold in the sidings?

“Witness: No.”

– “Mr Laxton also gave evidence“.

– “O’Connor: Was the old market crowned?

“Witness: No.”

– “What was it moved for? Because they wanted it for vegetables.”

– “Mr O’Connor said that there was no intention on the part of the defendant to commit an offence, and he would ask the Bench to bear in mind that the new pig market had only been opened on the day on which the offence was committed, and the Act required, and the Act required that the market should be opened before the offence could be committed.”

– “The Bench fined defendant 10s and cost.”

(Birmingham Daily Post, 1892)

The pig dealer in question was nobody else than George Samworth (sen)! The fact that he is said to have lived in New Canal St, Birmingham, almost certainly makes him the father of George Samworth, the founder of Samworth Brothers. In the 1891 England & Wales Census, he is listed as a pig dealer and was 41 at the time of the census. His oldest son is also named George Samworth and was 22 at the time. His wife was Mary Samworth. They had 10 children and one servant. The kids were George (22), Charles (19), Ernest (14), Louisa (12), Sara (10), Helen (8), Emily (7), Edith (5), William (3) and Sydney (8 months). The fact that he had a servant is the first clue that he was successful in his trade and a man of means. The 1891 senses list the occupation of George Samworth, son of George Samworth also as a pig dealer which all seems to confirm that we are indeed dealing with the protagonist of our inquiry.

The Back Story – Curtesy of Kieron McMahon**

If the fact that George Samworth had a servant and lived in a comfortable dwelling in Birmingham are signs that he was a well-off pig trader, more information came to light which confirms this and gives us remarkable insight into the man he was, his character and abilities and the environment where George Samworth, his son, grew up in. It comes to us in the form of the back story to the events described in the newspaper article above, courtesy of Kieron McMahon, a world-class blogger from England and his site, Midlands Pubs, Birmingham.

Old Pig Market, Bordesley St & Allison St, courtesy of Google Earth.

Stone in Bordesley Street, laid by Joseph Horton, Esq. on 16 February 1892.

On the corner of Bordesley Street and Allison Street, Birmingham is a three-gabled brick building that was erected in 1891/2. It is the old pig market. Joseph Horton Esq. was the man responsible for identifying a suitable pig market. Two sites were identified, one being in Montague Street and the other in Albert Street. The pig dealers preferred the latter. Due to problems obtaining the properties, the Bordesley & Allison site was seen as a good compromise by the pig dealers. The Corporation did not see it their way and so started what became known as the Pig Market Dispute.

Pig buying in Birmingham was monopolised at this time in the hands of a few men who were known as the Birmingham Pig Salesmen’s Association. One of them was George Samworth who was one of the men spearheading the development of the Bordesley & Allison site. It was a private enterprise. The other men who took the lead in the construction with George Samworth were Daniel John Foster, Joseph Doolan, Patrick Long, Joseph Gosling and John Jones. The design of the building was done by Owen & Ward.

The Corporation preferred the Montague Street site which the pig traders never liked. They nevertheless pressed on with their development and the two sites were effectively constructed at the same time. The Bordesley & Allison site was completed first in what was a race to see who would finish their construction first and was opened in 1892.

The Corporation responded with legal action against George Samworth, Daniel John Foster, Joseph Doolan, Patrick Long, Joseph Gosling and John Jones to stop pig trading at the site, claiming that it “infringed the manorial rights and statutory rights of the Corporation who collected tolls on the sales of livestock.“( McMahon) And so the Pig Market Dispute went on for some time. Essentially, there could not be two pig markets in Birmingham and sales at this site ceased in the late 1890s.

Fazley street where George sold the pigs which landed him in a spot of trouble is 0.3 miles away from the Bordesley & Allison site from where they were already selling pigs.

From the trial of George Samworth, one sentence in particular with the accompanied exchange between the Mr Bell, appearing for the Corporation and Mr Brame now takes on new meaning! Let’s look at it again. It reads that “it was a fact that dealers carried on business in the cattle siding, which was an improper place, whilst the Corporation had provided a pig market at an expense of some £34 000.” Mr Brame then asked, “Is this part of the new pig market that the pig dealers themselves have provided?” to which Mr Bell replied, “Oh, no.

Here we have a clear reference to the two pig markets which existed and it seems as if the one which the Corporation provided was in operation by October 1892. George clearly did not see himself confined to either of the two locations to ply his trade.

Conclusion

The technical requirement to be a good pig buyer gives us insight into the mental aptitude and alertness of the young George Samworth. It was simply a requirement of the job to be very sharp with an uncanny attention to detail!

His dad was a formidable man a leader in his trade. Reflecting on the incident of the sale of the ten pigs on 27 October 1892 and the leadership he took in the creation of the pig market in Bordesley Street which was completed in the same year, but before October, shows clearly him to be a formidable leader and driven for success which he, no doubt, passed on to his son. In his dad, George Samworth Jnr. saw a drive for business, clearly seen from the legal problems he got himself into from selling pigs from a different site to the two recognised sites which existed in Birmingham for pig trading at the time. It gives us a remarkable glimpse into the Samworth household and answers the question as to the topics that would have been discussed around the dinner table, especially in the middle 1890s.

Four things stand out which he no doubt passed on to his son who also followed in his footsteps as a pig trader namely skill, business acumen, a fierce drive to succeed and leadership! There is, however, another remarkable observation to be made. George Samworth, the son of George Samworth, did not sit back and enjoy the spoils handed him by his dad. He took everything his dad taught him and he used these to excel even further when he started his own Pig Buying company soon after these events.

This trait would become characteristic of the Samworth Brothers and that of future generations. From the first time I started learning about this family, it is something very peculiar that struck me. The ability that each son had to carve out his own unique success, built upon the success of his dad. As if there is a built-in drive to do better than the previous generation! It is remarkable and something we see right here from the founder of the company himself! His ability to transcend the achievements of his dad.

George Samworth who created Samworth Brothers was perfectly prepared for greatness! Both nature and nurture played an indispensable part in preparing the young pig trader to take everything his dad gave him and set future generations of Samworth brothers and children up to create a legend! An utterly unique feature of the story that continues to run through the veins of his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren is the absolute focus to build upon what has been handed down to them and to do better than what previous generations achieved.

This is a great start in our enquiry into the life and times of George Samworth, the founder of Samworth Brothers! In every way, this is a perfect beginning of what becomes an even more remarkable story!

(c) Eben van Tonder

* CWT Definition

CWT refers to a centum or cental weight, meaning hundredweight.

A hundredweight (CWT) is a unit of measurement used to define the quantities of certain commodities being bought and sold. It is used in some commodities trading contracts. Pricing by hundredweight also is a standard option for shipping packages that take up less than an entire truckload. Usage of hundredweight more generally has declined in favor of contract specifications in pounds or kilograms.

The value of a hundredweight differs in its American and British usages. In the United States, a hundredweight is a unit of mass equal to 100 pounds. In the United Kingdom, a hundredweight is a unit of mass equal to 112 pounds.” (investopedia)

** Kieron McMahon

I mention Kieron in particular because the information that he unearthed is not readily available. People deem it somehow “less important” when in actual fact, I came to appreciate the fact that such information is of the greatest importance. The entire sage of the “Pig Market Dispute” in Birmingham is relegated to dark, obscure archives and inscriptions on cornerstones scattered around the city and if someone does not take the time and make the effort to dig these stories up, they will be lost to us forever.

In my research on bacon and meat curing, I deal with this all the time. I want to state it clearly: there is no information available about the pig buyers association in Birmingham, about the Pig Market Dispute or the location of the pig trading site from any of the major English newspapers of the time that I have access to or any of the usual repositories of archive information I regularly consult. I have spent today going through countless old, out of print English journals related to agriculture, trade and industry, many of them from Birmingham and could find no reference to George Samworth, pig buyers or anything that could fill out the information required to change George Samworth into a flesh and blood person. At least, nothing remotely comparable to what Kieron unearthed! His site was relegated to pages 5 or 6 in one of my google searches.

Pubs and pork buying is not something that will be top of the list of school-leavers career choices these days. What we must appreciate is that these were the cutting edge technologies of the time and as far as pubs are concerned, key centres for the exchange of information. Was Lloyd of London, the start of the worldwide insurance industry not formed in just such a pub or coffee shop in London?! Meat curing and preservation was exactly the “global warming” issue of the 1800s. There was a real possibility that the world would run out of food. It was not possible for countries like England to have achieved the enormous advances in feeding their population nutritious food if men like George Samworth and others did not achieve the small victories they did. Nor would that have gone far if there were no reading rooms and pubs around where information could be disseminated and shared. It is the exact premise of my work at the Earthworm Express where I seek to tell small stories of enormous importance to understand our world. In my book on the history of meat curing, Bacon & the Art of Living, I devoted a chapter to celebrating the pub culture of the British and after what I’ve seen from Kieron and his team, I will be doing a major review of not just this chapter but I now want to weave it more deliberately into my entire work!

Today we have other challenges, but one thing I know for certain is that it will likewise take young dynamic visionaries who are able to exploit the latest technology and innovation who will save our planet from catastrophe. Men like George Samworth and the thousands of others I feature in my blog.

We live in a universe where we are in an endless quest for partnerships. In life, business – on every level. Molecules want to connect. That is what they are there for! All of life wants relationships to create and be more effective. Life affirms relationships! The British pubs, coffee shops and reading rooms was the catalyst where these relationships were formed. Like water to chemical reactions, they were the ether that drove these processes of the past! These thoughts elevate the work of Kiron to another universe!

I, therefore, want to give kudos to Kieron McMahon. He is not some pub-mad nutcase who simply write a blog about what he is passionate about – he is a key historian who, against the tide of academia, is able to pick up on what is really important and write about it. Kieron is absolutely spot on in his focus on pubs! Without people like him, these stories will be lost forever and I salute him for this! In years to come people will understand it, value it and talk about it. Why? Because he took the time to research it and to write his work down!

Further Reading

The Irish Pig Buyers seems to have been a breed of people in their own class. Why Ireland excelled in Pig Buyers is something for further investigation. Here is a delightful article from the Limerick Leader, 26 April 1986, entitled, Rise and Fall of Parish Pig Buyers.

References

Birmingham Daily Post, 3 December 1892.

Díosbóireachtaí Párlaiminte: Tuairisc Oifigiúil, Volume 78 By Ireland. Oireachtas. Dáil – Ireland

Falconer, J. 1916. The Irish Law Times and Solicitors’ Journal, Volume 50

www.investopedia.com

Guiry, R.. 2016. Pigtown, A History of Limerick’s bacon Industry. Limerick City and County Council

Harris, J.. 1885. Harris on the Pig. Breeding, Rearing, Management and Improvement, Orange Judd Company, New York.

McMahon, Kieron. Midlands Pubs

www.myheritage.com – George Samworth Senior

www.myheritage.com – George Samworth Junior


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Chapter 13.00: The Best Bacon on Earth

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 Best Bacon on Earth
Cape Town, October 1960

The kids visited last December. Is it almost a year ago? Where did the time go! Where does one begin to wrap up an epic adventure? As in Homers Odyssey, you quickly learn that it is all about the journey. The destination is a bonus. What we discover, however, is enriching and life-changing! Still, not even wisdom comes to anything! Our heavenly Jerusalem or Nordic Valhalla is precisely in the fact that we are conscious and in the moment of consciousness, the universe is conscious through us. I am saving a full explanation to the end of the book, yet, I can not progress if I don’t give you this glimpse into the art of living that bacon steered me to. My quest has always been more than bacon, yet, it was never less than. Within this simple culinary marvel, I started to discern the secret of life itself. Bacon curing is the instrument that the universe used to lead me to the answer to life, death and everything there is. Is it not fitting for such a simple thing to hold such rich wisdom!

The secret processes of the creation of bacon have been discovered by humans, yet it was not invented by humans. It mimics natural physiological processes yet in the incorrect understanding of those processes and their limitations we endanger ourselves because we do not appreciate the powers we unleash! Still, the truth is that its processes are natural! Its discovery a fait accompli. Its wonder is both in its taste and the beauty of its processes. Discovering the laws governing its creation is complex and requires the utmost diligence and complete dedication to the quest. Yet, it exists not for this purpose. Its reason for being is the sustenance it gives at the right time. It provides nutrition in the time of want. So is life. Life is simple and the one who never gives a thought as to the purpose of our existence or our ultimate end can enjoy every good gift on this earth, bear all the grief and ends his or her days completely satisfied. Yet, for those, wholly absorbed in understanding the meaning of it all, there are answers – great, profound and satisfying. Still, this quest has the potential of taking the very enjoyment of life away from the investigator in which case it would have been better not to have started the journey!

Dawie Hyaman’s Widsdom

Dawie wrote to me from America. We were discussing the fact that for all our reasoning ability, humans are not very intelligent. He writes, “that is a fascinating thing.. thought of it many times myself. I look at the intelligence in a tree, to take manure and sunshine and turn it into a juicy fruit, or a fragrant flower. Or the intelligence in my body that takes all the food I throw at it and converts it into a human. I can eat all the bananas I want but I won’t become a monkey! Then this other thing, we call intelligence, which is reasoning, and logic, and seeing patterns and following insights over instincts.. and there .. there is NO intelligence there .. or very very little. Seems to me the intelligence in the universe is everywhere except in the reasoning capacity!!” Is this not precisely the point! The reason why we are alive is completely apart from our logic. The very search for the eternal is itself a mirage. It is getting lost in the complexity of the processes of bacon curing without ever curing bacon and enjoying it yourself! Still, there is great value in a pursuit of its secrets. The end must always be to enhance its enjoyment when consumed. Life is exactly the same. We can ask for the eternal and the fixed but if this becomes the end in itself, we are completely missing the point.

To the point, Dawie writes that “there’s nothing wrong with the world as it is. I think it’s heaven. Look at the exquisite beauty, the endless complexity, colour, flavour, possibility. Sure we suffer biological pain because the protection mechanism of the body is not intelligent enough to turn itself off when its no longer doing much (or maybe it is, we just don’t like the settings hahaha) .. and of course we only appreciate pleasure because we know pain.. but my point is .. most of what we suffer is in the constructs of our mind… we suffer our memory and our imagination!!  WE suffer our experience. And that seems to me because we think we are our mind, we think we are our body.. when we are not that.. because when we sleep we still exist, and when we lose our legs we still exist… so the whole thing of freedom to me is to stop suffering the thinking mind, and then just “be” .. and when we are present like that.. we are in bliss .. every single time.” Do you get his point? What he is saying is that the quest is not the goal. When it all gets so frantic, stop and quiet your spirit and just be. Think less!

He concluded by writing: “Seems to me .. we are always Here, Now.  We always have been.  Our thoughts, feelings and perceptions come and go, and are experienced in time .. it has to.. it has conceptual start and end, and a conceptual space.. so it is not always here.. so in that sense, we die.  But beyond perceptions… the Nothing beyond Thinking .. the no-Thing … its nothing to the constructs and perceptions of the mind.. but it is the source of everything.  Where else did forms come from, but from the formless?”

Living in the Real World

Just like the incorrect application or understanding of some of the complex processes in bacon can get us in trouble on many fronts including health and wellbeing, so the incorrect view of reality can create endless misery for ourselves and others. Politics in our beautiful country did not turn out as I would have liked, but it did happen exactly as I predicted! I see us steering the course of conflict as I saw it all these years ago while riding transport. Still, I continue to learn about life and had many years where I could put everything I learned about bacon to good use.

Daily_News_Fri__Oct_7__1960_

Daily News New York, 7 October 1960

The country voted for independence from Britain! It breaks my heart because it was done for all the wrong reasons! I am in full support of independence from Britain, but not for the reason that the referendum was fought over. It ended up as a fight between the white English and Afrikaans speaking people which was merely a rehash of the Anglo-Boer war, contrary to the efforts of Smuts and Botha to unite the groups after the war.

It would have been far better if the discussion included the non-white population of the country and was focused on doing what is right for everybody instead of the selfish ambitions of a few. All South Africans should have been allowed a say in their future as equals. The end result will be untold hardship for many millions of people.

Still, there is an important lesson for me. No matter our circumstances, we can find in ourselves and in things around us reasons to be thankful. This is a tremendous human ability. Amidst the greatest injustice, we can hope! When all hope is lost, we can persevere, and we can hope, against hope! The strange thing that I learned over my life is that this kind of hope never disappoints! This too is part of the art of living! I have no doubt that the Afrikaner and every other race in the country will rise up to take their rightful place as co-heirs of this land as equals. Anything less will be an injustice!

When I left Cape Town for the first time as a young man many years ago, I set out with a single-minded objective to learn the mechanisms underlying the art of curing. We desired to create the best bacon on earth. Did I achieve this? I would like to think that for a time, just before I left Woody’s, that we did just that. We created amazing bacon. Now Koos and Duncan have the company and are facing new challenges. They went through a time of great hardship themselves in the company, but from what I can see on the shelves, the quality is returning to the brand. It makes me incredibly proud of what they have achieved since Oscar, Will, James, Roy, Stanford, Adrian, myself and so many others left. I keep on learning! That making the best bacon on earth, consistently, year in and year out is a very difficult thing and an art in itself.

Many great bacon companies exist around the world. There are three examples of companies that I got to know very well who manage to achieve amazing quality bacon. Two of the companies have been doing it now for over 100 years! I salute them both by concluding the most amazing journey imaginable by focussing not on what Oscar and I manage to achieve, but on others. Others can judge our success or failure in this regard. Three companies who also learned how to make the best bacon on earth stand out! The last few chapters deal with them.

Best Bacon on Earth

Below are photos of some of the best bacon produced on earth by a Master Butcher from Germany whom I have the honour to work with. The best bacon on earth is being created. No compromise! Just quality! Some are cooked fully and some not, depending on where it is made and for what market. The pale bacon is cooked. These are all created in large, high throughput factories in Europe.

Note that all the commercial bacon was produced using a grid system. At Woody’s, we designed, what I believe to be, the best grid system. This can be seen under The Best Bacon System on Earth.

Bacon & the Art of Living focuses mostly on commercial bacon. There is an entirely different discipline around dry-cured, artisan bacon. This is the subject of Chapter 02: Dry Cured Bacon. My mentor here is an Englishman living in Canada, Robert Goodrich.

fb_img_1591994036806-2

The photos below are not all “bacon” but it showcases some of the work of the master!

To prove my point about Robert’s bacon, here are some other examples of his work.

Mild Cure bacon

 

Wiltshire short black bacon

Wiltshire short black bacon

Traditional dry cured Irish Shortback bacon

Stuart WraithShort bacon from a supermarket pork loin

Chris Malek‘s Maple Bacon

Vladimir Medvedev‘s Ayrshire Middle Bacon from Ukrainian pigs

AYRSHIRE MIDDLE BACON from Ukrainian pigs2

I give Vladimir’s recipe to illustrate the difference between artisan bacon and those produced in large high-throughput factories. You can see that time is not an enemy or a factor to overcome in the example below, but an ally to be embraced.

Vladimir’s recipe is given as:

  • Ingredients
    – Nitrite salt – 2.2%
    – Brown sugar – 1%
    – White vinegar (100 ml) and spice (Black pepper, several peas of juniper, bay leaves)
  • Procedures.
    People say that real bacon from Ayrshire should be marinated in a liquid with vinegar. I did not do this.
    – 4 weeks in a vacuum with salt, wine, vinegar and spices.
    – Rinse, dry and tie bacon into a roll.
    – Smoking – 8 hours.
    – 4 weeks of maturation in the chamber at + 10С and humidity 80%

The white vinegar was a surprise!

Companies who Achieve This

Of all the amazing bacon companies out there I have opted for three examples. There can be many as there are amazing companies out there! I close the three because they have unique ties to South Africa.

Chapter 12.01: The Castlemaine Bacon Company

Chapter 12.02: Eskort Ltd.

3rd company is still to be written about.

The amazing thing about these companies, as with so many others, is that they possess real soul. In their DNA are locked up unique qualities which made them and still make them stand out head and shoulder above the rest. One element of this DNA is a pursuit for quality. Another one is that at some point in their history they were led by a group of people who understood the secret of life. That we are here today and gone tomorrow and our greatest joy (purpose) is in being! These companies have the most fascinating stories to tell and the amazing thing is that I bet you it is the same with every good bacon company out there. They all have great stories to tell becasue bacon people, I mean REAL bacon people, understand humility, comradery and friendship. They are what we refer to as salt-of-the-earth kind of people. They know how to make great bacon and the art of living! These stories form the closing chapters of this epic journey!


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Chapter 10.06.01 Oake Woods & Co., Ltd. and their Auto Cured Bacon

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.


Oake Woods & Co., Ltd., Rapid – and Auto Cured Bacon

16 April 1892

Dear Lauren, Tristan and Oscar,

In the history of meat curing of the 1800s and early 1900s, one particular group stands out head and shoulder above the rest namely the Wiltshire curers. For a long time, I thought that C & T Harris was the only excellent cure from the area, but I was so far from the truth! There were many legendary companies from Wiltshire and the surrounding counties. When we talk about Wiltshire curers, it is particularly people from this area who cure the entire side of the pork which is referred to as the Wiltshire cut.

Back at our lodge from an unforgettable evening with the Harris family, two men stayed with us from a firm that also cures meat. The firm is Oake ‘ Woods & Co. Ltd from Gillingham located in the neighbouring county of Dorset. They were in Calne to visit service providers who sprang up around C & T Harris. One of the men is an engineer, Will Dean. The other guy is a curing expert. It was this meeting that made me realise that the curing world in England is much bigger than C & T Harris.

I learnt an important lesson namely great industries develop where there is fierce rivalry. It was the case in England related to meat curing. British firms were competing with Irish, Danish, Canadian, Scandinavian and maybe more importantly, with other British firms. This fierce competition created an environment of innovation and competitiveness. Even though John Harris knew about mild curing and the re-use of the old brine it surprised me that C & T Harris were so eager to learn the Danish way of curing of me. My surprise was well-founded when I learned that mild curing arrived in Wiltshire many years earlier through a company whose main method of curing has become, not mild curing but what they call Auto Curing.

Conversation with the two gentlemen from Gillingham was fascinating, and one of the most electric revelations was that the man who brought mild curing to Wiltshire and who invented Auto Curing was none other than William Harwood Oake, the son of Willing Oake from Limerick in Ireland who, as a young chemist, invented mild cured bacon. Our discussion did not start with auto curing. They insisted that we talk about mild curing first. Back at the Harris factory the next morning, I researched both mild cured bacon and auto cured bacon. It allowed me enough background to engage them on the subject for the rest of the week that they stayed in Calne. The information I got from them and what I discovered in my own research painted an amazing picture!

From Worth, R. N.. Jan 1888. Tourist’s Guide to Somersetshire: Rail and Road. E. Stanford

Re-Visiting Mild Cured Bacon

William Oak invented mild cured bacon and the essence of the invention centred around the power of the salts he used in the brine. To my great surprise, I discovered that the information about mild cured bacon was also published in a South African journal, as it was done in Australia and presumably around the world.

From the Cape of Good Hope (Colony), Dept. of Agriculture (1896) they quote the same paper published in Australia in 1889. It refers to a paper that was read at a congress of the South Australian Agricultural Bureau on pig-breeding and bacon-curing by Mr TN Grierson of Bodolla, New South Wales. The report begins as follows: “There is at the present time a new process coming into vogue, which is attracting considerable attention amongst bacon-curers. The process is called the “mild cure.” The discoverer of the new process of curing was, it appears, an eminent chemist – the late Mr William Oake, of Ulster. In the course of an experiment, he discovered that the antiseptic properties of salt were found in nature apart from chloride of sodium (salt) and that the obnoxious effects of dissolving the albumen in the curing process could, therefore, be avoided. This is really the key to the new system of curing. By the new process, it is said that the bacon and hams, although thoroughly cured with the very essence of salt, still retain all the albumen originally in the meat, and yet do not taste salty to the pallet. By the new process, the lean of the cured bacon remains soft and juicy, and natural in colour; and the best proof of the value of the system is in the fact that where mild cure has been adopted the bacon and hams will keep for any length of time in any climate. A great deal of labour, it is said, is saved by the new process, while the article put on the market is declared to be much superior in taste and flavour quality to bacon cured on the old system.” (Department of Agriculture, Cape of Good Hope, 1896)

A definition of albumen from 1896 says that it refers to “a substance found in the blood and the muscle. It is soluble in cold water and is coagulated by hot weather or heat. It starts to coagulate at 134 deg F (57 deg C) and becomes solid at 160 deg F (71 deg C).” It is distinguished from fibrin which is the substance in blood that causes it to coagulate when shed. “It consists of innumerable delicate fibrils which entangle the blood corpuscles, and from with them, a mass called blood clot. Fibrin is insoluble in both cold and hot water.” (Farmer, 1896). Albumin, with an “i”, in the modern use of the term refers to “any of a class of simple, sulfur-containing, water-soluble proteins that coagulate when heated, occurring in egg white, milk, blood, and other animal and vegetable tissues and secretions.” (Dictionary) Albumen, therefore, refers to meat juices in particular. It is the opaque fluid found plentifully in eggs, meats, fish and succulent vegetables, especially asparagus. (Gejnvic) It is the red substance that oozes from our steaks when we fry it and is mostly myoglobin, a protein from muscle tissue.

The reason why the meat juices do not leach from the meat is simply a function of the brine which surrounds the meat and comes down to the matter of partial pressure. Bristow gives us the real reason for the effectiveness of the system in terms of the speed and consistency of curing when he says “the same pickle can be used for many years – the older the better; it only requires, when it becomes somewhat muddy, to be boiled and clarified.” He follows this statement by saying that he has “seen pickle which had been used in one factory for 16 years, and that factory produces some of the best bacon and hams in Australia.”

There is no question that the preservative that William Oake observed is saltpetre, reduced to nitrite. In the detailed process description given, Oake insisted that the blood be drained properly. I give the full system as described by Bristow in note 1. The meat is cut up and notice that Oake’s system called for “the portions [to be] (are) laid on the floor of the factory (which should be made of concrete or flagged), flesh uppermost, and lightly powdered over with saltpetre, so as to drain off any blood.”

Here he does not use salt. He only uses saltpetre. After this step the pork cuts are “placed in the tanks” and he now introduces salt (NaCl) for the first time. He writes, “for salting. . . — sprinkle the bottom of the tank with salt, then put in a layer of sides or flitches, sprinkle saltpetre over them lightly, and then salt and sugar. The next layer of sides or flitches is put in crosswise and served in the same way, and so on until the tank is full. Then place a lid to fit inside the tank (inch battens 3in. apart will do); fix an upright on top of the lid to keep the bacon from rising when putting in the pickle.”

Now let’s consider the makeup of the pickle. He says that it is prepared as follows: “To every 10lbs. of salt add 8lbs. of dark-brown sugar, lib. of spice, and 1/2lb. of sal-prunella. Make it strong enough to float an egg; let it settle for some time, then skim, and it is ready to go on to the meat.” Let us pause for a second and clearly understands what is meant by sal-prunella. Sal-Prunella is, according to Errors of Speech or Spelling by E. Cobham Brewer, Vol II, published by William Tegg and Co, London, 1877, a mixture of refined nitre and soda.  Nitre, as used at this time was refined saltpetre used in the manufacturing of explosives.

Let us again quote Oake through Bristow when he says that “in the course of an experiment he (Oake) discovered that the antiseptic properties of salt were found in nature apart from chloride of sodium (salt) and that the obnoxious effects of dissolving the albumen in the curing process could, therefore, be avoided. This is really the key to the new system of curing.”

Based on these statements I am convinced that what William Oake was testing to identify the exact substance which is responsible for the preservation of the meat. He tested the salt and that is not it. Salt preserves primarily through the drying effect it has on meat. He, no doubt, tested saltpetre and as experiments, almost a decade later from the 1920s confirmed, by itself, saltpeter is a poor preservative. However, Oake must have observed that there is a preserving power that developed in the brine which he clearly did not understand. It is due to this, I firmly believe, that he makes the somewhat enigmatic statement that he “discovered that the antiseptic properties of salt were found in nature apart from chloride of sodium (salt).” He knew it was something that was added to the salt and based on the priority he gives saltpetre in the purity he demanded of it, I believe he had a suspicion that it had something to do with the saltpetre but by itself, he knew that it was not it! Still, he saw that there is an “antiseptic” mechanism at work that is from nature but his vague wording at this point clearly shows that he was uncertain as to what it is exactly. In the cure, “antiseptic properties of salt [are present], (were) found in nature apart from chloride of sodium (salt).”

Before this meeting, I was very reluctant to say that Oake’s main characteristic of his mild cured system is the repeated re-use of the old brine. I could not come to that conclusion precisely because I very dearly wanted that to be the conclusion. I forced myself to find other options besides this and I refused to concede the point until such a time arrives when I am forced by the overwhelming weight of the clear evidence to say that to Oake goes the credit for using the power of old brines in a system of curing where the older the brine is, the better! Such a time has now arrived where I can say that the preponderance of evidence forces me to make this one simple conclusion that William Oake came to the understanding of the power of the repeated use of old brines albeit that being achieved without a full understanding of the mechanisms which was not understood at that time. This is absolutely and comprehensively remarkable!

For a long time since I discovered the work of William Oake, the furthest I was prepared to go in explaining why mild curing worked so well was the overall system that he developed by taking known techniques from his time and ordering it in a better way so that the outcome of the work would be better. You can see how I tried to avoid the conclusion that Oake pioneered the multiple re-uses of the old brine! I now believe that the former statement is still correct related to his ordering of the different components in the work of curing bacon in a better way and that it holds up to evaluation and scrutiny, but after repeatedly looking at the description of the process and having had much time to reflect on it, I am finally prepared to concede that by far the biggest feature in his new system was the repeated re-use of the old brine.

Another point that must be made and which is probably far more important than I ever realised is that the genius of Oake was not just what he used in his brine, but what he omitted. From the Sessional Papers, Volume 34, Page 204, Great Britain, Parliament. House of Commons,1902, we have the statement about Oake’s invention “to meet the increased demand for mild – cured goods without the use of modern preservatives.” This means that Oake is not just responsible for the repeated reuse of the old brine but for omitting any other preservative from bacon. It was then his work that was directly responsible for steering the course of the development of curing technology away of artificial preservatives and keeping the process, unbeknownst to him, close to the natural processes which take place in meat in dead matter and in living animals and humans. Sure, at this time Oake and Harris used borax or boric acid as preservatives in their hams, but Oake identified another preserving principle from nature which we now know as nitrite!

Its Roots

The question comes up about the origins of this practice of re-using brine. The first clue I got that there was something distinctly different to Oake’s system of continued reuse of the brine from anything that was in use at the time came to me from an 1830 edition of The Complete Grazier. The report says that wet cure is more expensive than dry cure unless the brine is re-used. First, the meat is well rubbed with fine salt. A liquor is then poured over the meat and “though the preparation of such brine may, at first sight appear more expensive than that prepared in the common way, yet we think it deserves a preference, as it may be used a second time with advantage if it be boiled, and a proportionate addition be made of water, and the other ingredients above mentioned.” (The Complete Grazier, 1830: 304)

The concept of reusing the power of old brine is something that has been known in England from at least the 1820s or possibly many years earlier. The Complete Grazier (1830) says that liquid brine may appear to be more expensive than if it is done “in the common way” which in the context should refer to dry curing or rubbing a mixture of dry ingredients onto the meat. The edition of the Complete Grazier referred to is from the 5th edition which means that by this time, the description may already be 5 years old if it appeared in the 1st edition. Notice the comment that the brine can be used “a second time.” The continued reuse of the brine was not what the author in the Complete Grazier was describing. The practice of reusing old brine in England of 1820 and 30 was a far cry from the complete system of William Oake from the same time in Ireland where the multiple (continues) re-uses of old brines were part of Oakes complete mild cured system.

I must also add that in the system that Oake developed the brine was no longer boiled after every use which has a major impact on the microorganisms responsible for the reduction of saltpetre which is added before the brine is re-used. By not boiling the brine after every use, a distinct microflora develops. The inspiration to re-use old brine was European with its roots in Westphalia in Germany. William Youatt who compiled the Complete Grazier restates this process in his 1852 work, Pigs: A Treatise on the Breeds, Management, Feeding and Medical Treatment of Swine; with directions for salting pork, and curing bacon and Hams. He says that “the annexed system is the one usually pursued in Westphalia : — ” Six pounds of rock salt, two pounds of powdered loaf sugar, three ounces of saltpetre, and three gallons of spring or pure water, are boiled together. This should be skimmed when boiling, and when quite cold poured over the meat, every part of which must be covered with this brine. Small pork will be sufficiently cured in four or five days; hams, intended for drying, will be cured in four or five weeks, unless they are very large. This pickle may be used again and again, if it is fresh boiled up each time with a small addition to the ingredients. Before, however, putting the meat into the brine, it must be washed in water, the blood pressed out, and the whole wiped clean.”

Youatt repeats the re-use of the brine in the publication just mentioned. He writes, “In three weeks, jowls, &c, may be hung up. Taking out, of pickle, and preparation for hanging up to smoke, is thus performed: — Scrape off the undissolved salt (and if you had put on as much as directed, there will be a considerable quantity on all the pieces not immersed in the brine; this salt and the brine is all saved; the brine boiled down [for re use].” Notice that his 1852 description is far more “matter of fact” and he does not go into all the explanations and caveats he did in the 1830 description and his reference to pickle . . . used again and again is a progression from the 1830 reference.

The incorporation of this facet of curing brines was undoubtedly not as advanced as it was in Ireland in the 1820s and 30s. Mild cured bacon was separately listed in newspapers of the time related to price and market conditions. The very first reference goes back to 1837 to a report from Antrim, Northern Ireland.  It is fascinating that following this initial reference, Antrim completely disappears from the map and Limerick and Waterford takes over. This report simply said about bacon arriving from Ireland and that the Bacon market was dull the past week but (except) for “a small parcel of mild cure.”  (Belfast News-Letter (Belfast, Antrim, Northern Ireland) 21 July 1837)

Before this date, mild cured bacon is not mentioned. Remember that bacon was a commodity with prices daily or weekly reported in newspapers like maize and other farming commodities in certain publications. The second reference is in 1842 reported in the Provisions section of Jackson’s Oxford Journal which would regularly report on bacon prices from Ireland. In a mention about produce from Ireland, it says, “in the bacon market there is no great alterations; heavy bacon is more inquired after, and all fresh mild cure meets a fair demand.”  Heavy bacon seems to be used as opposed to mild cure.  (Jackson’s Oxford Journal (Oxford, Oxfordshire, England) 17 September 1842, p4)

The progression in the references, all related to bacon from Ireland and all focused on amongst other, Limerick and Waterford.  An 1845 report said that “choice mild-cured Bacon continues brisk.” (Jackson’s Oxford Journal (Oxford, Oxfordshire, England) 26 July 1845, p4.)

An 1853 report from Ireland itself is very instructive. From Dublin, a report says “We are glad to observe that several Dublin curers are now introducing the system of mild cure in bacon as well as hams, in consequence of the great difference had in price.  (The Freeman’s Journal, (Dublin, Dublin, Ireland) 11 Feb 1853, p1)

From this, it would seem that we are justified in retaining the most likely place for the invention of mild cure to have been in Northern Ireland, sometime just before 1837.  (see my addendum to this work, Addendum A, Occurrences of “mild cure” in English Newspapers.

Following the Thread of Reports About Oake and his Son: Mild Cured Bacon Arrives in Wiltshire

Report from The Freeman’s Journal (Dublin, Dublin, Ireland) 23 Sep 1853, Fri, Page 4

There is a reference in The Freeman’s Journal (Dublin, Dublin, Ireland), 23 September 1853 reporting that the previous Wednesday, letters from London “announced the disposal of the provisions contract for the royal navy, 12 000 tierces (casks) of pork and 4000 tierces (casks) of beef.” The short notice says that “we have the satisfaction to add that half the pork contract was taken for Irish account, and a considerable portion will be made up in Limerick, by Shaw and Duffield, William G. Gubbins, William Oake, and Joseph Matterson.” The article is quoting the Limerick Chronicle and shows that Oake had tremendous commercial success.

We also know that at least one of his sons was involved in the business with him, but not in Ireland. A notice was posted in Manchester Weekly Times and Examiner (Manchester), Saturday, 28 September 1889 of the death of William Harwood Oake from Gillingham, Dorset “elder son of the late William Oake of Limerick“, aged 49.  This means that WH Oake was born in 1840 and if we presume William Oake from Limerick had him when he was 20, William was probably born around 1820. I later revised this estimate, taking more information into account and it seems that he was born around 1807.

So it happened that mild cured bacon arrived, not in Wiltshire at first but in Dorset, a county bordering Wiltshire. It is from here that the technology spread to the rest of the region which later became known as Wiltshire curing. So, Wiltshire cure, as far as the curers in this county are concerned, came amongst other areas from Dorset!

From Daily News (London, Greater London, England) 18 Jul 1885, Sat Page 3 about the dissolvent of the partnership of the firm Oake Woods Waring. The new firm Oake Woods was created from this.

 

The bacon factory was opened next to the station in Gillingham. The Dorset Life reports that “the effect on agriculture was the rise in the number of Gillingham farmers; 12 in 1842; 34 in 1859; 45 in 1875. In 1860 and 1893 the station platform was extended to cater for the vast numbers of milk churns that were brought in each day. Close to the railway was Oake Woods & Co., bacon curers. Pigs arrived in cattle trucks to be delivered just yards away to the bacon factory. Next to Oake Woods was the Salisbury, Semley & Gillingham Dairy which acted as a collection depot and purchased milk from farmers whose production was in small quantities.” (Dorset Life. 2016) This factory became intimately associated with Wiltshire bacon curing. They won first prize as well as the silver medal at the annual Dairy Show held in the Agriculture Hall, Islington. (Cassell, 1894)

Auto Curing

Auto curing was a revolutionary process that reduced the curing of bacon to times that was thought to be impossible. Due to this, it became an immediate success, not just in England, but across the globe. A report says that by 1861 it was already in use in England, Sweden, Denmark, and Canada. 

Let us first understand what auto curing is. The process is described as follows. The pig is slaughtered in the usual way and the sides trimmed and chilled. After chilling, it is laid out in rows on a sort of truck that exactly fits into a large cylinder of steel 32 feet long, 6 feet in diameter and which will hold altogether 210 sides. When the cylinder is filled, the lid, weighing 3 ½ tons (7000lb. Danish) is closed and hermetically sealed by means of hydraulic pumps at a pressure of 3 tons to the square inch.

A vacuum pump now pumps all the air out which creates a vacuum of 28 inches. It takes about an hour to pump all the air out. The brine channel which leads to the brine reservoir, holding around 6000 gallons of brine is now opened. The brine rush into the chamber and as soon as the bit of air that also entered has been extracted again, the curing starts. It happens as follows.

The brine enters the cylinder at a pressure of 120 lbs. per square inch. It now takes between 4 and 5 hours for the brine to enter the meat completely through the pores which have been opened under an immense vacuum. When it’s done, the brine runs back into the reservoir. It is filtered and strengthened and used again. This is very clearly the continued reuse of old brine.

A feature of the system is that it allows the bacon to be shipped overseas immediately, assuming that maturation would happen en route as was usual. The time for the total process is around three days. On day 1 the pig can be killed, salted on day 2 and packed and shipped on day 3.

There are two brine reservoirs. The one is used with a stitch pump to inject brine into the sides as usual before they are placed in the cylinder and the second tank is used. The largest benefit of this system is the speed of curing and many people report that the keeping quality of the bacon and the taste is not the same as bacon cured in the traditional way.

The system cured the meat in a short time, partly because of the vacuum and the penetration of the brine into the muscle, but also because it too used the power of the old brine which is based on the reduction of nitrate to nitrite. The vacuum had an impact in keeping the brine inside the meat and sealing the meat fibres over the areas where holes were created during injection and brine normally leaches out again.

It clearly is a progression of the mild cured system but who invented it? The brine is distributed into the meat through injection and we would later discover that it is not primarily by what they call the “opening of the meat pores.” There is a reference from another source that meat cured in this way is more tender. The system allowed for a 3% to 4% brine pick up which would have added to the bacon being much more tender than with dry curing.

The Gillingham, Dorset Operation and Oake-Woods’ Patent

William Oake’s son and partners were responsible for setting up the curing operation in Gillingham, Dorset, making it clear that they were not just re-selling Irish bacon cured by Oake’s father, but they actually pioneered the auto cure technology.

The Journal of the British Dairy Farmers’ Association (1887) reports that Oake, Woods and Company won a bronze medal for their British Mild Cured Bacon. This being the case, we know for certain that mild cured technology, including the repeated re-use of the old brine which was the cornerstone of the system, was in wide use in Britain by 1887 which hones in on the time when C & T Harris acquired the technology. It must have been well before 1887. The second important point to note is that Oake, Woods and Company not only used auto curing but also mild curing.

An article appears in The Age, Melbourne, Australia in 1898 which describes the proliferation of the system. It reports that the leading factories in Canada, Denmark and Sweden are all adopting the new auto-cure process because the article produced by it supersedes all other brands in the largest market in the world” which at this time was England. The author of the article gives us a date when the curing operation of Oake, Woods and Company, Ltd was started in Gillingham, Dorset using auto curing. He refers to them as “curers of Wiltshire Bacon” which was in operation for 18 months by 1895 taking the establishment of the auto curing line to 1896. We know that by 1861 it was already in use in England, Sweden, Denmark, and Canada. It was, however in the 1890s when international patents were taken out and it would appear as if the expansion plans were global including the Scandanavian countries just mentioned but also the USA, South Africa and New Zealand.

A certain Mr Down, “the patentee of the process” described the process in his own words which are reported in great detail. It is a tedious description and the reason why it was so successful is attributed to incorrect factors, but it is nevertheless instructive and gives the full description of the process. One of the men who stayed with us at the lodge was Will Dean who writes that Mr Down was the managing director of Oake Woods in the 1890s. His full name was Evan Roberts Down.

Stanier elaborates on this information provided by Down. He says that the factory and offices close to the railway station was established in 1847. Vitally he credits William Harwood Oake, son of William Oake from Limerick for the invention of auto cured bacon. He writes, “Oake (referring to William Harwood) invented the ‘Auto-Cure’ method of curing bacon under pressure in cylinders, for which the Danes paid a £4,000 annual royalty. It seems then, that the factory was established in 1847 and sometime between then and 1861 he invented auto curing. Very importantly, the Danes who obtained the system of mild curing which was invented by his dad paid him a royalty for the use of his technology. This fact along with the reference to Mr Down as the patentee, informs us that he very well protected the invention. By 1896 it was in full operation in Gillingham.

Dean who looked at the actual patents told me in private communication that he “had always thought [the process patented by Oake Woods] sounded extremely similar to the “tanalising” process for treating timber – amusingly this is actually mentioned in one of the patents.” He also provided me with copies of the actual patents. This fact would become much more important in our consideration of the routs of the technology which we will look at momentarily.

Capital Structure

Uncle Jeppe taught me that in meat curing, the corporate structure is of the greatest importance as it is a capital hungry operation. The following article appeared in the Morning Post (London, Greater London, England) 23 Nov 1889 reporting on new companies (Limited) which has been registered recently. The firm opted for public funds to finance the imminent international expansion.

The Morning Post (London, Greater London, England) 23 Nov 1889

Below we give links to actual patents taken out around the world. Special thanks to Will Dean who sourced these and sent them to me.

Auto Cure Patents






The fact that Down is clearly listed as the inventor in these patents is of considerable interest. It may be that he takes the place of the inventor, who had to be listed as filing the application simply on account of William Harwood Oake having passed away on 28 September 1889. Down may in fact have been responsible for improvements to the system in addition to the reality that Oake was not around in the 1890s to file the application.

We return to product quality briefly and an observation related to the Gillingham site is in order. We know that water quality was very important to William Oake. Stanier mentions related to this site that water was pumped from a well, and extensive cellars beneath the factory were said to be the best in the country for curing-by hanging bacon in the smoke of smouldering hardwoods. The factory employed 150 people at one point but closed down around the 1980s. He makes it clear that he is talking about the same factory we referred to above when he writes that “the United Dairies milk and cheese factory remains next door along Station Road.”

Food Flavourings, Ingredients, & Processing, Volume 1, 1979 likewise confirms the 1861 date of the invention of the auto cure system. The invention was featured at the Paris show in 1867. The 1897 Diplomatic and Consular Reports, Morocco, Harrison and Sons, mentions that the system was marketed not just by Oake but by his company, Oake, Wood & Co.

American Rapid Cure

It is probable that the Americans were amongst the first to take the process up. In the 1878 work, Meat Production by John Ewart, he records one method of curing used by Americans. It sounds exactly like auto curing. He writes that “a pneumatic process in the salting is [being] adopted, and of which the following is a description, viz.: – the pork is placed in an air-tight vessel in which a vacuum is formed by means of an air pump, and then a saturated solution of salt with a small proportion of saltpetre injected, by which every part of the pork becomes very highly charged with the saturated brine. The exterior of bacon or hams when salted by the process described on being dried becomes covered with re-crystallized salt having the appearance of hoarfrost.” (Ewart, 1878) It is a full 11 years after the invention was featured at the 1867 show in Paris.

Why did it not have the same effect as did the Oake Woods invention of reducing saltiness? Ewart comments that the process just described results in overly-salted meat. He says that “the greater portion of the cured article from that part of the world (the USA) is almost intolerable from its excessive saltness” and describes the vacuum curing process.

It may be that Ewart is misinformed as the overly salty meat was typical of the barrel pork supplied by the Americans to the British. Did he confuse barrel pork and auto cured bacon? His description that after drying, the exterior of the bacon has the appearance of hoarfrost as salt crystals cover the surface of the meat shows that he bases his assertion on more than casual information. So, what could be happening here?

If is referring to Auto Curing, it is possible that they realised that shipping bacon from Denmark vs shipping bacon from America is not the same thing. It is possible that the meat still did not “keep” and the system was adapted to include more salt. It may also be that they are referring to a system that was developed simultaneously with auto curing and that what he describes is a parallel but different process.

It was left to people like the Orthodox Jewish master curer Aron Vecht to combine a mild curing system with the correct temperature to be able to send cured meat from Australia and England. This quest was taken up by all Australian curers. So, either auto curing was in use by 1878 in many packing plants in the US or a similar but independently developed simultaneously or even before Auto Cure was invented in the USA. Can it be that Auto Cure is simply the progression of an earlier invention?

Clues as to the possible origin of the American report comes to us from an 1848 report in the Sydney Morning Herald. The author begins his explanation of a certain American curing system with an interesting statement. He says that “they (we) desire considerable satisfaction in promulgating the discoveries and inventions of our fellow labourers in the field of science, no matter whether they be transmitted to us from the shores of the Neva or the banks of the Mississippi, and we, therefore, hasten to lay before our agricultural friends an important American invention, which promises to with the greatest benefit in a particular branch of domestic economy, as well as in a commercial point of view, and which we are certain requires only to be generally known to be usually adopted.” (Sydney Morning Herald, 1848) In this, the author is completely right that adopting and adapting inventions are for the most part not very difficult. It clues us into something of the possibility that Auto Curing may well be an improvement of an American invention.

The author then turns his attention to a certain Mr Davison. Setting the 1848 report in the Sydney Morning Herald aside for a moment, we see if we can find evidence of who this Mr Davison was. A stunning description is given by Paul (1868) who records that Mr. Robert Davison attended the food committee meeting as a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, in order to give information on the subject of desiccation as a preservative process which he studied since 1843. So, here we have Mr Davison’s first name given as Robert. He was an engineer by profession and he has been studying preservation since 1843. It definitely looks like the right man!

Paul (1868) gives us more information. He was not originally from the USA, but resided in London. He writes that Robert was of No. 33, Mark Lane, in the City of London, Civil Engineer, and James Scott Horrocks, of Heaton Norris, in the County of Lancaster, registered a patent for improvements in the means of conveying and distributing or separating granular and other substances.” The patent was sealed.

Paul then explains the basis of Roberts method of preservation being through heated air and using the newly emerging science of creating a vacuum. “The importance of hot blast had been discovered in the melting of metals, and it occurred to him that impelled currents of hot air might be advantageously applied to other processes of manufacture, especially as a purifying and desiccating process. In reference to its application to the purification of brewers’ casks, the question arose, in the first instance, as to the effect it would have upon the strength of the wood.” Here we pick up the similarities of Oake’s Auto Cure system with treating wood. “He (Robert) experimented on the subject and found that, so far from deteriorating the wood, it gave increased strength to it to a large extent. He saw that impelled currents of hot air were a valuable thing that had been overlooked, and he then turned his attention to the desiccation (the preservation of food by removing moisture) of vegetable and animal substances.

The key first observation is that his interest was in the removal of moisture and the application of heated air. You may very well wonder how on earth he brought those two together, but hang on. He did it in an interesting way. Paul (1868) writes that “he was successful in the first instance in desiccating potatoes and other table vegetables, which were preserved for a very long time; and he afterwards operated upon a quantity of rump steaks, and by depriving them of all their moisture, they were preserved in a perfectly sweet and wholesome condition for several months.” So far it sounds like standard drying and hot air would not be required. In fact, any air velocity would aid the evaporation process as is done today with fans, for example, in producing biltong. But using hot air which is moved around sounds very similar to what we use in smoking/ drying cabinets today where the air is indeed wam.

For all South African biltong lovers and American Jerky fans, he reveals something extraordinary. Paul (1868) writes that “at the time he was engaged in these experiments an intelligent young man, brother-in-law to Dr Livingstone. . .” Dr Livingston was of course the famous African explorer missionary who resided at the Cape for some time and laboured mostly in Botswana. He had an intimate knowledge of indigenous drying practices and the value of salt.

Paul (1868) continues describing the relationship with the brother-in-law of Livingston and Robert. He does not focus on information about the indigenous practice from Southern Africa but from North America, even though I am absolutely certain that he would have informed Robert about the drying techniques in Southern Africa also. He mentions that Livingston’s brother-in-law was “then his pupil, mentioned to him that he was doing by an artificial process precisely what the North American Indians did with their buffalo meat and venison by the natural heat of the sun in preserving their provisions, and at the same time, he gave him an extract from Catlin’s work on the subject. The Indian method of drying their meat was to cut it up into thin strips, which were hung upon the branches of trees for several days in the heat of the sun. The moisture was entirely evaporated. The meat was then stowed away, and would keep good for years. Salt they never used, notwithstanding the country abounded with it. What the Indians did by natural means, he did by artificial, by the employment of impelled currents of heated air. He cooked some of the steaks desiccated by this process three or four years after they had been operated upon, and they were perfectly good and retained their flavour. After it had been soaked in water the meat recovered nearly its original bulk. In the process of desiccation, nothing but the water was removed, the albumen being all retained in the meat.” (Paul, 1868)

Take special note of his views on the nature of what causes spoilage in meat and vegetables. “By depriving them of all their moisture, they were preserved in a perfectly sweet and wholesome condition for several months.” Mr. Davison said that “he had not entertained the idea of preparing meat in this way (through drying) for the tables of the gentry, but his idea was to have the meat cut into thin slices, thoroughly dried, and packed away for use as we should biscuits. In this way, he thought an excellent article of food might be prepared for shipping purposes, and for the poorer classes.” Not just is it clear that he targeted the moisture of the meat but also his method of work required cutting the meat into smaller cuts and inserting it into the apparatus manually which is similar to what the Indians (and the tribes of Southern Africa) did in cutting the meat into strips before hanging it.

“Mr Davison remarked that three or four years ago an article appeared in the Times, expressing a hope that some plan would be devised for desiccating meat in a better manner than had hitherto been done. The results of the process he had described were decidedly superior to any charqui (drying of meat) that he had seen. He had long since parted with the last portion of the steaks he had experimented upon. The apparatus for desiccation was at present largely in use for other purposes, such as the seasoning of wood, the purifying of casks, &c. It was extensively used for the former purpose in the royal dockyards. He had no doubt he should be able to make the experiment for the satisfaction of the Committee and should have great pleasure in doing so at the earliest opportunity. The heat of the air in his experiments was 180°, but he believed the desiccation would be effected equally well at a temperature of 120°, when the albumen would not be coagulated.”

Let’s now park Davison’s views of preservation which we know he worked on since 1843 for a minute and return to the Sydney Morning Herald’s 1848 article. Davison is described as, “prior to his present occupation, was long connected with the manufacture of salt.” We also learn that he resided in South America for a time, in a country “with greater capacities for the production of the hog and the ox” and his attention was turned to the preservation of meat. Mr Davison drew upon his knowledge of salt and after much investigation invented a method of curing which will sound very familiar to us. He is described as possessing an “inventive genius,” well educated and assisted in the matter of science by Dr Lardner, “whom he consulted upon his arrival in the United States.” (Sydney Morning Herald, 1848)

So, we learn that he did travel to the United States and there he solicited the assistance of a certain Dr Lardner. He was an authority on the subject of steam engines and the application of steam in industry.

Peters (1846) describes the system as follows: “The apparatus is very simple, consisting of a cylinder made airtight. It has a “mouthpiece” through which meat is loaded into the machine and closed with a lid that is screwed onto the machine. The lid has two air vents which are opened and closed by screws. Next to the machine is a large wooden vat holding the brine, connected to the machine through a pipe and elevated higher than the cylinder. A lifting pump circulated the brine from the cylinder back to the vat.” I imagine it looking something like the apparatus at the top of the three above which were associated with Auto Curing.

“Meat is cut and placed into the cylinder. Brine is allowed to fill the cylinder which is then closed. Brine is now pumped back into the vat till all the brine is out and a vacuum is formed in the cylinder with the meat pieces in. Blood, air and gasses are thus removed from the meat also. Brine is now run back into the cylinder. The air vents are opened and the liquid brine expels all air from the vessel. As soon as the vessel is full, the air vents are closed again, the brine pumped into the vat again and the meat is left in a vacuum. Again, blood, air and gasses are pumped out. The cycle is repeated. The initial intervals between the cycles are short but eventually, as all the blood, air and gasses have been removed from the meat, the brine is allowed to remain in the cylinder for as long as between 6 and 8 hours. The entire process is completed in about 12 hours.”

It is here where the explanation or the link that Davison found with meat curing and preservation moves from the factual to the fanciful. He believed that the blood, air and gasses in the meat created some kind of a “resisting power” to the brine which had to seep into the meat. The blood had an affinity for the brine and left the meat for brine to fill it. The pressure created by the elevated brine created relative pressure greater than the gasses and air. When the meat is under vacuum, the reporter writes that the meat is “swollen, its fibre distended and pores open and it readily admits the brine even at the pressure of the mere quantity of brine which the cylinder will hold.” One atmosphere was sufficient and where double and triple that was used, it would respectively close and completely close the pores.

So, he abandoned the use of hot air but instead used a vacuum and the pressure of the brine. Whether his explanation is accurate or not, his invention worked. The process cures the meat in hours as opposed to weeks and he patented it. The process is named Rapid Cure.

The principal advantages, besides the speed of curing, are given as:

  • The apparatus is described as “extreme simplicity;”
  • The solution salt and brine is inexpensive to cure both meat and wood;
  • The brine not used is returned to the cistern and re-used;
  • If need be, sugar is used which is also not expensive;
  • The apparatus is made from metal which means it lasts long. It is very easy for any mechanic to fix it if it breaks down;
  • It’s easy to use, even by a boy of 13 years;
  • Producing it is not very expensive.

This means that Mr Davison’s invention or the application of a vacuum and pressure in curing has priority in terms of the Oake Woods invention which is a progression of the Davison invention. In all likelihood, what Ewart refers to in his 1878 publication is the American invention that was widely in use in America. The key object of the invention was the speed of curing and not the production of mild cured bacon as was the case with the Oake Woods patent.

The primary method of obtaining “mild cured bacon” from the USA was through the addition of sugar. Ewart writes that “it should, however, be stated, that American bacon, in its several forms of flitch, roll, and ham, and any of them of small and moderate weights, are also mildly cured in which sugar is in a considerable proportion an ingredient in the curing mixture used; and the article when so prepared is deservedly held in the highest esteem.” (Ewart, 1878)

Ewart also reports the formation of a bluish-green mould upon the flesh-cut portions of the flitches and hams from bacon or ham that are “perfectly cured and becomes thoroughly dried.” He states that the mould “most effectually prevents the rusting of the fat on these parts.” (Ewart, 1878)

It is clear that Aoto Cure for the meat industry is a progression of Rapid Cure, developed by Mr. Robert Davison which had huge success in the USA. Auto Cure quickly developed an impressive list of countries who participated in the technology.

Auto Cure: International Expansion

Having solved the riddle of the origin of the basic system used in Auto Cure namely a vacuum and brine, elevated to exert some pressure, and the repeated use of the old brine which Oake learned from his dad, we return to the matter of the international expansion of Auto Cure. The advantage of Oake’s system was that it yielded mild cure, fast! This was revolutionary in the bacon curing world of the day!

The matter of international sales of this patented system is very interesting. Henry (1897) reports in a section called “A tip to Bacon Curers.” He writes, “since the beginning of May this year experiments have been going on with a new method of curing bacon at the Ystad bacon factory in Sweden, and the results that have been attained have been so successful that it has been adopted at the Landskrona factory also, which belongs to the same owner. Mr Philip W. Heyman, of Copenhagen, the well-known curer of bacon, is adopting the same method, too, at two of his Swedish factories, and five of his Danish factories, and other bacon factories in Sweden and Denmark are making arrangements for having the same method introduced.

He then describes the Auto Cure system again in great detail. he describes the benefits of the system as follows. “The auto-cured bacon will retain the juice of the meat, by which it becomes more nutritious and tender and of milder and more agreeable flavour than bacon cured according to the usual method, and it is easier to digest and keeps for a longer time than the latter so that it need not be ” forced off ” in sale even during hot weather. It will lose no more in weight than other bacon when smoked. Swedish auto-cured bacon has been sent “unbranded” for some time to London from the above-mentioned factory, together with other bacon cured according to the usual method, and has been referred to the latter, having attained about a couple of shillings per cwt, higher price. The first bale of branded auto-cured Swedish bacon, marked “Down’s auto – cure patents, Sweden,” has been forwarded to the official representative for Sweden, Dr Hugo Wedin, of Lancaster Avenue, Manchester, ” for showing, ” having arrived last week, and has been inspected and tested by a number of merchants interested in the bacon trade here. It is expected that this bacon will soon find an increased sale on its own merits.” (Henry, 1897)

Mr Philip W. Heyman according to the Gasconade County Republican (Owensville, Missouri) 08 Jul 1898, from Copenhagen owned nine of the factories that adopted the system. Two was in Sweden and seven in Denmark. An annual royalty of £4,000 was paid by the Danes for the system. The publication in 1897 seems to point to the system being introduced into Scandinavia closer to the end of the 1800s.

There is a report from the Queensland Agricultural Journal: Volume 2, Jan 1898, Queensland Department of Primary Industries which says that “A NEW process of bacon – curing (says the Australasian) has been brought under the notice of the Minister for Agriculture in Victoria, named the “Auto – cure Process of Bacon – curing,” which has been adopted by some of the large bacon factories of Sweden, and by Messrs. Oake, Woods, and Co., Gillingham, Dorsetshire, who have employed it for the last eighteen months in the production of Wiltshire bacon.” The article then makes the interesting statement that “the new process will be used on a considerable scale in Canada and Denmark”

A year later, The Journal, Volume 2 by South Australia’s Department of Agriculture (1899) reports that “in Sweden and Dorsetshire (England), at the factory of Oake, Wood & Co., at Gillingham, a new process under the name “auto cure” has recently been adopted. About seven hours only is required to cure meat, which retains its albumen in an almost unchanged condition, so that the meat is tender, mild, and sweet. The process is carried on in air-tight cylinders of considerable capacity. The meat is then impregnated with brine under considerable pressure. The cost of apparatus to treat 150 sides at a time is said to be £780 in Britain.”

From New Zealand comes information that the same patent was lodged on 3 September 1896 number 8750 E. R. Down from Gillingham, Dorset, Eng. for cylinder or vessel for curing bacon and hams. (Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives of New Zealand) It seems likely that similar applications were filed around the world.

An 1893 reference from the NZ official yearbook mentions that a very definite expectation existed among farmers that the trade of raising pigs will meet the demand of local meat curers and the trade is expected to increase rapidly. It reports that an unnamed firm, referred to as “one of the largest suppliers in the UK of mess pork to the navies of the world and the mercantile marine operations” sent an agent to New Zealand in order to investigate the viability of setting up a branch in the colony. The agent was there a couple of months and was making inquiries as to the prospect of opening up a branch establishment. Reference is made to a trial that he ran to test the quality of the New Zealand pig for their purposes. The trial was done by preparing some carcasses by a process patented by the firm.

I have for a long time thought this was Oake-Woods that is referred to. It was, however a Jewish Dutch curer, Aron Vecht who established the first curing operation in New Zealand. (The Jewish Master Curer and the Prince of Ireland) Oake-Woods in all likelihood entered the New Zealand market based on the patent that was taken out but the particular reference in 1893 was the activities of Aron Vecht. It is interesting that both Oake-Woods and Aron Vecht were looking to New Zealand for bacon production. In an interview, Vecht said that the reason why he chose New Zealand was the raising pigs was possible all year round. Both Vecht’s curing process which was essentially a copy of the patent held by Henry Deeny as well as that of Oake-Woods were protected by patents.

The approach of protecting the process with a patent, followed by appointing local producers to use the system under license is an extremely effective way of expanding internationally. Oake-Woods was one of the only firms that could do it based on the fact that their process was highly patentable. The reason for this is that theirs was not only a process as was the case with mild cured bacon of William Oake but involved very specific equipment. Aron Vecht took a different direction to protect his intellectual property namely connecting it with a particular brand, York Castle. According to the agreement he entered with the licensee is only allowed to sell bacon under this brand which was produced with his curing method. He would then receive compensation from the company for every pig cured with his patented system.

If a particular brand is not connected to the method of curing, the only alternative is to rely on the equipment to differentiate it from other systems. Related to the difference between Auto Cure and the American system of Rapid Cure, the key difference is the scale of the equipment used by the Oake-Woods process. A process on its own is impossible to protect as the case of William Oakes mild cure system illustrated beautifully. The moment unique equipment enters the equation, the entire situation changes and it becomes highly patentable! No other firm had both a totally unique process as well as totally unique equipment which could not easily be copied going along with the process at this time. A process is only protected till your staff leaves. It was true then as it is true today! To my knowledge, Oake-Woods had the most expansive international coverage of any bacon and ham curing company at the time by far!

Vechts agents in New Zealand ran the trails and then shipped the meat to his principals in England. He received a cablegram which stated that the meat and the curing were done to “perfection.” As a result of this, arrangements were made for extensive trade throughout the colony. The English firm was prepared to erect factories at a cost of £20,000 each in areas where they have a reasonable expectation to secure 2,000 pigs per week. (The NZ Official Yearbook, 1893)

Helen Shorrocks contacted me with the following interesting recollection of a South African operation. She writes, “My Grandad worked for them (Oakes William & Co.) all his life, I believe he was head butcher and was offered a job in South Africa as a young family man with the company as they had a factory out there. My Grandmother wouldn’t go.” The same modus operandi would have been used in South Africa where a local company was granted a license to use the technology after it was patented. It is fascinating that the technology was already exported to South Africa

Auto Curing and Mild Curing: Same Result for Both Processes

We now know the link between mild curing and auto curing. Still, the systems are closely related in design and through the Oake family who gave us both systems. Looking through newspapers I realised that the terms were sometimes either confused or used interchangeably. A good case in point is an article that appeared in The Age (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia) on 25 Jun 1901. In another article dated 12 Jan 1906 from The Age (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia), they still refer to the merits of Australian produce. The article reads, “I could tell you now which goods are required in Africa that Australia manufactures. For instance, bacon in 15 lb. pieces would find a market. The market at present is entirely in the hands of one man – an American, I think who sells ‘mild cured bacon’ but when it is put in a pan it nearly all goes to oil. You make good bacon in Australia, but you hardly ever see it in South Africa except at Durban.” The term was definitely known in South Africa and I wonder if the implications of the author’s words were not intended to infer that “the real deal mild cure bacon is made very well in Australia!”

The Age (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia) 25 Jun 1901, Tue

Another fascinating article from The Sentinel (Carlisle, Pennsylvania), 08 Feb 1899, which I attach a clipping off (I add it as Note 2), calls arterial injection “mild cured.” It refers to a young man from Denmark who presumably invented it and that by this date the method was well known in England. We, however, know it was the brainchild of Mr Morgan who became Dr Morgan. The author then reports on another method of curing which was created as auto curing. He gives a short description of the process and there is no question that it is the process as marketed by Oake Woods & Co, Ltd from Gillingham, Dorset. He then calls this bacon mild cured! (2) Upon thorough research, I found that the term auto cured was almost never used between 1890 and 1905 and the term mild cured was preferred! It seems as if the public called auto cure mild cure and my guess is that it is due to the fact that the end product was very similar. This being the case, it means that William Harwood Oake achieved the ultimate in product development in that he created a product, equal in the outcome but produced in a fraction of the time compared to the class-leading product!

Lastly

The Oak family is responsible for giving us two powerful and historically significant systems of curing. The first, being mild curing by William Oake and the second was auto curing by William Harwood, his son. The key feature of both systems is the repeated re-use of the brine where the microflora is retained for as long as possible and the brine was only boiled under very specific conditions. The second, auto curing, adds vacuum and pressure with the accompanying befits. This is a remarkable journey and we salute the work of William Oake and his son.

The fact that auto curing has already been introduced to the curers in South Africa is a most significant fact and I will try my best to find more detail about who the company is. The entire experience emphasizes the need for innovation and remaining conscious alert to the latest developments in the field of curing. This is a business where one cannot for a moment lose sight of developments around the world!

It taught me a valuable lesson. The world is much bigger and always more complex than the simple models we build in our minds. We must continue to be students, not just of life and the sciences we employ for our daily bread, but also for the complexity of all these areas we find ourselves engaged in. People, our relationships and nature are complex and the biggest mistake we will ever make is to think we know something. On that philosophical note, I greet you will my next letter!

Lots of greetings and love from Calne,

Your friend and dad,

Eben

(c) eben van tonder


Further Reading

William and William Harwood Oake

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Notes

(1) When I returned to Calne many years later, Michael was still working with them and we conducted an experiment where we added colour to the brine and used one of the smaller autoclaves to evaluate the rate of diffusion. We did not use the injector needle to inject brine as is done in step one. This way we could see the effect of the vacuum on its own. At the end of the 5-hour curing process, we cut the muscle in two and saw that brine entered the meat, but it was not well diffused through the muscle.

We repeated the experiment but this time we injected the meat first as per the prescribed method. When we cut that meat open at the end of the process, we saw that small brine pockets formed in the meat, but not even this distributed the brine evenly. It explains to me on the one hand why there are many problems with bacon cured in this way and on the second hand, it shows the superiority of the tank curing or mild bacon system where brine is allowed to enter the meat over several days. Tank curing, therefore, removes the expensive cylinder and vacuum and it achieves much better brine distribution using time. It can be shown that the distribution of brine through the meat happens through diffusion which is simply the movement of the brine from an area of high concentration to an area of low concentration.

The most important contributor of diffusing the brine through the meat quickly and evenly still remains hot smoking. We concluded our experiment by hot smoking and heating some of the bacon in a pale dry chamber after we injected the meat with colour. The results were exactly as we expected. Proper diffusion of the brine took place during smoking. My guess is that it takes place as the meat heats up. This concept of autoclaving the bacon would later be combined with the concept of tumbling or massaging the bacon to create vacuum tumblers.

(2) The Sentinel (Carlisle, Pennsylvania) 08 Feb 1899, Wed Clipping

References


The Age (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia)25 Jun 1901, Tue

The Age. Melbourne, Victoria, Australia29 Mar 1898, Tue, Page 7

APPENDIX TO THE JOURNALS OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF NEW ZEALAND. SESSION II., 1897. VOL. III.

Leslie’s Directory for Perth and Perthshire, 1939-1940, By J. Bartholomew, Edinburgh. Published by the proprietor.

Belfast News-Letter (Belfast, Antrim, Northern Ireland) 21 July 1837

The Bristol Mercury and Daily Post, Western Countries, 18 July 1885, page 8

Cape of Good Hope (Colony). Dept. of Agriculture, VOL . VIII . 1896. Published for the Department of Agriculture, Cape of Good Hope by WA Richards & Sons, Government Printers, Castle Street, Cape Town.

Cassell. The Official Guide to the London and South Western Railway: The Royal Route to the South and the West of England, the Channel Islands, Europe and America, Cassell and Company, ltd Jan 1894

Diplomatic and Consular Reports, Morocco, 1897. Harrison and Sons.

Dorset Life. 2016. Gillingham railway station.

William Douglas & Sons Limited, 1901, Douglas’s Encyclopedia, University of Leeds. Library.

Errors of Speech or Spelling by E. Cobham Brewer, Vol II, published by William Tegg and Co, London, 1877

Farmer, F. M.. Fannie Farmer. 1896. Cook Book. Skyhorse Publishing.

Food Flavourings, Ingredients, & Processing, Volume 1, 1979

The Freeman’s Journal, (Dublin, Dublin, Ireland) 11 Feb 1853, p1

The Freeman’s Journal (Dublin, Dublin, Ireland), 23 September 1853

Gasconade County Republican (Owensville, Missouri) 08 Jul 1898, Fri

Jackson’s Oxford Journal (Oxford, Oxfordshire, England) 17 September 1842, p4

Jackson’s Oxford Journal (Oxford, Oxfordshire, England) 26 July 1845, p4.

The Journal of the British Dairy Farmers’ Association: For the Improvement of the Dairy Husbandry of Great Britain (1887), Volume 3

The Journal of Agriculture and Industry of South Australia, edited by Molineux, General Secretary of Agriculture, South Australia, Volume 1 covering August 1897 – July 1898 and printed in Adelaide by C. E. Bristow, Government Printer in 1898.

The Journal, Volume 2 by South Australia. Department of Agriculture. Vol II, No. 1. Edited by A Molineux, F. S. L., F. R. H. S, General Secretary Agriculture. Bureau of S. A., August 1898, to July 1899, Government Printers. 1899.

Henry, M. (1897). Food and Sanitation. Vol 8, No 230.

Manchester Weekly Times and Examiner (Manchester), Saturday, 28 September 1889

Paul, B. H.. 1868. Journal of the Society for Arts, Vol. 17, no. 839, (DECEMBER 18, 1868), pp. 65-80; Published by: RSA The royal society for arts, manufactures and commerce; Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/41334687; Accessed: 24-10-2021 13:26 UTC

Peters GA, 1846, The American Agriculturist, Volume 5

The Queensland Agricultural Journal, Issued by the direction of the Hon. A. J. Thynne, M. L. C. , Secretary for Agriculture. Edited by A. J. Boyd, F.R.G.S.Q. Vol. II. PART 1. January 1898. By Authority: Brisbane: Edmund Gregory, Government Printer.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 28 February 1848

Stanier, P. 1989. Dorset’s Industrial Heritage. Twelvehead Press

Worth, R. N.. Jan 1888. Tourist’s Guide to Somersetshire: Rail and Road. E. Stanford

William and William Harwood Oake

William and William Harwood Oake
By Eben van Tonder
10 July 2021

From Worth, R. N.. Jan 1888. Tourist’s Guide to Somersetshire: Rail and Road. E. Stanford

Introduction

It’s been a while now since the early hours one Monday morning when I learned the name of the man who invented mild cured bacon, William Oake. All I knew about him is that he was a pharmacist from Ulster in Northern Ireland. I was reviewing my book on the history of bacon curing, Bacon & the Art of Living. I had just worked through the chapter where I give my historical review of bacon curing, Chapter 12.09: The Curing Reaction. I worked through the progression of mild cured bacon to pale dried bacon and tank curing. Just before tank curing, I included Auto Curing in the review. Something about the timing and the sparse description of the process did not sit well with me. I knew that the re-use of old brine was in its infancy in England in the 1820s and 1830s from a quote from The Complete Grazier where the reference speaks about it in very tentative forms and says that the brine can be re-used twice. In 1852 Youatt gives a far more confident reference to the reuse of old brine. I knew that that reusing old brine was part and parcel of the auto curing system of bacon production which, by 1861 was already in use in England, Sweden, Denmark, and Canada. 

The adoption of the mild curing system by C & T Harris only took place in the second half of the 1800s. By 1861 auto cure was already in use in England which relies on a complete re-use of old brine. Why did they not work the concepts of tank curing out long before the end of the decade? Besides these, I was still wrestling with the question if Oake was the one to rely on a continual re-use of the old brine. Was this his invention, so to speak? If I take that out of the equation, then it reduced the uniqueness of the mild curing system and it would mean that there was not much of a difference between mild curing and the sweet cured system of C & T Harris.

These questions plague me. I was sure I am missing something. If Oake was the one who started re-using the old brine repeatedly and if this is one of the features of auto curing, I wondered if there is a link between Oake and auto curing. There had to be! It was around 19:00 on Tuesday evening, 6 July 2021 when I started searching a combination of auto curing and William Oake and an explosion of information followed. Unfortunately for me, I had just figured out that the Maillard Reaction was responsible for unexpected results in my MDM replacement product I was working on and the rest of the night was spend intermitted searching for information on Oake and Auto Curing and frantically reviewing the Maillard reaction! Needless to say that I did not get much sleep that night, but what an absolutely glorious night it has been!

I dedicate this article then to William Oake and his son, William Harwood Oake. William should be celebrated and I share what I have been able to uncover about his life. I also reveal that his son was the inventor of auto cured bacon. I want to immediately extend an invitation to anybody with more information to share it and in particular to their extended family who may have valuable source material. The English factory started by Howard Oake only closed in the 1980s and there should still be many people from Gillingham who have first-hand recollections of the process and his factory.

Mild Cured Bacon

William Oak invented mild cured bacon and the essence of the invention centred around the power of the salts he used in the brine. The initial information came to me from The Journal of Agriculture and Industry of South Australia, edited by Molineux, General Secretary of Agriculture, South Australia, Volume 1 covering August 1897 – July 1898 and printed in Adelaide by C. E. Bristow, Government Printer in 1898.  By the time of writing in 1897 and 1898, William Oake has already passed away.

A second reference comes to us from the Cape of Good Hope (Colony). Dept. of Agriculture, VOL . VIII . 1896. Published for the Department of Agriculture, Cape of Good Hope by WA Richards & Sons, Government Printers, Castle Street, Cape Town. It quotes the same paper published in Australia in 1889. It refers to a paper that was read at a congress of the South Australian Agricultural Bureau on pig-breeding and bacon-curing by Mr TN Grierson of Bodolla, New South Wales.

“There is at the present time a new process coming into vogue, which is attracting considerable attention amongst bacon-curers. The process is called the “mild cure.” The discoverer of the new process of curing was, it appears, an eminent chemist – the late Mr William Oake, of Ulster. In the course of an experiment, he discovered that the antiseptic properties of salt were found in nature apart from chloride of sodium (salt) and that the obnoxious effects of dissolving the albumen in the curing process could, therefore, be avoided. This is really the key to the new system of curing. By the new process of treatment, it is said that the bacon and hams, although thoroughly cured with the very essence of salt, still retain all the albumen originally in the meat, and yet do not taste salty to the pallet. By the new process, the lean of the cured bacon remains soft and juicy, and natural in colour; and the best proof of the value of the system is in the fact that where mild cure has been adopted the bacon and hams will keep for any length of time in any climate. A great deal of labour, it is said, is saved by the new process, while the article put on the market is declared to be much superior in taste and flavour quality to bacon cured on the old system.” ( Department of Agriculture, Cape of Good Hope, 1896)

A definition of albumen from 1896 defines it as follows. “Albumen is a substance found in the blood and the muscle. It is soluble in cold water and is coagulated by hot weather or heat. It starts to coagulate at 134 deg F (57 deg C) and becomes solid at 160 deg F (71 deg C).” It is distinguished from fibrin which is the substance in blood that causes it to coagulate when shed. “It consists of innumerable delicate fibrils which entangle the blood corpuscles, and from with them, a mass called blood clot. Fibrin is insoluble in both cold and hot water.” (Farmer, 1896). Albumin, with an “i”, in the modern use of the term refers to “any of a class of simple, sulfur-containing, water-soluble proteins that coagulate when heated, occurring in egg white, milk, blood, and other animal and vegetable tissues and secretions.” (Dictionary)

Albumen, therefore, refers to meat juices in particular. It is then the opaque fluid found plentifully in eggs, meats, fish and succulent vegetables, especially asparagus. (Gejnvic) It is the red substance that oozes from our steaks when we fry it and is mostly myoglobin, a protein from muscle tissue.

The reason why the meat juices do not leach from the meat is simply a function of the brine which surrounds the meat and comes down to the matter of partial pressure. Bristow gives us the real reason for the effectiveness of the system in terms of the speed and consistency of curing when he says “the same pickle can be used for many years – the older the better; it only requires, when it becomes somewhat muddy, to be boiled and clarified.” He follows this statement by saying that he has “seen pickle which had been used in one factory for 16 years, and that factory produces some of the best bacon and hams in Australia.”

There is no question that the preservative that William Oake observed is saltpetre, reduced to nitrite. In the detailed process description given, Oake insisted that the blood be drained properly. I give the full system as described by Bristow in note 1. The meat is cut up and notice that Oake’s system called for “the portions [to be] (are) laid on the floor of the factory (which should be made of concrete or flagged), flesh uppermost, and lightly powdered over with saltpetre, so as to drain off any blood.”

Here he does not use salt. He only uses saltpetre. After this step the pork cuts are “placed in the tanks” and he now introduces salt (NaCl) for the first time. He writes, “for salting. . . — sprinkle the bottom of the tank with salt, then put in a layer of sides or flitches, sprinkle saltpetre over them lightly, and then salt and sugar. The next layer of sides or flitches is put in crosswise and served in the same way, and so on until the tank is full. Then place a lid to fit inside the tank (inch battens 3in. apart will do); fix an upright on top of the lid to keep the bacon from rising when putting in the pickle.”

Now let’s consider the makeup of the pickle. He says that it is prepared as follows: “To every 10lbs. of salt add 8lbs. of dark-brown sugar, lib. of spice, and 1/2lb. of sal-prunella. Make it strong enough to float an egg; let it settle for some time, then skim, and it is ready to go on to the meat.” Let us pause for a second and clearly understands what is meant by sal-prunella. Sal-Prunella is, according to Errors of Speech or Spelling by E. Cobham Brewer, Vol II, published by William Tegg and Co, London, 1877, a mixture of refined nitre and soda.  Nitre, as used at this time was refined saltpetre used in the manufacturing of explosives.

Let us again quote Oake through Bristow when he says that “in the course of an experiment he (Oake) discovered that the antiseptic properties of salt were found in nature apart from chloride of sodium (salt) and that the obnoxious effects of dissolving the albumen in the curing process could, therefore, be avoided. This is really the key to the new system of curing.”

Based on these statements I am convinced that what William Oake was testing for was to identify the exact substance which is responsible for preservation of the meat. He tested the salt and that is not it. Salt preserves primarily through the drying effect it has on meat. He no doubt tested saltpetre and as experiments from the 1920s confirmed, by itself, it is a very poor preservative. However, there was a preserving power that developed in the brine which he clearly did not understand. It is due to this, I firmly believe, that I make the vague statement that he “discovered that the antiseptic properties of salt were found in nature apart from chloride of sodium (salt).” He knew it was something that was added to the salt and based on the priority he gives saltpetre in the application of the different salts, I believe he had a suspicion that it had something to do with the saltpetre but by itself, he knew that it was not it! Still, there is an “antiseptic” mechanism at work that is from nature but his vague wording at this point clearly shows that he is uncertain as to what it is exactly. In the cure, there is “antiseptic properties of salt were found in nature apart from chloride of sodium (salt).”

When I started this journey, I was very reluctant to say that Oake’s main characteristic of his mild cured system is the repeated re-use of the old brine. I could not come to that conclusion precisely because I very dearly wanted that to be the conclusion. I, therefore, forced myself to find other options besides this and I refused to concede the point until such a time arrives when I am forced by the overwhelming weight of the clear evidence to say that to Oake goes the credit for using the power of old brines in a system of curing where the older the brine is, the better! Such a time has now arrived where I can say that the preponderance of evidence forces me to make this one simple conclusion that William Oake came to the understanding of the power of the repeated use of old brines albeit that being achieved without a full understanding of the mechanisms which was not understood at that time. This is absolutely and comprehensively remarkable!

Therefore, look at my handling of the matter in my 2019 article when I was first introduced to Oake, Tank Curing Came From Ireland. The best explanation I could give of exactly what made mild curing so revolutionary was the overall system that he developed by taking known techniques from his time and ordering it in a better way so that the outcome of the work would be better. You can see how I tried to avoid the conclusion that Oake pioneered the multiple re-uses of the old brine! I now believe that the former statement is still correct related to his ordering of the different components in the work of curing bacon in a better way and that it holds up to evaluation and scrutiny, but by far the biggest feature in his new system was the repeated re-use of the old brine. For this reason, I now choose to retain the original articles I have written and I will simply amend it with a note referencing this article and my better and fuller conclusion on the matter.

Another point that must be made and which is probably far more important than I ever realised is that the genius of Oake was not just what he used in his brine, but what he omitted. From the Sessional Papers, Volume 34, Page 204, Great Britain. Parliament. House of Commons,1902, we have the statement about Oake’s invention “to meet the increased demand for mild – cured goods without the use of modern preservatives.” This means that Oake is not just responsible for the repeated reuse of the old brine but for omitting any other preservative from bacon. It was then his work that was directly responsible for steering the course of the development of curing technology away of artificial preservatives and keeping the process, unbeknownst to him, close to the natural processes which take place in meat in dead matter and in living animals and humans. Sure, at this time Oake and Harris used borax or boric acid as preservatives in their hams, but Oake identified another preserving principle from nature which we now know as nitrite!

Its Roots

The first clue I got that there was something distinctly different to Oakes system of continued reuse of the brine from anything that was in use at the time came to me from an 1830 edition of The Complete Grazier. The report says that wet cure is more expensive than dry cure unless the brine is re-used. First, the meat is well rubbed with fine salt. A liquor is then poured over the meat and “though the preparation of such brine may, at first sight appear more expensive than that prepared in the common way, yet we think it deserves a preference, as it may be used a second time with advantage if it be boiled, and a proportionate addition be made of water, and the other ingredients above mentioned.” (The Complete Grazier, 1830: 304)

The concept of reusing the power of old brine is something that has been known in England from at least the 1820s or possibly many years earlier. The Complete Grazier (1830) says that liquid brine may appear to be more expensive than if it is done “in the common way” which in the context should refer to dry curing or rubbing a mixture of dry ingredients onto the meat. The edition of the Complete Grazier referred to is from the 5th edition which means that by this time, the description may already be 5 years old if it appeared in the 1st edition. Notice the comment that the brine can be used “a second time.” The continued reuse of the brine was not what the author in the Complete Grazier was describing. The practice of reusing old brine in England of 1820 and 30 was a far cry from the complete system of William Oake from the same time in Ireland where the multiple (continues) re-uses of old brines were part of Oakes complete mild cured system.

I must also add that in the system that Oake developed the brine was no longer boiled after every use which has a major impact on the microorganisms responsible for the reduction of saltpetre which is added before the brine is re-used. By not boiling the brine after every use, a distinct microflora develops.

The inspiration to re-use old brine was European with its roots in Westphalia in Germany. William Youatt who compiled the Complete Grazier restates this process in his 1852 work, Pigs: A Treatise on the Breeds, Management, Feeding and Medical Treatment of Swine; with directions for salting pork, and curing bacon and Hams. He says that “the annexed system is the one usually pursued in Westphalia : — ” Six pounds of rock salt, two pounds of powdered loaf sugar, three ounces of saltpetre, and three gallons of spring or pure water, are boiled together. This should be skimmed when boiling, and when quite cold poured over the meat, every part of which must be covered with this brine. Small pork will be sufficiently cured in four or five days; hams, intended for drying, will be cured in four or five weeks, unless they are very large. This pickle may be used again and again, if it is fresh boiled up each time with a small addition to the ingredients. Before, however, putting the meat into the brine, it must be washed in water, the blood pressed out, and the whole wiped clean.”

Youatt repeats the re-use of the brine in the publication just mentioned. He writes, “In three weeks, jowls, &c, may be hung up. Taking out, of pickle, and preparation for hanging up to smoke, is thus performed: — Scrape off the undissolved salt (and if you had put on as much as directed, there will be a considerable quantity on all the pieces not immersed in the brine; this salt and the brine is all saved; the brine boiled down [for re use].” Notice that his 1852 description is far more “matter of fact” and he does not go into all the explanations and caveats he did in the 1830 description and his reference to pickle . . . used again and again is a progression from the 1830 reference.

The incorporation of this facet of curing brines was undoubtedly not as advanced as it was in Ireland in the 1820s and 30s. Mild cured bacon was separately listed in newspapers of the time related to price and market conditions. The very first reference goes back to 1837 to a report from Antrim, Northern Ireland.  It is fascinating that following this initial reference, Antrim completely disappears from the map and Limerick and Waterford takes over. This report simply said about bacon arriving from Ireland and that the Bacon market was dull the past week but (except) for “a small parcel of mild cure.”  (Belfast News-Letter (Belfast, Antrim, Northern Ireland) 21 July 1837)

Before this date, mild cured bacon is not mentioned. Remember that bacon was a commodity with prices regularly quoted in newspapers like maize and other farming commodities in certain publications. The second reference is in 1842 reported in the Provisions section of Jackson’s Oxford Journal which would regularly report on bacon prices from Ireland. In a mention about produce from Ireland, it says, “in the bacon market there is no great alterations; heavy bacon is more inquired after, and all fresh mild cure meets a fair demand.”  Heavy bacon seems to be used as opposed to mild cure.  (Jackson’s Oxford Journal (Oxford, Oxfordshire, England) 17 September 1842, p4)

The progression in the references, all related to bacon from Ireland and all focussed on amongst other, Limerick and Waterford.  An 1845 report said that “choice mild-cured Bacon continues brisk.” (Jackson’s Oxford Journal (Oxford, Oxfordshire, England) 26 July 1845, p4.)

An 1853 report from Ireland itself is very instructive. From Dublin, a report says “We are glad to observe that several Dublin curers are now introducing the system of mild cure in bacon as well as hams, in consequence of the great difference had in price.  (The Freeman’s Journal, (Dublin, Dublin, Ireland) 11 Feb 1853, p1)

From this, it would seem that we are justified in retaining the most likely place for the invention of mild cure to have been in Northern Ireland, sometime just before 1837.  (see my addendum to this work, Addendum A, Occurrences of “mild cure” in English Newspapers.

Following Reports About Oake and his Son

Report from The Freeman’s Journal (Dublin, Dublin, Ireland) 23 Sep 1853, Fri, Page 4

There is a reference in The Freeman’s Journal (Dublin, Dublin, Ireland), 23 September 1853 reporting that the previous Wednesday, letters from London “announced the disposal of the provisions contract for the royal navy, 12 000 tierces (casks) of pork and 4000 tierces (casks) of beef.” The short notice says that “we have the satisfaction to add that half the pork contract was taken for Irish account, and a considerable portion will be made up in Limerick, by Shaw and Duffield, William G. Gubbins, William Oake, and Joseph Matterson.” The article is quoting the Limerick Chronicle and shows that Oake had tremendous commercial success.

We also know that at least one of his sons was involved in the business with him, but not in Ireland. A notice was posted in Manchester Weekly Times and Examiner (Manchester), Saturday, 28 September 1889 of the death of William Harwood Oake from Gillingham, Dorset “elder son of the late William Oake of Limerick“, aged 49.  This means that WH Oake was born in 1840 and if we presume William Oake from Limerick had him when he was 20, William was probably born around 1820. I later revised this estimate, taking more information into account and it seems that he was born around 1807.

From Daily News (London, Greater London, England) 18 Jul 1885, Sat Page 3 about the dissolvent of the partnership of the firm Oake Woods Waring. The new firm Oake Woods was created from this.

In The Bristol Mercury and Daily Post, Western Countries, 18 July 1885, page 8, a notice appeared for the dissolution of a partnership between William Howard (Harwood??) Oake, John Woods, and William Waring trading as Oake, Woods, and Waring, at Gillingham, Dorset. If the address is not a clear link to the son of William Oake from Limerick in Ireland, the commodities they traded in is the final proof and a picture is emerging of an imminent “bacon” family. They were, according to the notice, bacon and provision merchants. The partnership was dissolved due to Waring retiring. At first, I thought that if (and there is good reason to suspect this), that William Oak from Limerick is the inventor of tank curing, this would indicate that by 1885 the process has not been exported to England since his son is selling the bacon which is, probably being imported from Ireland.

The circumstantial evidence is strong. William Oake had a substantial bacon curing operation and was able to do it at prices so far below curers in Britain that they were able to secure a large part of a lucrative Navy contract. The cost compared to dry salt curing is one of the main benefits of tank curing is compared to dry salting. The driving force for these was then, as it is today, cost and quality, but mainly cost. The other one that goes hand in hand with cost, is speed. Tank curing or mild curing is much faster than dry salting.

Britain was the main market for Irish bacon and it stands to reason that the Irish would have been very protective over their technology. It makes sense that he set his son up to trade their bacon in England and did apparently not export the technology to England.

I discovered that my conclusion is only partly correct. His son and partners may have started selling Irish bacon produced by his dad but it quickly changed into a fully-fledged bacon curing operation itself. It turns out that the Gillingham, Dorset was a curing operation where auto curing was employed.

Talking about the Gillingham station, The Dorset Life reports that “the effect on agriculture was the rise in the number of Gillingham farmers; 12 in 1842; 34 in 1859; 45 in 1875. In 1860 and 1893 the station platform was extended to cater for the vast numbers of milk churns that were brought in each day. Close to the railway was Oake Woods & Co., bacon curers. Pigs arrived in cattle trucks to be delivered just yards away to the bacon factory. Next to Oake Woods was the Salisbury, Semley & Gillingham Dairy which acted as a collection depot and purchased milk from farmers whose production was in small quantities.” (Dorset Life. 2016)

This factory became intimately associated with Wiltshire bacon curing. They won first prize as well as the silver medal at the annual Dairy Show held in the Agriculture Hall, Islington. (Cassell, 1894)

William Oake, his Son and Possible Relatives

Information that I could find about William Oake, his son and possible relatives. I will continue to update this section. A death notice appeared for Harriette Oake who passed away on 27/07/1844, Henry Street. She was the wife of William Oake who was the Commander of the Eleanor which was a trader between the port and London port. This could be the parents of William Oake from Limerick.

There is a record of the death of William Oake on 24/08/1859 Thomas Street, a provision merchant, buried at St. Munchin’s

William Harwood Oake from Gillingham Dorsetpassed away on 28 September 1889.

There is an interesting reference to William Oake, a master butcher who lived in Perth, Perthshire, in Scotland referring to records for 1939 and 1940. A direct descendant? (Leslie’s Directory,1939-1940)

Auto Curing

So far the timeline that was fixed in my mind was that the continued re-use of the old brine was adopted by C & T Harris in the last half of the 1800s or possibly the very early years of the 1900s. The one fact that did not fit my timeline was auto curing. I learned that reusing old brine was part and parcel of the auto curing system of bacon production which, by 1861 was already in use in England, Sweden, Denmark, and Canada. If this was the case, how did Harris only got introduced to the system so late?

Let us first understand what auto curing is. The process is described as follows. The pig is slaughtered in the usual way and the sides trimmed and chilled. After chilling, it is laid out in rows on a sort of truck that exactly fits into a large cylinder of steel 32 feet long, 6 feet in diameter and which will hold altogether 210 sides. When the cylinder is filled, the lid, weighing 3 ½ tons (7000lb. Danish) is closed and hermetically sealed by means of hydraulic pumps at a pressure of 3 tons to the square inch.

A vacuum pump now pumps all the air out which creates a vacuum of 28 inches. It takes about an hour to pump all the air out. The brine channel which leads to the brine reservoir, holding around 6000 gallons of brine is now opened. The brine rush into the chamber and as soon as the bit of air that also entered has been extracted again, the curing starts. It happens as follows.

The brine enters the cylinder at a pressure of 120 lbs. per square inch. It now takes between 4 and 5 hours for the brine to enter the meat completely through the pores which have been opened under an immense vacuum. When it’s done, the brine runs back into the reservoir. It is filtered and strengthened and used again. This is very clearly the continued reuse of old brine. I was baffled.

A feature of the system is that it allows the bacon to be shipped overseas immediately, assuming that maturation would happen en route as was usual. The time for the total process is around three days. On day 1 the pig can be killed, salted on day 2 and packed and shipped on day 3.

There are two brine reservoirs. The one is used with a stitch pump to inject brine into the sides as usual before they are placed in the cylinder and the second tank is used. The largest benefit of this system is the speed of curing and many people report that the keeping quality of the bacon and the taste is not the same as bacon cured in the traditional way.

The system cured the meat in a short time, partly because of the vacuum and the penetration of the brine into the muscle, but also because it too used the power of the old brine which is based on the reduction of nitrate to nitrite. The vacuum had an impact in rather keeping the brine inside the meat and sealing the meat fibres over the areas where holes were created during injection and brine normally leached out again.

It clearly is a progression of the mild cured system but who invented it? The brine is distributed into the meat through step one and not primarily by what they call the “opening of the meat pores.”

There is a reference from another source that meat cured in this way is more tender. The system allowed for a 3% to 4% brine pick up which would have added to the bacon being much more tender than with dry curing.

Capital Structure

The following article appeared in The Morning Post (London, Greater London, England) 23 Nov 1889 reporting on new companies (Limited) which has been registered recently. The firm opted for public funds to finance the imminent international expansion.

The Morning Post (London, Greater London, England) 23 Nov 1889

The Gillingham, Dorset Operation and Oake-Woods’ Patent

Oake’s son and partners were responsible for setting up the curing operation in Gillingham, Dorset, making it clear that they were not just re-selling Irish bacon cured by Oake’s father, but they actually used the auto cure technology.

The Journal of the British Dairy Farmers’ Association (1887) reports that Oake, Woods and Company won a bronze medal for their British Mild Cured Bacon. This being the case, we know for certain that mild cured technology, including the repeated re-use of the old brine which was the cornerstone of the system, was in wide use in Britain by 1887 which hones in on the time when C & T Harris acquired the technology. It must have been well before 1887. The second important point to note is that Oake, Woods and Company not only used auto curing but also mild curing.

An article appears in The Age, Melbourne, Australia in 1898 which describes the proliferation of the system. It reports that the leading factories in Canada, Denmark and Sweden are all adopting the new auto-cure process because the article produced by it means is superseding all other brands in the largest market in the world” which at this time was England. The author of the article gives us a date when the curing operation of Oake, Woods and Company, Ltd was started in Gillingham, Dorset using auto curing. He refers to them as “curers of Wiltshire Bacon” which was in operation for 18 months by 1895 taking the establishment of the auto curing line to 1896. We know that by 1861 it was already in use in England, Sweden, Denmark, and Canada. It was, however in the 1890s when international patents were taken out and it would appear as if the expansion plans were truly global including the Scandanavian countries just mentioned but also the USA, South Africa and New Zealand.

A certain Mr Down, “the patentee of the process” described the process in his own words which are reported in great detail. It is a tedious description and the reason why it was so successful is attributed to incorrect factors, but it is nevertheless instructive and gives the full description of the process. Those who are interested can read the full article at https://www.newspapers.com/clip/80931212/auto-cure/. I received a mail from Will Dean who writes that Mr Down was the managing director of Oake Woods in the 1890s. His full name was Evan Roberts Down.

Stanier elaborates on this information provided by Down. He says that the factory and offices close to the railway station was established in 1847. Vitally he credits William Harwood Oake, son of William Oake from Limerick for the invention of auto cured bacon. He writes, “Oake (referring to William Harwood) invented the ‘Auto-Cure’ method of curing bacon under pressure in cylinders, for which the Danes paid a £4,000 annual royalty. It seems then, that the factory was established in 1847 and sometime between then and 1861 he invented auto curing. Very importantly, the Danes who obtained the system of mild curing which was invented by his dad paid him a royalty for the use of his technology. This fact along with the reference to Mr Down as the patentee, informs us that he very well protected the invention. By 1896 it was in full operation in Gillingham.

Dean who looked at the actual patents told me in private communication that he “had always thought [the process patented by Oake Woods] sounded extremely similar to the “tanalising” process for treating timber – amusingly this is actually mentioned in one of the patents.” He also provided me with copies of the actual patents.

Auto Cure Patents






Special thanks to Will Dean who sourced these and sent them to me.

The fact that Down is clearly listed as the inventor in these patents is of considerable interest. It may be that he takes the place of the inventor, who had to be listed as filing the application simply on account of William Harwood Oake having passed away on 28 September 1889. Down may in fact have been responsible for improvements to the system in addition to the reality that Oake was not around in the 1890s to file the application.

We return to product quality briefly and an observation related to the Gillingham site is in order. We know that water quality was very important to William Oake. Stanier mentions related to this site that “water was pumped from a well, and extensive cellars beneath the factory were said to be the best in the country for curing-by hanging bacon in the smoke of smouldering hardwoods. 150 were once employed but the factory closed in about 1980.” He makes it clear that he is talking about the same factory we referred to above when he writes that “the United Dairies milk and cheese factory remains next door along Station Road.”

Food Flavourings, Ingredients, & Processing, Volume 1, 1979 likewise confirms the 1861 date of the invention of the auto cure system. The invention was featured at the Paris show in 1867. The 1897 Diplomatic and Consular Reports, Morocco, Harrison and Sons, mentions that the system was brought out not just by Oake but by his company, Oake, Wood & Co.

Two personal sidenotes are in order related to Down. Will Dean tells me that his family own the house which belonged to, and was built for a “certain Mr Down.” This is the same E. R. Down who filed the patents for Oake-Woods and who ran the firm in the 1890s. A second note is that Evan Down’s son was killed in WW1. I include the information because throughout my work on bacon I strive to link the human story to the profession and art of meat curing. It goes hand in hand and is the basis for the double emphasis in my work on the history of bacon, Bacon & the Art of Living. For this reason, I site a reference also given to me by will Dean that provides fascinating background information on the Down family where the story is told of Captain William Oliphant DOWN MC. For his actions he received the military cross and including this reference in a work on bacon is an honour! In Bacon & the Art of Living, I include many stories from the Anglo Boer war. It seems as if there is nothing like war to remind us about the value and joy of living! A distant second is the epic story of bacon!

International Expansion

The matter of international sales of this patented system is very interesting. Henry, M. (1897) reports in a section called “A tip to Bacon Curers”. “SINCE the beginning of May this year experiments have been going on with a new method of curing bacon at the Ystad bacon factory in Sweden, and the results that have been attained have been so successful that it has been adopted at the Landskrona factory also, which belongs to the same owner. Mr Philip W. Heyman, of Copenhagen, the well-known curer of bacon, is adopting the same method, too, at two of his Swedish factories, and five of his Danish factories, and other bacon factories in Sweden and Denmark are making arrangements for having the same method introduced. The auto-cured bacon is treated in the following manner: The meat is cooled in the usual way and placed in large strong iron cylinders that can hold about 200 sides of bacon at one and the same time, and the lids are closed and can be kept closed by water pressure. The advantages claimed for this method, which is patented, are, besides others, the following: The auto-cured bacon will retain the juice of the meat, by which it becomes more nutritious and tender and of milder and more agreeable flavour than bacon cured according to the usual method, and it is easier to digest and keeps for a longer time than the latter so that it need not be ” forced off ” in sale even during hot weather. It will lose no more in weight than other bacon when smoked. Swedish auto-cured bacon has been sent “unbranded” for some time to London from the above-mentioned factory, together with other bacon cured according to the usual method, and has been referred to the latter, having attained about a couple of shillings per cwt, higher price. The first bale of branded auto-cured Swedish bacon, marked “Down’s auto – cure patents, Sweden, ” has been forwarded to the official representative for Sweden, Dr Hugo Wedin, of Lancaster Avenue, Manchester, ” for showing, ” having arrived last week, and has been inspected and tested by a number of merchants interested in the bacon trade here. It is expected that this bacon will soon find an increased sale on its own merits.” (Henry, 1897)

The elaborate quote gives us an insight into the extent of the propagation of the system due to international interest. I retained the description of the process to remove all doubt that we are talking about William Harwood Oake’s system and the advantages have been re-stated. From the quote, one wonders if the annual royalty of £4,000 paid by the Danes for the system was paid by Mr Philip W. Heyman or by some Danish association. The publication in 1897 seems to point to the system being introduced into Scandinavia closer to the end of the 1800s.

There is a report from the Queensland Agricultural Journal: Volume 2, Jan 1898, Queensland Department of Primary Industries which says that “A NEW process of bacon – curing ( says the Australasian ) has been brought under the notice of the Minister for Agriculture in Victoria, named the “ Auto – cure Process of Bacon – curing, ” which has been adopted by some of the large bacon factories of Sweden, and by Messrs . Oake, Woods, and Co., Gillingham, Dorsetshire, who have employed it for the last eighteen months in the production of Wiltshire bacon.” The article then makes the interesting statement that “the new process will be used on a considerable scale in Canada and Denmark”

A year later, The Journal, Volume 2 by South Australia’s Department of Agriculture (1899) reports that “in Sweden and Dorsetshire (England), at the factory of Oake, Wood & Co., at Gillingham, a new process under the name “auto cure” has recently been adopted. About seven hours only is required to cure meat, which retains its albumen in an almost unchanged condition, so that the meat is tender, mild, and sweet. The process is carried on in air-tight cylinders of considerable capacity. The meat is then impregnated with brine under considerable pressure. The cost of apparatus to treat 150 sides at a time is said to be £780 in Britain.”

From New Zealand comes information that the same patent was lodged on 3 September 1896 number 8750 E. R. Down from Gillingham, Dorset, Eng. for cylinder or vessel for curing bacon and hams. (Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives of New Zealand) It seems likely that similar applications were filed around the world.

An 1893 reference from the NZ official yearbook mentions that a very definite expectation existed among farmers that the trade of raising pigs will meet the demand of local meat curers and the trade is expected to increase rapidly. It reports that an unnamed firm, referred to as “one of the largest suppliers in the UK of mess pork to the navies of the world and the mercantile marine operations” sent an agent to New Zealand in order to investigate the viability of setting up a branch in the colony. The agent was there a couple of months and was making inquiries as to the prospect of opening up a branch establishment. Reference is made to a trial that he ran to test the quality of the New Zealand pig for their purposes. The trial was done by preparing some carcasses by a process patented by the firm. It is this last statement that makes me suspect it to be Oake-Woods that is referred to. Market research, done clandestinely before the patent application is lodged seems very plausible. It would fit the scenario where an actual application was done and granted three years later in ’96. I am sure that like today, foreign patent applications was an expensive process and the approach would seem reasonable. The close time between the report of the clandestine work and the actual granting of a patent, the reference to an existing international footprint to supply the navies of the world and the fact that the head office was in England makes it almost certain that this reference is to Oake-Woods doing market research before filing the application.

The approach of protecting the process with a patent, followed by appointing local producers to use the system under license is an extremely effective way of expanding internationally. Oake-Woods was one of the only firms that could do it based on the fact that their process was highly patentable. The reason for this is that theirs was not only a process as was the case with mild cured bacon of William Oake but involved very specific equipment. A process is impossible to protect as the case of William Oakes mild cure system illustrated beautifully. The moment unique equipment enters the equation, the entire situation changes and it becomes highly patentable! No other firm to my knowledge had both a totally unique process as well as totally unique equipment going along with the process at this time. A process is only protected till your staff leaves. It was true then as it is true today! To my knowledge, Oake-Woods had the most expansive international coverage of any bacon and ham curing company at the time by far!

The agent of the company in question in New Zealand ran the trails and then shipped these to his principals in England. He received a cablegram which stated that the meat and the curing were done to “perfection.” As a result of this, arrangements were made for extensive trade throughout the colony. The English firm was prepared to erect factories at a cost of £20,000 each in areas where they have a reasonable expectation to secure 2,000 pigs per week. (The NZ Official Yearbook, 1893) I wondered if this was not C & T Harris for a long time but Oake-Woods fits the profile of the unnamed company in question much better.

Through a Gillingham, Dorset Facebook group, Helen Shorrocks contacted me with the following interesting recollection of a South African operation. She writes, “My Grandad worked for them (Oakes William & Co.) all his life, I believe he was head butcher and was offered a job in South Africa as a young family man with the company as they had a factory out there. My Grandmother wouldn’t go.” The same modus operandi would have been used in South Africa where a local company was granted a license to use the technology after it was patented.

Conclusion

The Oak family is responsible for giving us two powerful and historically significant systems of curing. The first being mild curing by William Oake and the second was auto curing by William Harwood, his son. The key feature of both systems is the repeated re-use of the brine where the microflora is retained for as long as possible and the brine was only boiled under very specific conditions. The second, auto curing, adds vacuum and pressure with the accompanying befits. This is a remarkable journey and we salute the work of William Oake and his son.

Notes

(1) Mild Cured System

I quote the entire section from The Journal of Agriculture and Industry of South Australia.  A better treatment of tank curing of that time is as far as I know, not in existence.  I can only imagine the Irish immigrants who brought this technology to Australia.  After quoting it, I will make a few comments on the system.

“Bacon-Curing under the Factory System.

Like the dairying industry in the latter years, the manufacture of bacon and hams has undergone great changes. The old expensive system of dry-salting has been almost entirely superseded by the less expensive method of curing with pickle in tanks. This method is not only less expensive, but it is the safest and most profitable for the climate of the Australian colonies.

There is at the present time a new process coming into vogue, which is attracting considerable attention amongst bacon-curers. The process is called the “mild cure.” The discoverer of the new process of curing was, it appears, an eminent chemist — the late Mr William Oake. of Ulster. In an experiment, it is said he discovered that the antiseptic properties of salt were to be found apart from chloride of sodium (salt), and that the obnoxious effects of dissolving the albumen in the curing process could, therefore, be avoided. This is supposed to be the key to the new system of curing. By the new process of treatment, it is said that the bacon and hams, although thoroughly cured with the very essence of salt, still retain all the albumen originally in the meat, and yet do not taste salty to the palate. By the new process, the lean of the cured bacon remains soft and juicy, and natural in color; and the best proof of the value of the system is in the fact that where the mild cure has been adopted the bacon and hams will keep for any length of time in any climate. A great deal of labor, it is said, is saved by the new process, while the article put on the market is declared to be much superior in taste and flavor and quality to bacon cured on the old system.

Whatever may become of the new process, whether a success or not, it is certain that the time has now gone past for farmers to kill and cure for sale their own pigs to best advantage. The trade now requires an article well got up and of uniform quality to bring the highest prices, and as a rule, farmers have not the convenience for such work, and therefore are unable to compete against factories where they have all the latest appliances. It is therefore advisable for farmers either to co-operate and build a factory or to sell their pigs to some individual or company in the trade.

A factory with a capacity for working from 120 to 150 pigs per week, with refrigerating room and all machinery required, can be erected for about £1,000, and pigs of an average weight of 125lbs. can be killed, cured, smoked, and made ready for placing on the market at a cost of 4s. per head. In these times of keen competition and low prices, to make bacon-curing a profitable industry- no bacon should be held longer than from six weeks to two months, and hams from three to four months — the longer it is held the more weight it loses, and very often does not improve in quality.

The following is the system adopted in curing bacon with pickle. It is necessary to have a number of tanks, either built of brick and cement, slate, or wood. If timber is the most easily got, 2 1/2 in. planks well put together will answer. These tanks, if made 5ft. square by 40in. deep, will hold fifty ordinary sized pigs. Tanks sufficient for one week’s killing, with one spare tank for turning over the bacon, will be required.

Pigs that are to be killed should be kept without food for twelve or fourteen hours, and during that time should be yarded up adjoining the slaughter house. In no case should pigs be driven or heated in any way just prior to killing. From the yards to the killing pen a small race can be made, where from six to eight at a time can be run in and killed ; and the best method of killing is to stun the pig by a smart blow on the forehead, halfway between the eyes and the top of the head, with a hammer or similar weapon ; then, before the pig can struggle, turn him square on his back, place a foot on each side of the head, facing the animal, holding the head down to the floor by placing the left hand on the snout. Now place the point of the knife on the animal’s throat, at the same time looking over the carcass and pushing the knife in a straight line in the direction of the root of the tail. If you do not stick just right the first time, you will see why when the pig is opened. A little observation will enable you to become an expert pig sticker.

Pig Tank Curing.png

The killing pen should be raised from the ground about 2ft. 6in., and the floor allowed about 2in. fall. The blood will then flow all into one corner, where a receptacle can be placed underneath, and the blood all saved and used or sold for manure. From the floor of the killing pen the pigs can be drawn easily into the scalding vat, which should be placed adjoining the killing pen. A good size for the scalding vat is 6ft. long, 4ft. wide, and 2ft. 6in. high, and if a steam pipe is laid on from the boiler into the scalding vat the water can always be kept at a regular temperature — the best heat for scalding is 160°. Adjoining the scalding vat should be placed another vat of similar dimensions for cold water. After the pig is scraped it should be dropped into the vat of cold water, which will cleanse and cool the carcass and get the final scrape before being drawn up by the gamble on to the aerial tram, where the internals are removed and the backbone cut out, and then run into the factory, where they are allowed to hang till the following morning, when they are cut up into flitches or full sides, according to the size of the pigs.

As the carcasses are cut up the portions are laid on the floor of the factory (which should be made of concrete or flagged), flesh uppermost, and lightly powdered over with saltpetre, so as to drain off any blood. It can then be placed in the tanks for salting in the following manner: — Sprinkle the bottom of the tank with salt, then put in a layer of sides or flitches, sprinkle saltpetre over them lightly, and then salt and sugar. The next layer of sides or flitches is put in crosswise, and served in the same way, and so on until the tank is full. Then place a lid to fit inside the tank (inch battens 3in. apart will do); fix an upright on top of the lid to keep the bacon from rising when putting in the pickle. The pickle to be made as follows: — To every 1Olbs. of salt add 8lbs. of dark-brown sugar, lib. of spice, and 1/2lb. of sal-prunella. Make it strong enough to float an egg; let it settle for some time, then skim, and it is ready to go on to the meat.

Explanatory note by Eben:  Note Sal-Prunella is, according to Errors of Speech or Spelling by E. Cobham Brewer, Vol II, published by William Tegg and Co, London, 1877, a mixture of refined nitre and soda.  Nitre, as used at this time was refined saltpetre used in the manufacturing of explosives.

At the end of forty-eight hours turn the meat over into another tank, taking care to put the sides that were on top in the bottom of next tank, treating it as regards saltpetre, salt, and sugar exactly the same as at first, and using the same pickle. It can then remain until the seventh day from when first put in. It can then be taken out, and stacked on the floor of the factory, putting some salt between each layer, but do not stack higher than four sides deep, until it has been on the floor for some days when it should be turned over, and stacked higher each time until the fourth week from the day it went into the tanks; the bacon will then be cured.

The bacon can then be placed in tanks containing cold water, and allowed to soak all night. Wash well with a brush, then hang up to dry, and when properly dry it can be trimmed and smoked.

As hams require slightly different treatment from the bacon, separate tanks are required. Before placing the hams in the tank rub over the face of each one a thin layer of brown sugar. When the first layer is placed in the tank sprinkle over with saltpetre and salt, same as with the bacon, treating the balance the same as at first until the tank is full. Make the pickle same as for bacon, and leave the hams same time in tanks. Always retain the same pickle for the hams, and in no case use the bacon pickle for hams. The same pickle can be used for many years — the older the better; it only requires, when it becomes somewhat muddy, to be boiled and clarified. I have seen pickle which had been used in one factory for sixteen years, and that factory produces some of the best bacon and hams in Australia.

Explanatory note by Eben:  This means that tank curing or “mild cure” as it was called, was in use in Australia at least by 1880.

Smoking Bacon and Hams.

The smokehouse should be built according to the intended output of bacon and hams, and the walls of the building should not be less than 12ft. high. One of the principal things in smoking bacon is to have the smoke as cool as possible before coming into contact with the bacon and to assist this it is well to put a floor 6ft. 6in. or 7ft. from the ground, just allowing a slight opening between the flooring boards to allow the smoke to make its way up to where the bacon is hung. The flitches or hams should be hung as close together as not to touch, so as to allow the smoke to penetrate every portion. A small slide can be put in the gable of the smokehouse to regulate the smoke as required. A place should be made in the centre of the floor, say 6ft. by 3ft., where the sawdust is placed. This is lighted, and if the door is kept closed there will be no flame, but the sawdust will smoulder and cause a great quantity of smoke. From twenty-four to forty-eight hours will suffice to properly smoke the bacon if the weather is suitable, after which it may be packed and forwarded to market.

Where teatree (Melaleuca) is obtainable it is excellent for smoking ; it imparts a flavor to the bacon which is much appreciated by many people.

A Conclusion is offered

Mild-cure Bacon. — In all of the large cities of Britain and the European continent, the public demand is for mild-cure bacon. The system of cure is very simple and perfect, but requires expenditure of at least £1,000 on the plant for carrying it out. By this process the albumen of the meat is retained and is not coagulated, so that the bacon is devoid of excessive salt, is by no means hard or dry, and there is no loss of weight in the curing. A factory costing £2,000 to construct could easily cure 400 pigs per day. The process takes about a month to complete, but after the first day there is no further labor involved.”

References

The Age. Melbourne, Victoria, Australia29 Mar 1898, Tue, Page 7

APPENDIX TO THE JOURNALS OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF NEW ZEALAND . SESSION II . , 1897 . VOL . III .

Leslie’s Directory for Perth and Perthshire, 1939-1940, By J. Bartholomew, Edinburgh. Published by the proprietor.

Belfast News-Letter (Belfast, Antrim, Northern Ireland) 21 July 1837

The Bristol Mercury and Daily Post, Western Countries, 18 July 1885, page 8

Cape of Good Hope (Colony). Dept. of Agriculture, VOL . VIII . 1896. Published for the Department of Agriculture, Cape of Good Hope by WA Richards & Sons, Government Printers, Castle Street, Cape Town.

Cassell. The Official Guide to the London and South Western Railway: The Royal Route to the South and the West of England, the Channel Islands, Europe and America, Cassell and Company, ltd Jan 1894

Diplomatic and Consular Reports, Morocco, 1897. Harrison and Sons.

Dorset Life. 2016. Gillingham railway station.

William Douglas & Sons Limited, 1901, Douglas’s Encyclopedia, University of Leeds. Library.

Errors of Speech or Spelling by E. Cobham Brewer, Vol II, published by William Tegg and Co, London, 1877

Farmer, F. M.. Fannie Farmer. 1896. Cook Book. Skyhorse Publishing.

Food Flavourings, Ingredients, & Processing, Volume 1, 1979

The Freeman’s Journal, (Dublin, Dublin, Ireland) 11 Feb 1853, p1

The Freeman’s Journal (Dublin, Dublin, Ireland), 23 September 1853

Jackson’s Oxford Journal (Oxford, Oxfordshire, England) 17 September 1842, p4

Jackson’s Oxford Journal (Oxford, Oxfordshire, England) 26 July 1845, p4.

The Journal of the British Dairy Farmers’ Association: For the Improvement of the Dairy Husbandry of Great Britain (1887), Volume 3

The Journal of Agriculture and Industry of South Australia, edited by Molineux, General Secretary of Agriculture, South Australia, Volume 1 covering August 1897 – July 1898 and printed in Adelaide by C. E. Bristow, Government Printer in 1898.

The Journal, Volume 2 by South Australia. Department of Agriculture. Vol II, No. 1. Edited by A Molineux, F. S. L., F. R. H. S, General Secretary Agriculture. Bureau of S. A., August 1898, to July 1899, Government Printers. 1899.

Henry, M. (1897). Food and Sanitation. Vol 8, No 230.

Manchester Weekly Times and Examiner (Manchester), Saturday, 28 September 1889

The Queensland Agricultural Journal, Issued by the direction of the Hon. A. J. Thynne, M. L. C. , Secretary for Agriculture. Edited by A. J. Boyd, F.R.G.S.Q. Vol. II. PART 1. January 1898. By Authority: Brisbane: Edmund Gregory, Government Printer.

Stanier, P. 1989. Dorset’s Industrial Heritage. Twelvehead Press

Worth, R. N.. Jan 1888. Tourist’s Guide to Somersetshire: Rail and Road. E. Stanford

Chapter 12.10: Meat Curing – A Review

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.


Meat Curing – A Review
Cape Town, November 1959

Dear Lauren,

Over the years I covered the progression of both curing techniques and the understanding of how curing takes place in great detail. There is a need with so much information given, to summarise everything to enable you to have a birds-eye view of the progressions. If you have a good grasp of both the process and the development of the various curing systems you will be well on your way to become a good meat curer yourself.

I, therefore, set out to give a historical overview of the development of meat curing. This review spans many millennia. From the dawn of humanity to our current time where we touch on modern developments in meat curing technology. Curing started out as a way of managing food scarcity by providing a means of fortifying meat against spoilage and over time became a culinary craft. This review is done from the perspective of a commercial high throughput bacon plant and not from the viewpoint of artisan curing operations, some of which is itself large and service an expansive client base. These operations are, however, almost exclusively restricted to developed countries. It must also be said that what was yesterdays most advanced and quickest way of producing bacon became today’s artisan curing techniques.

The Curing Process

A modern understanding of the benefits of curing is that it fixes a pinkish-reddish cured meat colour. It endows the meat with unique longevity, even if left outside a refrigerator, many times longer than that of fresh meat. It is powerful enough to prevent the deadly toxin formation by Clostridium botulinum. It prevents the formation of rancidity in fat. It lastly gives meat a unique cured taste.

What is completely mesmerising in meat curing is that the basic process follows physiological processes, essential for human life. The fact that humans stuck, as it were, to the evolutionary playbook in its practice of curing in that it mimics these physiological processes to the smallest details is completely astounding! I will write to you separately about how the basic processes in curing are exactly the processes essential for life that happens every moment in our bodies! Far from a villain that causes health trouble, nitrate, nitrite and nitric oxide are indispensable molecules to life on earth. Of course, its overuse, in proportions greater than what nature dictates, is extremely unhealthy, as we discussed in Chapter 12.06: Regulations of Nitrate and Nitrite post-1920’s: the problem of residual nitrite. By and large, meat curing is a safe and essential technique of preserving meat.

Discovering the mechanics behind meat curing was a slow process that took hundreds of years. (For an overview of some of the people behind the most important discoveries, see Fathers of Meat Curing)  A survey of farm curing methods conducted in 1951 by the US Department of Agriculture among farmers in the US revealed the following brining methods used:

  • Dry cure – no pumping,
  • Brine cure – no pumping (the use of cover brine),
  • Brine cure – pumped, and
  • Dry cure – pumped.  (Dunker and Hankins; 1951: 4)

We can add the following to this list from 1951:

  • Sweet Curing (Stitch Pumping with dry curing and with hot smoking)
  • Mild Curing (the re-use of cover brine with or without stitch pumping, with or without dry salting)
  • Pale Dry Bacon (Sweet curing with no smoking, only drying)
  • The direct use of nitrites in curing brines
  • Grid or Formed Bacon

For a discussion on the mechanics of curing, please review the letter I sent you previously Chapter 12.09: The Curing Reaction.

Salt Only (Dry cure – no pumping – salt only – using a dry rub or brine)

Exactly where salt curing of meat started is an interesting question. There is ample evidence that salt preservation of meat was done from the earliest of times. Despite the fact that there are records of fish being salt-cured in China going back to 2000 BCE and from Egypt and Mesopotamia, the practice is much older.

Ancients consumed their food raw before it was discovered how to make fire. (How did Ancient Humans Preserve Food?) Even after fire-making was invented and this technology became universally part of human culture, humans only cooked their food intermittently for a very long time. There are cultures to this day that eat raw meat in one form or the other. Besides this, hanging meat to dry in the sun, the wind or over a fireplace without adding any curing agent such as salt was practised in southern Africa, North America, and Nepal, to mention just a few places that I am personally aware of. It was likely universally practised at some point in the past. 

Salt was without question the first curing agent and in all likelihood, salt in the form of seawater. It seems that as people migrated from coastal regions, inland, they developed solar evaporation to extract the salt from seawater along with techniques such as boiling the water off when it became more difficult to access seawater when communities started to settle further away from the coast. It is often claimed that salt did not play a significant role in southern Africa. Nothing could be further from the truth! After a careful investigation of the use of salt for meat preservation in southern Africa, the evidence points to the fact that the power of salt to preserve meat was known by for example the Khoe and the San people, but they preferred to simply hang meat in the sun and the wind to dry. Still, salt played a significant role in the diets of ordinary people. They understood it and used it!  (Salt and the Ancient People of Southern Africa) A direct link can be made to every great civilisation that existed in antiquity in the fact that they all knew the value and uses of salt.

China

One of the greatest and oldest civilisations that ever existed (and still exist) is the Chinese! What we know for sure is that salt curing of meat occurred in China from very early on. Flad, et al. (2005) showed that salt production was taking place in China on an industrial scale as early as the first millennium BCE at Zhongba. “Zhongba is located in the Zhong Xian County, Chongqing Municipality, approximately 200km down-river along the Yangzi from Chongqing City in central China. Researchers concluded that “the homogeneity of the ceramic assemblage” found at this site “suggests that salt production may already have been significant in this area throughout the second millennium B.C..” Significantly, “the Zhongba data represent the oldest confirmed example of pottery-based salt production yet found in China.”  (Flad, et al.; 2005)

Salt-cured Chinese hams have been in production since the Tang Dynasty (618-907AD). First records appeared in the book Supplement to Chinese Materia Medica by Tang Dynasty doctor Chen Zangqi, who claimed ham from Jinhua was the best. Pork legs were commonly salted by soldiers in Jinhua to take on long journeys during wartime, and it was imperial scholar Zong Ze who introduced it to Song Dynasty Emperor Gaozong. Gaozong was so enamoured with the ham’s intense flavour and red colour he named it huo tui, or ‘fire leg’. (SBS) An earlier record of ham than Jinhua-ham is Anfu ham from the Qin dynasty (221 to 206 BCE).

In the middle ages, Marco Polo is said to have encountered salt curing of hams in China on his presumed 13th-century trip. Impressed with the culture and customs he saw, he claims that he returned to Venice with Chinese porcelain, paper money, spices, and silks to introduce to his home country. Polo alleges that it was from his time in Jinhua, a city in eastern Zheijiang province, where he found salt-cured ham. Marco Polo is a controversial figure in that there is great uncertainty if he ever actually undertook the voyages he wrote about. Still, these stories, either first hand from Polo or from someone else who compiled it, the reports certainly had a basis in reality.

The reach of Chinese technology of salt production was impressive. On a trip to New Zealand, I learned that the Māori never developed salt extraction in any form. I did a short review of the colonization of Indonesia and salt extraction technology in an article, “Concerning the lack of salt industry in pre-European New Zealand and other tales from Polynesia and the region.” A brief survey of the history of salt extraction from Fiji, Samoa, New Guinea, Vanuatu, and Taiwan shows the large influence of China on regional salt production technology.

This study also revealed a possible forerunner of more formal salt production around the world, including in China. One of the earliest ways that salt found itself in food preparations was undoubtedly through the fact that seafood was consumed that naturally had added salt which came from the water. Another way would have been if meat was stored in seawater. Immersing carcasses of animals and fish in water would have been one of the earliest forms of preservation and since earliest communities gravitated to coastal regions, salt water would have been used and in addition to seafood which is rich in salt, it would have entered early human culture when food was cooked in seawater. It is likely that carcasses were stored in water at first to hide them from predators and its preserving power would soon have been discovered. Migrating groups would have noticed how seawater preserved meat better and changed (improved) the taste of the meat.

Polynesia

The study of salt in Polynesia shows that as groups migrated inland, away from the sea, saltwater was boiled to evaporate the water and leave the salt as a very basic salt extraction technique. The salt was then traded with the inland communities. This was widely practised in Taiwan until fairly recently. The references of it in Polynesia and Asia offer a suggested progression of the extraction of salt from seawater. Studies from Fiji identified population size, even of coastal communities to be a key driver of salt extraction technology. 

It seems that migrants from Taiwan spread their technology throughout the lands of Polynesia. Every evaluation of salt on the islands I looked at supports this. China would undoubtedly have been a key driver in the region in progressing salt extraction technology with Pappa New Guinea playing a large role where a multitude of techniques to extract salt was (and still is) in use. Solar evaporation of seawater, extracting salt through plant material and burning plants, naturally high in salt are a few of the developments from the region, which all presumably have their roots in the practice of simply boiling seawater; in turn, this was probably a progression of the practice of cooking food in seawater; which, in turn, had its roots in storing meat in saline solutions; which had its roots in simply immersing carcasses in bodies of water for storage. When we are at this point, we are clearly at the very early age of the existence of cognitive modern humans who were cognitively similar to modern humans.

New Zealand

In a discussion with a curator from the Canterbury Museum about the matter of salt production and trade in salt being absent from New Zealand’s ancient history, he drew my attention to the interesting practice of the Maori to slow boil large quantities of shellfish in freshwater. Had they not done so, it would not have been possible to consume large quantities at a time. There seems to be evidence that they did, in fact, consume large quantities of this at a time. It supports the notion that they knew about salt and the possibility exists that this was true across the world from very early. Like the people of southern Africa, people probably knew at least some of the techniques for extracting it, but some local populations, as was the case in New Zealand and many of the southern African populations, may have opted not to use the technology simply because it was not necessary. In the case of the Maori, they definitely knew to remove some of the salt from shellfish before consuming it. They have a word for salt which shows that they definitely knew about its taste. In southern Africa, most would have gotten their salt from meat or milk and when they could only eat plant material, they knew that a bit of salt would cure the ailments which resulted from a lack of salt.

Salt as a condiment

One can not talk about salt curing and not at least make mention of its use as a condiment. Even though too much salt alters the taste negatively, preservation through salt and altering (enhancing) the taste go hand in hand. Evidence is emerging about the use of condiments in food, the earliest discovery so far which dates in Europe going back 6000 years ago in Germany and Denmark. Archaeology magazine (Nov/ Dec 2013) reports that “a team of researchers has found phytoliths, small bits of silica that form in the tissues of some plants, from garlic mustard seeds, which carry strong, peppery flavour but little nutritional value. Because they were found alongside residues of meat and fish, the seed remnants represent the earliest known direct evidence of spicing in European cuisine. According to researcher Hayley Saul of the University of York, “It certainly contributes important information about the prehistoric roots of this practice, which eventually culminated in globally significant processes and events.” (Archeology)  Salt would undoubtedly have been part of their arsenal of taste enhancers.

It seems that our relationship with salt has never been static and to this day, it continues to evolve. More importantly, the discoveries in Denmark and Germany brings into focus innovations in the European lands of Germany, Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, Spain, France, and Poland. Besides these, there is Irland. What was happening in these regions while cities and kingdoms covering Mesopotamia, India, Pakistan, Nepal were developing salt industries and very sophisticated meat curing technologies based on salt, nitrate, and sal ammoniac? I am filling in the gaps over the years to come.

Origins of Nitrate/ Nitrite curing?

This study of salt also brings me back to my work on nitrite/ nitrate curing which has been a major focus for me over many years. While people living in desert areas would have discovered that certain salts have the ability to change the colour of meat from brown, back to pinkish/ reddish, along with increased preservation power and a slightly distinct taste, coastal dwellers would have observed the same. They would have noticed that sea salt or bay salt have the same ability.

Dr Francois Mellett, the renowned South African food scientist, sent me the following very interesting theory about the earliest discovery of the curing process in private communication between us on the matter. He wrote, “I have a theory that curing started even earlier by early seafarers: when a protein is placed in seawater, the surface amino acids are de-aminated to form nitrite for a period of 4 to 6 weeks. Nitrite is then converted to nitrate over the next 4 weeks. Finally, ammonia and ammoniac are formed from nitrate. It is possible that they preserved meat in seawater barrels and that the whole process of curing was discovered accidentally.”

I think he is on the right track. I suspect that people discovered this even long before barrels were invented. The use of seawater for meat storage and further preparation was so widespread that it would have been impossible not to have noticed meat curing taking place. If it is generally true that the earliest humans first settled around coastal locations before migrating inland, and if the seaside communities first noticed curing, it would push the discovery of curing many thousands of years earlier than we ever imagined, to a time when modern humans started spreading around the globe. When did it develop into an art or a trade is another question altogether, but I think we can safely push this back to the earliest cognitive and cultured humans whom we would have recognized as thinking “like us” if we could travel back in time and meet them.

We know that dry-curing of pork takes around 5 to 6 weeks under the right conditions and if the meat is not cut too thick. It must be cool enough that the meat doesn’t spoil before it is cured.  Even though I now suspect that curing was first noticed by communities living by the sea as I just explained, I suspect that curing salts in deserts were discovered since natural salts always appear as a mix of various salts and under certain conditions, these salt deposits contain small amounts of nitrate salts and ammonium chloride. This would have aided its development into an art by the much larger availability of nitrate and related salts.

I deal with these salts below under separate headings, but the most important two curing salts that appear to us from antiquity are saltpetre (sodium nitrate) and sal ammoniac (ammonium chloride).  Both salts were well known in Mesopotamia and references to them appear alongside references to salt curing of fish mentioned earlier and both salts were used in meat curing.

The ancients developed basic techniques of separating out the different salts. In particular, sal ammoniac was by far the more important salt of the bronze age (2000 BCE). It was produced in Egypt and mined in Asia where it occurs naturally. There are features of sal ammoniac that favour it as a salt for people who had a motivation to exploit new lands due to population pressure and climate changes or just curiosity. When the horse was domesticated around 5000 BCE, a food source was needed to sustain humans on long expeditions and I believe sal ammoniac fits the requirement perfectly.

Both salts cure the meat in a week which obviously had huge advantages over salt-only curing. This, I speculate, was the first incentive to change to a dedicated curing salt. Secondly, sal ammoniac, as far as I can find, was globally traded from much earlier on than saltpetre. Ancient Macedonian records indicate that even 2000BCE saltpetre was preferred in food over sal ammoniac on account of the better taste of saltpetre.

There is a modern era example of a curing technique that was good for a time and was then replaced with more agreeable methods as soon as supply lines were established. This technique, I believe actually existed from very early after the horse was domesticated and was re-introduced by various cultures, at various times. One such culture was the Boers who left the Cape Colony and moved into the interior of South Africa. The technique they used to cure their meat disappeared as soon as conventional supply lines were established.

The technique is curing of meat by hanging it over the neck of the horse or placing it under your saddle so that the sweat of the horse cure the meat. (For a discussion on this, see my article, Saltpeter, Horse Sweat and Biltong)  My point is that this is a good example of a curing technique that was used for a time only and then disappeared, only to be re-appear when conditions required it. Such was the case, I suspect when sal ammoniac was used for a time in curing until the requirement subsided, salt curing became popular again and much later economic factors re-introduced an improved curing salt which by this time was saltpetre. The inclusion of saltpetre into curing salt mixes goes hand in hand with its increased availability.

German and Austrian cookbooks pre-1600’s reveal that vegetable dyes were used to bolster colour in this time and speak of curing with salt only. It is well known that the Germans and Austrians were familiar with nitrate curing and, I will argue, they would have been acquainted with sal ammoniac as a curing salt also, but for whatever reason, these fell out of common practice. When the requirements disappeared for nitrate and sal ammoniac curing of the ancient world, the nations of Europe and China reverted to salt curing.

The many references to salt curing are therefore not surprising in the context of a mature and stable society. A record exists from Cato the Elder who described in 160 BCE how a ham should be cured.  In his Latin work, De Agricultura (On Farming), this Roman statesman and farmer, gives an ancient recipe for curing pork with salt.

“After buying legs of pork, cut off the `feet. One-half peck ground Roman salt per ham. Spread the salt in the base of a vat or jar, then place a ham with the skin facing downwards. Cover completely with salt. After standing in salt for five days, take all hams out with the salt. Put those that were above below, and so rearrange and replace. After a total of 12 days take out the hams, clean off the salt and hang in the fresh air for two days. On the third day take down, rub all over with oil, hang in smoke for two days…take down, rub all over with a mixture of oil and vinegar and hang in the meat store. Neither moths nor worms will attack it.” (economist.com)

Cato may have imitated a process whereby hams are smoked over juniper and beech wood. The process was probably imported by the Roman gourmets from Germania. (economist.com) It is possible that the process of curing itself was brought to Rome by the military stationed in Germany.

Salt curing remains an important technique for high-end hams and certain bacon. Like nitrite curing, it yields a particular cured colour, but one that is a deeper purple than pink.  For the mechanism behind this, refer to a section in my article on the mechanisms of nitrite curing, Bacterial/ Enzymatic Creation of Cured Colour. This is entirely restricted to long term curing which was the norm at a certain time.

Sal Ammoniac

In 2017 I did an article where I speculated that nitrate curing originated from either the Turpan area in western China or from the Atacama desert in Chile and Peru. In this article, I suggest that nitrate curing of meat is thousands of years old. (Salt – 7000 years of meat-curing) I was working on the assumption that nitrate salts are the only salts that will yield nitrite and nitric oxide, required for meat curing. Between the Atacama desert and Turpan in Western China, Turpan is by far the best candidate for the birthplace of meat curing as it is practised around the world. I recently review further evidence from this area in an article, Nitrate Salts Epic Journey and And then the mummies spoke!

In the course of researching the article, I discovered that sal ammoniac was far more vigorously traded than saltpetre in the early Christian era and possibly for thousands of years before that. Fascinatingly enough, I realised that ammonium chloride will, like nitrates, undergo bacterial transformation into nitrites which will then in the meat matrix yield nitric oxide which will cure the meat. I further discovered that it is an excellent meat preservative, even better than nitrates. Turpan is also probably the only place on earth where sal ammoniac and nitrate salts in the form of sodium nitrate occur in massive quantities side by side.

Chinese authors of antiquity are unanimous that sal ammoniac came into China from Turpan, Tibet, and Samarkand and through Samarkand, it was traded into the Mediterranian along the silk road. There are similar records that it was traded from Turpan along the silk road through the city of Samarkand that had strong trading ties with the Mediterranean. It all makes for an appealing case for sal ammoniac as the actual curing salt from antiquity that was used in meat curing when the practice spread around the world. There is even a tantalizing link between Turfan and the ancient city of Salzburg in that a very particular stitch was found in jerseys on mummies in Turfan and in salt mines in Salzburg. This leads me to speculate that the trade of sal ammoniac was done into the heart of Western Europe, into what became known as Austria. This leads me to believe that the actual technological progressions may have come from Austria. Whether it was Salzburg or Turfan is not clear. More work remains to be done to gain greater insight.

We are not familiar with this salt in the context of meat curing and it will be in order for me to dwell on the topic a bit. I reviewed modern references dating back to the 1700s, 1800s, and 1900s where it continued to be used in meat preservation in Nitrate Salts Epic Journey. Several minerals exist composed of ammonium (NH4). Ammonium is formed by the protonation of ammonia (NH3). Sal ammoniac is the most well known and was named by the ancient Romans.  They collected this salt which was found around the temple of Jupiter Ammon in Egypt and called it salt (sal) of Ammon (ammonocius). The name ammonia was subsequently derived from it. It forms in volcanic vents and after volcanic eruptions before it has rained which dissolves it. It is highly soluble. It is unique in that the crystals are formed directly from the gas fumes and bypass the liquid phase, a process known as sublimation.

Ammonium readily combines with an acid thus forming a salt such as hydrochloric acid to form ammonium chloride (sal-ammoniac) and with nitric acid to form ammonium nitrate. Recent studies have shown that volcanos release a “previously unconsidered flux of nitric acid vapour to the atmosphere. (Mather, T. A., et al, 2004) It is a fascinating and insightful fact that the Turfan area, both the basin and the mountains are replete with different salts containing nitrogen (nitrate salts and ammonium) any one of which could be used effectively in meat curing.

Sal ammonia was mined from openings in the sides of volcanic mountains where steam from underground lava flows created the ammonium chloride crystals. These were traded across Asia, Europe and India. Massive sodium nitrate deposits occur in the Tarim Basin, the second-lowest point on earth. I then speculate that traders used some of these deposits to forge ammonium chloride since the ammonium chloride crystals did not survive in crystal form on long voyages due to their affinity for water that breaks the crystal structure down. Once this happened, the sodium nitrate and the ammonium chloride look similar in appearance. Due to the fact that it is known that almost all the sal ammonia mined in Samarkand was exported, I deduce that demand outstripped supply and this provided the incentive for such forgery. I find support for the likelihood of such a forgery, not just in the limited supply of sal ammoniac compared to nitrate salts, but also in the fact that mining then sal ammoniac was a seasonal affair and extremely dangerous and a difficult undertaking.

It seems likely that sal ammonia was the forerunner of saltpetre as the curing agent of choice. It is composed of two ions, ammonium, and chloride. The ammonium would be oxidized by ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB) into nitrites and the well-known reaction sequence would result. (Reaction Sequence)

Not only would it result in the reddish-pinkish cured colour, but it was an excellent preservative. In my personal experience, it is a better preservative than salt and nitrites alone but more work is needed to confirm this. There is, however some evidence of this fact from history. An 1833 book on French cooking, The Cook and Housewife’s Manual by Christian Isobel Johnstone states that “crude sal ammonia is an article of which a little goes far in preserving meat, without making it salt.” (Johnstone, C. I.; 1833: 412) It is, of course, the sodium which tastes salty in sodium chloride and ammonium chloride will have an astringent, salty taste. I know exactly what ammonium chloride tastes like since it was added to my favourite Dutch candy “Zoute Drop” with liquorice. I believe it was none other than my old friend, Jan Bernardo who first gave me Zoute Drop. As a boy, I used to ride my bicycle once a month to the only Greek Caffe in Vanderbijlpark which sold it for my monthly fix. My favourite was the double strength version called “Dubbel Zoute Drop.”

Subsequent to these discoveries, I did two small tests with sal ammoniac. Refer to The Sal Ammoniac Project.  Here I show that sal ammoniac stands up to its reputation as an excellent preservative and definitely cures meat in two weeks at a 5 deg C temperature.

Salt with a little bit of saltpetre

Saltpetre is the curing salt that most of us are familiar with that preceded sodium nitrite as curing agent. By far the largest natural known deposits of saltpetre to the Western world of the 1600s were found in India and the East Indian Companies of England and Holland plaid pivotal roles in facilitating its acquisition and transport. The massive nitrate fields of the Atacama desert and those of the Tarim Bason were still largely unknown. In 1300, 1400 and 1500 saltpetre had, however, become the interest of all governments in India and there was a huge development in local saltpetre production.

In Europe, references to natron emerged from the middle of the 1500s and were used by scholars who travelled to the East where they encountered both the substance and the terminology. Natron was originally the word that referred to saltpetre. Later, the word natron was changed and nitron was used.

At first, the saltpetre fields of Bihar were the focus of the Dutch East Indian Company (VOC) and the British East Indian Company (EIC). The VOC dominated the saltpetre trade at this point. In the 1750s, the English East Indian Company (EIC) was militarised. Events soon took place that allowed for the monopolization of the saltpetre trade. In 1757 the British took over Subah of Bengal; a VOC expeditionary force was defeated in 1759 at Bedara; and finally, the British defeated the Mughals at Buxar in 1764 which secured the EIC’s control over Bihar. The British seized Bengal and took possession of 70% of the world’s saltpetre production during the latter part of the 1700s. (Frey, J. W.; 2009: 508 – 509)

The application of nitrate in meat curing in Europe rose as it became more generally available. Later, massive deposits of sodium nitrate were discovered in the Atacama Desert of Chile and Peru and became known as Chilean Saltpeter. Curing with this was, as I have said before, only a re-introduction of technology that existed since well before 2000 BCE.

The pivotal area where I believe saltpetre technology spread from across Asia, India and into Europe, is the Turpan-Hami Basin in the Taklimakan Desert in China. Here, nitrate deposits are so substantial, that an estimated 2.5 billion tons exist, comparable in scale to the Atacama Desert super-scale nitrate deposit in Chile. (Qin, Y., et al; 2012)  (The Tarim Mummies of China) Its strategic location on the silk road, the evidence of advanced medical uses of nitrates from very early on and the ethnic link with Europe of people who lived here, all support this hypothesis.

Large saltpetre industries sprang to the South in India and to the South East in western China. In India, a large saltpetre industry developed in the north on the border with Nepal – in the state of Bihar, in particular, around the capital, Patna; in West Bengal and in Uttar Pradesh (Salkind, N. J. (edit), 2006: 519). Here, it was probably the monsoon rains which drench arid ground and as the soil dries during the dry season, capillary action pulls nitrate salts from deep underground to the surface where they are collected and refined. It is speculated that the source of the nitrates may be human and animal urine. Technology to refine saltpetre probably only arrived on Indian soil in the 1300s. Both the technology to process it and a robust trade in sal ammoniac in China, particularly in western China, predates the development of the Indian industry. It is therefore unlikely that India was the birthplace of curing. Saltpetre technology probably came from China, however, India, through the Dutch East Indian Company and later, the English East Indian Company became the major source of saltpetre in the west.

To the South East, in China, the largest production base of saltpetre was discovered dating back to a thousand years ago. Here, a network of caves was discovered in 2003 in the Laojun Mountains in Sichuan Province – possibly the largest production base of saltpetre in China from 1000 years ago. Meat curing interestingly enough is also centred around the west and southern part of China. Probably a similar development to the Indian progression.

In China, in particular, a very strong tradition of meat curing developed after saltpetre was possibly first introduced to the Chinese well before 2000 BCE. Its use in meat curing only became popular in Europe between 1600 and 1750 and it became universally used in these regions towards the end of 1700. Its usage most certainly coincided with its availability and price. I have not compared price and availability in Europe with the findings on its use in meat curing which is based upon an examination of German and Austrian kook books by Lauder (1991), but I am confident that when I get to it one day, the facts will prove the same.

The Dutch and English arrived in India after 1600 with the first shipment of saltpetre from this region to Europe in 1618. Availability in Europe was, generally speaking, restricted to governments who, in this time, increasingly used it in warfare. (Frey, J. W.;  2009) This correlates well with the proposed time when it became generally available to the European population as the 1700s from Lauder. I believe that a strong case is emerging that the link between Western Europe and the desert regions of Western China was the place where nitrate curing developed into an art. The exact place, I believe, in Western China is the Tarim depression.

Dry curing of meat changed from salt only to a mixture of salt and saltpetre, liberally rubbed over the meat.  As it migrates into the meat, water and blood are extracted and drained off.  The meat is usually laid skin down and all exposed meat are plastered with a mixture of salt and saltpetre.  Pork bellies would cure in approximately 14 days. (3) (Hui, Y. H.,  2012: 540)

Salt, Saltpeter, and Sugar

The addition of sugar which favours the reduction of nitrate to the active agent nitrite became common practice during the 19th century.” (Lauer K. 1991.) At first, it was added to reduce the saltiness of the meat and make it generally more palatable. Curers soon discovered that when sugar is added, the meat cures faster and the colour development is better.

Science later revealed that the sugars contribute to “maintaining acid and reducing conditions favourable” for the formation of nitric oxide.” (Kraybill, H. R..  2009)  “Under certain conditions reducing sugars are more effective than nonreducing sugars, but this difference is not due to the reducing sugar itself. The exact mechanism of the action of the sugars is not known. It may be dependent upon their utilisation by microorganisms or the enzymatic systems of the meat tissues.” (Kraybill, H. R..  2009)

Ralph Hoagland, Senior Biochemist, Biochemie Division, Bureau of Animal Industry, United States Department of Agriculture, discovered that saltpetre’s functional value upon the colour of meat is its reduction to nitrites and the nitrites to nitric oxide, with the consequent production of NO-hemoglobin. He showed that the reactant is nitrous acid (CodeCogsEqn (19)) or one of its metabolites such as nitric oxide (CodeCogsEqn (13)).

He wrote an important article in 1921, Substitutes for Sucrose in Cured Meats. Writing at this time, this formidable meat scientist is ideally placed to comment on the use of sugar in meat curing in the 1800s since the basis of its use would have been rooted in history.

He writes about the use of sugar in meat curing in the USA and says that it is used “extensively.” He reveals that according to government records, 15,924,009 pounds of sugar and 1,712,008 pounds of syrup, totalling 17,636,017 was used in curing meats in pickle in establishments that were inspected by the US Government, in 1917. If one would add the estimated use of sugar in dry cures in the same year, he placed the usage at an estimated total of 20,000,000 pounds. This estimate excludes the use of sugar in meat curing on farms. (Hoagland, R.  1921.)

Hoagland says that the functional value of sugar in meat curing at this time (and probably reaching back into the 1800s) was entirely related to product quality and not preservation. “Sugar-cured” hams and bacon were viewed as being of superior quality. He states that a very large portion of bacon and hams produced in the USA are cured with sugar or syrup added to the cure. The quantity of sugar used in the curing mix is so small that it does not contribute to meat preservation at all.  “Meat can be cured in entire safety without the use of sugar, and large quantities are so cured.”  (Hoagland, R.  1921.)

The contribution to quality that he speaks about is probably related to both colour and flavour development. The colour development would have been related to the formation of the cured colour of the meat (The Naming of Prague Salt) as well as the browning during frying.

The role of sugar in bacon curing of the 1800s when saltpetre was used was elucidated in 1882 by Gayon and Dupetit, studying and coining the term “denitrification” by bacteria. The process whereby nitrate is changed to nitrite is through the process of bacterial denitrification. They demonstrated the effect of heat and oxygen on this process and more importantly for our present discussion, “they also showed that individual organic compounds such as sugars, oils, and alcohols could supplant complex organic materials and serve as reductants for nitrate.”  (Payne, 1986)

Denitrifying bacteria are facultative anaerobes, that is, they will only use nitrate (codecogseqn-2) if oxygen (CodeCogsEqn (3).gif) is unavailable as the terminal electron acceptor in respiration.”  “The codecogseqn-2 is sequentially reduced to more reduced forms although not all bacteria form gas. ” “Many bacteria can only carry out the reduction of codecogseqn-2 to CodeCogsEqn (5).gif, and this process is referred to as dissimilatory nitrate reduction. There is also evidence emerging that certain bacteria can denitrify, even if codecogseqn-3  is present.  (Seviour, R. J., et al..  1999:  31)

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(Seviour, R. J., et al..  1999:  31)

“The rate of denitrification is affected by several parameters including temperature, dissolved oxygen levels and the concentration and biodegradability of carbon sources available to these cells” (Seviour, R. J., et al..  1999:  223) Examples of such carbon sources are sugar, oxygen and plant oils.

In the 1800s when the use of saltpetre was at its pinnacle, the use of sugar with saltpetre had then a much more prominent role in that it energizes denitrification bacteria which results in an increased rate of nitrate reduction to nitrite and therefore would speed up curing with saltpetre and result in a better overall curing process. Today, with the widespread use of sodium nitrite in curing brines, certain denitrifying bacteria is one mechanism for NO formation which directly leads to better curing. The use of sugar or dextrose in bacon production in the modern era has more to do with the browning effect through the well-known Millard reaction to give fried bacon a nice dark caramel colour when fried.

Double Salting

In order to dry the meat quicker, a practice developed to salt it multiple times. During the first salting, meat juices are pulled from the meat. This was cleared away and a second “salting” was administered. Later on, several “saltings” were administered. Right here from the southernmost point of the African continent comes a great illustration of this from the early 1700s which then, easily extends back several hundred years.

Remember that the settlement which became Cape Town was in the first place set up as a refreshment station for the Dutch East Indian ships that rounded the African continent en route to India from Amsterdam. It became a stop-over for any friendly ship and Cape Town soon got the name of Tavern of the Sea. Here the summers are extremely hot from December to March or mid-April. Winter starts when the first Arctic cold fronts arrive in April and lasts till at least September. From September to December, it’s technically summer, but it’s often very cold and rainy with intermitted very hot spells. This means that April to August would be the only four months to properly cure meat which was very important for the Cape economy as it would be sold to passing ships. The pressure would have been relentless to find ways to cure meat in the other months also. This is then the background to the account of multiple saltings.

Upham reports on the following course of events from 1709. A detailed treatment of the reference can be seen at Saltpeter, Horse Sweat and Biltong. What was happening in the sweltering heat of March in Cape Town was that meat that was salted for sale to ships were off. A certain Michiel Ley then suggested that the meat should be salted in a two-step process. In other words, salt it and let it lay for a couple of days, giving time for blood and meat juices to be drawn out. Then, give it a second salting. Lay originally came to the Cape as a soldier employed by the Dutch East Indian Company but he changed his occupation to that of a master butcher. Certainly, this was his trade which he received in Europe.

An extract from 28 March 1709 from a Broad Council Meeting at the Cape of Good Hope gives us the rest of the story. It is clear from the entry that they were under pressure to supply due to both supply and increased demand. They noted, “Not one hardly offered himself for the supply of dried or smoked meat. Only 2,500 or 3,000 Ibs. were offered – a quantity very little among so many vessels. The necessity of supplying the ships properly is re-iterated.” The reason for the short supply was the prices offered by the Company which was too low and consequently the farmers were reluctant to sell.

The small quantity of meat that they received was itself unsuited for sale. They minuted that the “Governor and flag officers inspect some meat salted 8 days ago by the contractor Husing. The lean parts were found good, but the thick parts already spoiling“.

Michiel Ley came up with a plan that was accepted. “Decided that the treat should first lie some days in the brine to draw out the blood, and after that placed in new salt. That was not the idea of Husing but of his fellow contract or Michiel Ley. The former believed that the meat should be left in its first salt and not pickled beforehand; And was prepared to guarantee supply remaining good.” This dispute clearly shows that double salting was by no means an accepted technique in the 1600s and early 1700s.

The decision was made. “Decided, however, to adopt the plan of double salting, recommended by Ley; Husing ordered to supply in that manner; “Meervliet” having brought sufficient casks for the purpose. Ley to supply his share according to his plan. Company to supply the pepper.” The meat which was previously salted by Husing was also given over to Ley. “Decided to take over for the Company, the meat already salted by Husing. The good portions to be distributed among the crews, & the tainted ones among the slaves …

So it happened that Lay was contracted to supply all the meat required by the Company together with Willem Basson, Jan Oberholster, and Anthony Abrahamsz. The issue of the supply of meat was major and shaped the immediate political landscape of the colony. Remember that we said that the prices offered by the Company for meat was too low and the farmers refused to sell. South Africans are well familiar with the fact that Van der Stell was recalled and that Adam Tas was involved in the saga. Adam Tas was one of these farmers and he took it upon himself to collect signatures for a petition against the governor at the Cape. Governor Van der Stel was eventually recalled to Holland. Van der Stel’s reply to the petition against him was a document drafted by him in his defence and signed by among other Ley and Oberholster. The four partners requested that their meat contract be cancelled which was granted and it was taken over by Claas Henderiksz Diepenaar. Adam Tas was locked up in the Castle’s notorious dungeon and finally, Van der Stel was recalled to Holland in 1708. The meat contract was the issue at the heart of Van der Stel’s recall.  (Linder) Ley acted as one of Van der Stel’s representatives to finalize the sale of his assets. (Stamouers)

Notice the black pepper which was added. The reason for this was probably to keep flies and other insects away.

Brine-soaking (brine cure – no pumping)

Brine-soaking followed dry-salt-curing. Note that dry or wet curing is defined by what the meat is left in to cure and not what is applied to the meat. Wet brine curing is still relatively slow and meat pieces are placed in a mixture of salt, saltpetre, and water. It is important to take temperature into account since spoilage may occur before the brine had a chance to penetrate the meat. (Hui, Y. H.,  2012: 540) Here the temperature is very important and is the reason why curing was only done in the winter months.

An 1830 description of a “wet cure” survived where a farmer describes the dry cure method as “tedious.” He credits Europe as the birthplace of the wet-cure method. One of the benefits of this simple system is that it can be used for mutton and beef also. The downside is that it is more expensive than dry-cure, but the wet cure could be re-used and taking everything into account, would work out cheaper in the long run than dry-cure. (The Complete Grazier, 1830:  304) It seems then that wet-curing was invented in the late 1700s or early 1800s.

This re-using of the brine would turn out to become the cornerstone of the industrial revolution for bacon curing and the country credited for this development is Ireland. Before we get to that, we have to first look at barrel pork.

Barrel pork

Barrel pork was an easy way to cure pork that involved liquid brine. It had the benefit that it could be put in barrels, loaded onto a wagon or a ship for transport and cure in transit. It could also be stored in the cure which would render it safe from flies and other insects. References to it show that it was practised already by the second half of the 1700s and well into the 1800s.

In the 1800s, this was the main way that the packing plants in the USA exported pork to England as bacon. There are many accounts in newspapers of the time where advice is given to the bacon producers on how to make sure that the meat arrives in England unspoiled. One of the main points was the importance of using good, new wood for the barrels.

A 1776 description is given on how barrel pork was produced. “After the meat has cooled < probably after the hair was removed >, it is cut into 5 lb. pieces which are then rubbed well with fine salt. The pieces are then placed between boards a weight brought to bear upon the upper board so as to squeeze out the blood. Afterwards, the pieces are shaken to remove the surplus salt, [and] packed rather tightly in a barrel, which when full is closed. A hole is then drilled into the upper end and brine allowed to fill the barrel at the top, the brine being made of 4 lb. of salt (1.8kg or 10%), 2 lb. of brown sugar (0.9kg or 5%), and 4 gallons of water (15L or 84%) with a touch of saltpetre. When no more brine can enter, the hole is closed. The method of preserving meat not only assures that it keeps longer but also gives it a rather good taste.” (Holland, LZ, 2003: 9, 10)

Again, notice the brine make-up of salt, saltpetre, sugar mixed with water. The role of the sugar was to break the hard salt taste.

Barrel pork would remain an important curing method throughout the 1700s and would make a spectacular return almost 100 years later when pressure pumps were introduced to inject the brine into the meat through needles.  A plank would be run across the barrel opening. The meat is placed on the plank for injection with between one and three needles. The three needles are fed brine through a hand pump that would pump brine directly from the barrel.  The barrel is half-filled with brine. After the meat has been injected, it is pushed off the plank, to fall into the brine which acts as a cover brine.  It would remain in the cover brine the prescribed time before it is removed and smoked.

The invention of Mild Cured Bacon by William Oake

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Ham press from the 1910s

Sometime before 1837 William Oake, a chemist from Ireland invented Mild Cured Bacon. (Chapter 09.01 – Mild Cured Bacon) This was the first major development in curing technology following barrel curing. The essence of mild curing is the continued re-use of the old brine. Oake was investigating what was responsible for the preservation power in the salt/saltpetre mix. He correctly concluded that salt plays a very limited role in preservation and today we know that its main function in old dry curing systems was to reduce the moisture in the meat and thus lowering the water activity. He also found no great preserving power in saltpetre but he knew that “nature” provided somehow a preserving power to the meat. It was known that the re-use of old brine had a large benefit and we know that this probably came to England from the German region of Westphalia. (Mild Cured Bacon) So, at this time, there was a practice in England to re-use brine twice. One would cure the meat with the liquid brine, boil it to “clean it”, and re-use it a second time. (For a full discussion on this, see William and William Horwood Oake)

After a careful and detailed investigation of the curing techniques used in Westphalia, I came to the realisation that this, the key feature of William Oake’s Mild Cures system was a progression of a system developed years earlier, not in Westphalia but in the Russia of Catherina the Great! She (or someone in Russia or even possibly in her court) happened upon the idea that since salt is a scarce and very expensive commodity, as was the case in Russia at that time, a way to re-use, not the brine but the salt would be to boil the brine down after it was used, add sugar, saltpetre and salt to it with fresh spring water. The brine was called the Empress of Russia’s Brine and for a comprehensive discussion on the link between this brine and Westphalia, see Westphalia Bacon and Ham & the Empress of Russia’s Brine: Pre-cursers to Mild Cured Bacon. The clue to the close connection between a knowledge of this brine, possibly through Westphalia and Northern Ireland where William Oake invented mild cured bacon is discussed in great detail in Mild Cured Bacon.

William Oake, a trained chemist must have worked out that boiling the brine was not necessary which is the only substantive change he made to the method of Catherina the Great! This is the key feature of his brilliance. Yes, a second and vital contribution is to look at the full process and reorganise it in a way that makes sense in a factory environment. He industrialised bacon production. This made great bacon affordable and available to the general public. His system incorporated the following elements.

  • Lightly salting the meat to draw out the blood on the concrete factory floor
  • Tanking or brining (stacking and pickling) for 7 days which involved sprinkling the bottom of the tank where the meat would be cured with salt. Stack the flitches on the bottom. Lightly sprinkle saltpetre over it with sugar and salt. The next layer of flitches is stacked on top of the first but done crosswise. This is again sprinkled exactly as was done with the first and so it is repeated till the tank is full. A lid is now placed inside the tank with an upright on top and pickle is poured into the tank. The lid and upright serve the purpose of keeping the bacon sides submerged. The pickle is made as follows: To every 10lbs. of salt we add 8lbs. of dark-brown sugar; 1 lib. of spice, and 1/2lb. of sal-prunella.” Sal prunella a mixture of refined nitre and soda.  Nitre is refined saltpetre used in the manufacturing of explosives. Saltpetre plays a very important role as does the grade of saltpetre used. It is important to turn the meat over after forty-eight hours into another tank.  The meat that was on top is placed at the bottom of the next tank. Salt, sugar, and saltpetre are again used exactly as it was done during the first salting. Now the real trick comes in. The same pickle is used!”
  • Maturing/ Resting and Drying for 21 days. After seven days the flitches are removed and stacked on the floor putting some salt between each layer. Be careful not to stack it higher than four sides deep, until it has been on the floor for some days when it should be turned over, and stacked higher each time until the fourth week from the day it went into the tanks; the bacon will then be cured.”
  • Washing, drying, trimming and smoking. Place the bacon in tanks of cold water. Here it is soaked overnight. The next morning we wash them well with a brush. Whether smoking is done or not after tank curing the meat should be rinsed off and dried before aging or maturation. The reason for this is that the meat pores should be closed leading to a hardening of the surface and a considerable reduction in the drying rate. The meat is trimmed and hung till it is properly dried. It is then smoked. 

Two aspects should be noted. One is the rigid stepwise process which addressed efficiency, speed and hygiene and the second is the re-use of the old brine. Oakes genius was combining existing curing steps in a new way and the quality of his brine. His lasting contribution is, however, without any doubt, the creation of the live brine system which became the cornerstone of tank curing.

The system was next adopted by the Danes. The year was 1880. Denmark is a tiny nation. To remain competitive, they realised years earlier to learn as much as they can from other nations and peoples and adapt. Every industry in Denmark was constantly looking where new discoveries were being made and how they can adopt and adapt it.

Denmark had large dairy farmers and a sizable pork industry developed from the by-products of dairy farming. It was very simple and profitable. Raise pigs on the byproducts from milk and sell it to England and Germany. Someone from the pork industry learned about the new mild cured bacon produced in Ireland. They tried many times to sent people to learn the techniques, but the Irish were careful not to employ the young Danish men who were sent over for employment in the large bacon plants in Ireland. They needed an opening in the Irish market to learn their techniques. Such an opening was presented through industrial action by the Irish workers. The thing about Ireland is that the workers often go on strike and how they are treated by the companies they work for is often very harsh. Those on strike do not get paid and stand a large chance to be laid off.

In 1880 there was a strike among butchers in the Irish town of Waterford. Some shrewd members of the Danish pork processing guild happened to be in Ireland at that time, in Waterford and at the promise of lucrative employment in Denmark managed to persuade a number of the striking men to return with them to Denmark. In Denmark, they quickly arranged for them to train the Danish butchers. Mild Cured Bacon became the new Danish bacon.

Sweet Cured Bacon by C & T Harris (Dry-salt-curing in combination with injection)

In Calne, a small settlement in Wiltshire, England, the firm C & T Harris was becoming the world leader in producing exceptional mass-produced bacon. For a complete discussion, please read Chapter 10.02 – Sweet Cured Harris Bacon.

Their invention was very similar to the general method of William Oake’s Mild Cured Bacon with the notable exception of the re-use of the old brine. Very importantly, they hot smoked their bacon after curing. Even more importantly was the fact that this invention in the 1840s used stitch pumping. Stitch pumping itself was invented around this time and it allowed for much quicker curing of the meat which together with hot smoking cut the curing time down and was a major improvement on the taste. It was not a had salted taste, but a mild cure taste and from there the name.

It seems that the basic distinguishing between dry and wet curing is not based on whether injection is applied or not, but the state of the salts that the meat is left in, even after it has been injected with a brine (mixture of salt and water). So, if it is packed in a dry mix, it is dry curing and if it is soaked in a brine, it is wet curing.

It was reported by some bacon curers that they used the dry-curing in conjunction with injection. In this case, the meat is injected with approximately 10% saturated brine solution and the injected meat is then treated the usual way in the application of dry-salt-cure. There is a record showing that C & T Harris (Calne) used injection with their bacon from 1843. After it was dry-cured, the meat was smoked at a temperature of not higher than 38 deg C (100 deg F) in order to prevent nitrate burn which presents itself as green spots that appear on the meat. In the report, mention is also made that care should be taken if these products are stored to prevent damage from insects such as cheese skippers, mites, red-legged ham beetles, and larder beetles.  (Hui, Y. H.,  2012: 540) The result was sweet cured bacon!

The Injection of Meat

A short review of the invention of the practice of brine injection with needles is appropriate at this time. The practise started as a way to preserve cadavers. I remember an account I read of how Von Hombult and Guthrie went from house to house after a particularly heavy thunderstorm buying up the copses of the deceased for their own medical studies. Before the age of refrigeration, preserving human remains to study the make-up of the human body would have received considerable attention and this was the first area where injection of meat was done for the purpose of preservation.

The link between meat preservation for sustenance and meat preservation for the study of anatomy is, as the link between meat injection and the medical establishment, one that is abundantly obvious if you just think about it for a minute, but not necessarily the first connection you make when you look at the different disciplines separately. The man who took front and centre stage in the development and progressed the practice of injecting preserving fluids into dead animal muscles for the purpose of preservation was Morgan.

Morgan’s Patent

It was a certain Mr Morgan, in England, who had a significant impact on popularising the technique of injecting a liquid brine into the meat in the first place. The motivation was to increase the rate of curing by getting the brine faster into the meat in order to reduce the time required for processing which became the basis of sweet cured bacon.

In temperatures above 20 deg C, pork spoils in three days. By injecting a liquid brine into the meat at evenly spaced intervals, the brine diffuse quicker through the meat. Morgan’s interest was the preserving of meat generally but included meat preservation for long sea voyages before the advent of refrigeration and not the curing of meat by farmers.

We encountered Mr Morgan in the work of Edward Smith, Foods, (1873). Smith wrote that “Mr Morgan devised an ingenious process by which the preserving material, composed of water, saltpetre, and salt, with or without flavouring matter, was distributed throughout the animal, and the tissue permeated and charged. His method was exemplified by him at a meeting of the Society of Arts, on April 13, 1854, when I [Edward Smit was] presided.” (Smith, 1873)

He describes how an animal is killed in the usual way, the chest opened and a metal pipe connected to the arterial system. Brine was pumped through gravity feed throughout the animal. Approximately 6 gallons were flushed through the system. Pressure was created to ensure that it was flushed into the small capillaries. Smith reported overall good results from the process with a few exceptions. He himself seemed unconvinced.

An article appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald that mentions Dr Morgan and his arterial injection method. An important observation from the article is the date of 1870. By this time, he is referred to as “Dr Morgan”, cluing us in about the timeline of Morgan’s life.

A second observation is a drawback of the system. The article states that “salting is the most common and best-known process of preservation (of meat), the principal modern novelty being Dr Morgan’s plan of injecting the saline solution into the arterial system – the principal objection to which has been that the meat so treated has been over-salted.” (Sydney Morning Herald, 1 March 1870, p 4) The brine mix that Mr Morgan suggested was 1 gallon of brine, ¼ to ½ lb. of sugar, ½ oz. of monophosphoric acid, a little spice and sauce to each cwt of meat. (Smith, E, 1873: 36)

Seventeen years after Smith met Morgan at the Society of Arts meeting, in 1871, Yeats reported that a certain “Professor Morgan in Dublin, proposed a method of preservation by injecting into the animal as soon as it is killed, a fluid preparation, consisting, to every hundredweight of meat, of one gallon of brine, half a pound of saltpeter, two pounds of sugar, half an ounce of monophosphoric acid, and a small quantity of spice.” (Yeats, J, 1871: 225)

The plan was widely tested at several factories in South America and by the Admiralty, who had reported that they had good results from the technique. (Yeats, J, 1871: 225, 226) It was in all likelihood the same Morgan that Smith reports on who, by 1871, became a professor in Dublin. Notice, as a matter of interest that he used the same basic brine mix of salt, water, saltpetre, sugar, monophosphoric acid and spices. This, together with the similarity in surname makes it quite certain that Mr Morgan, Dr Morgan and Prof. Morgan is the same person. In itself, this is an example of perseverance! In 1854 his arterial injection was met with scepticism where Yeats reports in 1871 that the Admiralty viewed his improved method.

Was this Morgan’s Invention?

The concept of arterial injection was not new. By the time Morgan demonstrated it to the Society of Arts, on April 13, 1854, it may have been as old as 150 years, used for embalming corpses for the purpose of medical studies. This invention is credited by some to the Dutch physician, Frederik Ruysch (1638 – 1730). He injected a preservative chemical solution, liquor balsamicum, into the blood vessels, but his technique remained largely unknown for some time. (Bremmer, E.; 2014)

British scientists who used arterial injection and from whom Morgan could have learned the system were the Hunter brothers William (1718–1783) and John (1728–1793) and their nephew, Matthew Baillie (1761–1823). The injection was into the femoral arteries. They all injected different oils, mainly oil of turpentine, to which they added Venice turpentine, oil of chamomile, and oil of lavender. Vermillion was used as a dye to create a more life-like skin colour, but would also have added preservation to the final solution. (Bremmer, E.; 2014)

There is a reference from 1837, on an essay delivered on the operation of poisonous agents upon the living body by Mr John Morgan (1797 – 1847), F.L.S Surgeon to Guy’s Hospital. (1837; Works on Medicine) The same publication contains an article by Dr Baillie, M.D. on the morbid anatomy of some of the most important parts of the human body. John Morgan was undoubtedly well familiar with arterial injection. Not only due to the fact that he was a contemporary of Baillie, but he was also a demonstrator of anatomy at the private school near Guy’s Hospital. (livesonline.rcseng.ac.uk/) The late 1830 article that is referenced means that it fits the timeline perfectly for a late 1830 or early 1840 technology transfer for the use of the same general technique of injecting preserving fluids into the meat of a pigs carcass which presumably became stitch pumping, a precursor for Morgans invention.

John Morgan is in all likelihood the father of Dr John Morgan (Circa 1863), who was professor of anatomy at the University of Dublin. A process of arterial injection is described that was used by Dr John Morgan from the University of Dublin. ” John Morgan, a professor of anatomy at the University of Dublin in Ireland, formally established two principles for producing the best embalming results: injection of the solution into the largest artery possible and use of pressure to push the solution through the blood vessels. He also was among the first to make use of a preinjection solution as well as a controlled drainage technique. Morgan’s method required that the body be opened so the heart was visible, then an 8-inch pipe was inserted into the left ventricle or aorta. The pipe was connected to yards of tubing ending in a fluid container hung above the corpse. The force of gravity acting on the liquid above the body would exert about 5 pounds of pressure, adequate to the purpose of permeating the body.” (Wohl, V.) This process described here is applied, not to the preservation of animal carcass, but for embalming a human body! It is, however, the exact same process that he demonstrated years earlier in London to Smith at the Society of the Arts meeting on 13 April related to carcass preservation.

From the process description, it is clear that we have identified Morgan, father of the arterial injection method in meat curing as Dr John Morgan, professor of anatomy at the University of Dublin, son of John Morgan, Surgeon to Guy’s Hospital. The original inventor of the system was the Dutch physician, Frederik Ruysch and the application was embalming.

Henry Denny and the claim of a Return to Dry Salting

No review of curing history will be complete without mentioning the legendary Henry Denny and the equally legendary company founded by him.

From the official website of Henry Denny & Sons.

Ireland in the first half of the 1800s was a fertile field for innovation. An excellent example is found in the person of Henry Denny. Part of his remarkable legacy is a firm that once was the largest bacon producer in Europe, Henry Denny & Sons. Henry was born in Waterford, Ireland in 1790.

Denny started out as a provisioner merchant in Waterford. The first reference to him as a bacon merchant comes to us from 1846. In 1854 he started using ice in bacon curing which allowed him to cure meat all year round like his colleagues in Calne. The bacon he cured was also referred to as mild cured bacon and a patent was granted in 1857 on his process. Like the process invented by C & T Harris, which they called Sweet Cured Bacon, Henry’s process used much less salt. The priority for inventing the first mild cured system, however, goes to William Oake from Ulster whom we know invented this at around the time when Denny had his merchant business or shortly after this and well before Denny entered the pork processing trade.

Henry’s curing system is described in Geocaching where the post seems to be a copy from another work that is unfortunately not referenced and all my attempts to locate the original publication has been in vain. The author describes it as follows: “Until the early 19th century, pork was cured by soaking large chunks of the meat in barrels of brine for weeks. Shelf life was poor, as often as the inside of the chunks did not cure properly, and meat rotted from the inside out. Henry Denny and his youngest son Edward Denny introduced a number of new innovations – he used long flat pieces of meat instead of chunks; and they dispensed with brine in favour of a dry or ‘hard’ cure, sandwiching the meat in layers of dry salt. This produced well cured bacon with a good shelf life and revolutionised Ireland’s meat industry. Irish bacon and hams were soon exported to Britain, Paris, the Americas and India“.

Reference is made to the fact that Denny invented several curing techniques and if the description given is correct, it would be one of several inventions. Taken at face value I doubt the superiority of his system over Oakes invention. It also comes so late in terms of dates that I seriously doubt if this could be the patent that was awarded in 1957. By this time meat injection was already well established which solved the shortcomings of William Oakes invention in his mild cured system of simply filling the curing tanks with brine to diffuse into the meat “naturally.” If this was in fact the patent that was granted in 1857, it would represent a serious step backwards.

The greatest contribution to this review article of Denny is the fact that he acquired a meat curing company in Denmark in 1894. The reference is Lets-Look-Again who also seems to quote an uncredited source. They make a statement that this purchase “introduced Irish meat curing techniques to Denmark.” I have over the years come across several authors who made the same claim that the Irish meat curing system was introduced to Denmark in the late 1800s after an Irish firm acquired a Danish processing company. They never gave the name of the Irish firm in question. The end of the 1800s is, however, the wrong time for the introduction of the Irish system to Denmark. By this time it was already well established in Denmark and the likely transfer of the technology to C & T Harris took place from Denmark either at this time (closing years of the 1800s) or in the opening few years of the 1900s. For this reason, I never used the reference but I was always curious who the Irish firm was, wrongly credited for the transfer of the technology to Denmark. Now I know and for this reason, as well as the widespread nature of the erroneous claim, I include it here.

Denny was undoubtedly a creative man. He is credited with the invention of the pork rasher. Geocaching quotes an unnamed source that “the rasher (a piece of bacon to be cooked quickly or rashed) was reportedly invented in 1820 by Henry Denny, a Waterford butcher who patented several bacon curing techniques still used to this day.” It must be mentioned that Denny’s career only started in 1820 but that was not as a butcher. It was as a merchant and he entered the pork processing business only in 1854. There could still be credibility to the claim which I base on the widespread nature of the story in Ireland. Maybe he was a young man with unusual interest and creativity in selling pork at his trading business. The claim may however be apocryphal.

Related to the inventions of Henry Denny in bacon curing in particular, is there any clue as to what this may have been exactly? It was when I studied the life of another man who claimed to have invented a unique curing system, the Dutch Orthodox Jewish bacon curer Aron Vecht, that I discovered the great contribution to the art of curing made by Denny. One aspect of pork curing that I overlooked for years was the importance of singeing. It is exactly in this area where Henry Denny made his greatest contribution to curing.

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

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

Molander (1985)

His fame was in the first place due to his invention of the automated process of pork singeing. He may have, of course, also called his process “mild cured” as with the aid of refrigeration he would have obtained the same result as did William Oake who actually invented the original mild cured process.

Was this disingenuous for him to also have called it “mild cured”? I think not. It illustrates the inherent problem in using the result of the process (i.e. milder bacon) as the name of your product. If the result is the same but a different process was used to arrive at it, how would the consumer know (or care)! From a trademark perspective, it makes it tricky since the words seem to be difficult to protect as it would be the general way people would refer to the bacon, not heavily salted. It is like trying to trademark the phrase “well cooked.”

The Dutch Orthodox Jew, Aron Vecht and His Secret Curing System

If we have spoken about Henry Denny, we most certainly have to stop for a minute and look at Aron Vecht who essentially copied the system of Denny and passed it on as his own invention.

Dr James Anderson told me in New Zealand that Vecht claims that worldwide “only five firms possessed the right to use [his secret]’ one of which was his own, the London based Inter-Marine Supply Company. This means that William Oake’s company, Oake-Woods in Dorset was by far the most widely used curing system under a patent of the time. Still, what Vecht created was impressive.

Vecht took out patents in 1894 in New Zealand related to the singeing of pigs and the preservation of meat. His method of preservation was called the “Vecht Mild Cure Process.” He masterfully tied the patent was tied to his own bacon brand, York Castle. The patents were presumably owned by his business in New Zealand which he had with William Stokes called the Christ Church Meat Company, Ltd.

From a lawsuit following his death related to the York Castle trademark in New South Wales, Australia, we get insight into how he managed his intellectual property. The trademark and his secret method of curing went hand-in-hand. Only the Vecht Mild Cure Process could be used to produce the York Castle brand of bacon. Vecht would receive monetary compensation for every pig so cured in a territory.

When refrigeration was introduced into international trade, its impact on meat quality was an unknown. People opted for the less harsh conditions of chilling temperatures and tried to avoid freezing the meat. A drawback of mild cured bacon is that it did not last on long sea voyages under chilled conditions. The English market has, by the time Aron Vecht arrived on the scene, became used to mild cured bacon as opposed to heavy salted which was the kind of meat produced under the Rapid Cure process of Robert Davison. An attempt was made to use the sea voyage for the curing to take place and to pack the pork on ice. Famously the Harris brothers of Calne was involved in exactly this scheme. The Waikato Argus who reported on this in 1901 said that the lowering of the temperature below 32o Fahrenheit (0o C) has ‘invariably faded the flash into a pale, unpleasant colour and alienated the affections of the British matron.” What I think they meant was that lowering it to 0o C was ineffective in securing a good product that would arrive in London. At chilling schilling temperatures, when the meat has not been heated through hot smoking, the curing colour, resulting from the effect of nitric oxide on the meat proteins, giving it a bright pinkish/ reddish appearance would be reversed. If, however, the meat is frozen, such reversal would not take place. The meat would then be smoked when it arrived at its destination and the colour would be “fixed” through the unfolding of the proteins.

The Waikato Argus reported on this progression by Vecht as follows: “Now, however, by what may be called a triumph of transit and cure, a most promising and important trade has begun between New Zealand and England. By employing the Vecht curing process, a New Zealand firm is shipping pigs from that distant colony, placing them in refrigerators with a temperature of 20o Fahrenheit (-6o C), and curing them here on the banks of the Thames with apparently perfect success.

It was not well understood at the time and it was incorrectly believed that the method of sterilisation of the meat which was part of the Vecht process was responsible for preventing the cured colour from fading. What is true is not that it would have prevented the cured colour from fading, but that it would have stopped bacterial and enzymatic action which spoiled the meat and degraded the meat quality and this would undoubtedly also have affected the meat colour, even though it was by no means the only reason why the colour faded.

The article reported on this as follows. “This success is obtained by first treating the carcase*, before they leave New Zealand, by the Vecht curing process, which allays the action of the cold, and so sterilises the flesh as to prevent the changes which have hitherto interfered with the successful curing at Home of what is grown abroad.”

The Waikato Argus which we quoted above related to the use of temperature and the curing of meat made also provides us with another very valuable bit of information related to the trading of bacon cured with the Vecht method. It reported that “Messrs Trengrouse and Co., who are colonial shippers on a huge scale and the British agents of Armours, of Chicago, are encouraging this new process, and prophesy for it a vast influence on the bacon trade.” The mention of the agents of the legendary firm of Phil Armour is of extreme interest as is the link between Armour’s company and the propagation of Vecht’s method of curing. Armour was the pioneer of freezer technology for the distribution of meat in America and owned probably the largest curing works in Chicago in the world. Vecht was an expert in the refrigeration of meat in particular. Phil Armour was carefully plotting his way to introduce sodium nitrite directly as a curing brine but not wanting to be left out of the huge and lucrative international bacon trade, must have seen Vecht as a brilliant ally to secure bacon for his own trade while avoiding the expensive curing systems such as Auto Cure which Armour knew would be replaced by the direct addition of nitrite to curing brines.

– Messrs Trengrouse and Co

I told you that the one interesting aspect about Vecht was his method of curing. I referred you to the Waikato Argus which did an article on his life from where we got the all-important information on the temperature during the shipment of the meat. The same article mentions that Vecht’s products were sold through the firm of Messrs Trengrouse and Co.. They are described as colonial shippers on a huge scale and the British agents of the Armour Packing Company from Chicago, who are encouraging his new process. This brings us to the next fascinating aspect of this remarkable man’s life namely his link to the legendary provisions and general commission merchants of Messrs Trengrouse and Co.

The firm was officially called Trengrouse, H & Co., and was described as “Provision Agents and General Commission Merchants” Their address was 51, 55, Tooley Street, London, S.E. The firm was established in 1875 by Henry Trengrouse and his brother, who retired in 1908. They had agents in Liverpool, Manchester, Bristol, Cardiff, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Dunedin, (N.Z.), Monte Video, Buenos Ayres and they specialised in butter, cheese, bacon, eggs and canned goods. They claim to have pioneered the trade in New Zealand and Australia in dairy products. Most importantly for our purposes is that they were the agents for Armour & Co. from Chicago and by 1914 they have been Armour’s agents for upwards of thirty years. (1914 Who’s Who in Business) This means that Phil Armour probably set them up himself and dealt directly with them. Phil passed away at the turn of the century.

The grandfather Henery Trengrouse after whom he was named was a legendary figure in his own right. He devoted his life to the invention of a number of methods to improve safety aboard ships after he witnessed the sinking of a ship with a tragic loss of life close to his home town when he was a young man. (5) Adventure and perseverance ran in the family and, I am sure, accounted for their success in no small way!

– International Bacon War: Quest for Supremacy

I thought it important to deal with Vecht, Trengrouse and Denny in relation to each other since it speaks to the state of international competitiveness of the newly emerging superpower of the United States relative to the diminishing influence of England. We must not lose sight of the fact that Vecht’s process was a short-lived attempt by the Dutch (Vecht) and the Americans (Armour) to wrestle away control of the international bacon market from the British.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drying and Smoking of Bacon

Another aspect of bacon processing that we have not considered thus far is the drying and smoking of bacon. The oldest reference I can find of the smoking of bacon is a statement by the Scottish farmer, Robert Henderson that he created his own very simple design for a smokehouse in 1791. (Robert Henderson and the Invention of the Smokehouse) What is interesting about his account is that it deals with the establishment of the pork trade in Scotland.

Henderson recalls that in 1766 pigs were brought into Annandale in Scotland for the first time. Farmers bought them more out of curiosity than to make a profit. The pigs were small with bristles on their back. Between 1775 and 1780 both bacon flitches and hams became a considerable trade in this part of Scotland. By 1790 the pork trade was well established with buyers travelling throughout the region to buy pigs. Several markets were established for pigs. One such market was established at Dumfries where the Annadale curers meet the Galloway farmers. Events allowed Robert a birds-eye view on the birth of an industry!

Robert Henderson was a formidable pork trader. He distributed the carcasses among the farmers to dry and smoke them in the farmhouses. In one season he would cure no less than 500 animals in this way. He wrote, “I practised for many years the custom of carting my flitches and hams through the country to farm-houses and used to hang them in their chimneys and other parts of the house to dry, some seasons to the amount of 500 carcases.”

The system was accompanied by many difficulties. For starters, he often had to provide his own wood for hanging the flitches and hams on. This was only the start of the trouble. He wrote, “for several days after they were hung up, they poured down salt and brine upon the women’s caps, and now and then a ham would fall down and break a spinning wheel, or knock down some of the children; which obliged me to resort to the shop to purchase a few ribbons, tobacco, &c. to make up peace.”

The biggest problem of this system is related to weight loss. Henderson wrote, “there was a still greater disadvantage attending this mode; the bacon was obliged to hang until an order came for it to be sent off, which being at the end of two or three months, and often longer, the meat was overdried in most places and consequently lost a good deal of weight.”

In 1811 Henderson noted that this was still the way that bacon was cured in large quantities in Dumfriesshire. He lamented the fact that people are slow to abandon old ways of doing things in favour of better alternatives.

Robert Henderson claims that twenty years earlier, in 1791, he designed a simple, dedicated smokehouse for smoking hams and bacon. This simple statement would become my earliest reference to a smokehouse. He describes it as being twenty feet square (1.8m2) with the walls about seven feet (2.1m) high. Each wall allowed for 6 joints. Twenty-four flitches can be hung together in a row without them touching. Each one of the flitches was resting on a beam. There are five rows, allowing for a total of 120 flitches in the smokehouse. The flitches were hung between 21/2 to 3 feet (900mm) from the floor which is covered with sawdust of five or six inches (100 to 150mm), kindled at two different sides. (Henderson, 1811)

The door is kept closed with a small hole in the roof for ventilation. Bacon and hams smoked in this smokehouse were ready for dispatch within eight to ten days. An advantage of this system is that there is only a little loss in weight. (Henderson, 1811)

So, the system was that the bacon was kept in the salt-house till an order is received. At this point, it was moved to the smokehouse for drying and smoking before it was dispatched to the client. (Henderson, 1811)

During this time, the invention of the smokehouse by Robert Henderson had a dramatic impact on the quality of the bacon. One of the consequences of too much drying is very salty meat since water escapes, but salt is left in the meat.

This invention was “in the air” already since Henderson’s 1791 invention of the smokehouse. Losing weight results in more salty bacon as a large weight loss reduce the volume of meat to salt, making the remaining meat saltier. Smoking, at this time, was exclusively cold smoke.

Apart from better-tasting bacon, there was a significant reduction in cost. Henderson wrote that he “found the smoke-house to be a great saving, not only in the expense and trouble of employing men to cart and hang it through the country, but it did not lose nearly so much weight by this process.”

It is extremely unlikely that Robert Henderson was the first or only person who did away with the farmhouse-drying/ smoking of hams and bacon and opted for a built-for-purpose smokehouse. The following hundred years would see a plethora of ideas being shared and taken up by various companies and individuals, many claiming priority for their invention or progression. It is possible to get close to the people who pioneered these different progressions based on the dates for their inventions but if we are ever able to identify the very first person related to each invention is highly unlikely. It is, however, fascinating how close we can get to the first instance of an invention or progression.

It is interesting that the 1791 reference of Henderson (when he first designed his smokehouse) is still the earliest reference we can find anywhere to smokehouses. Following the indirect reference of Henderson, the next reference I was able to find was a 1796 reference to a smokehouse being part of an estate for sale. (The Philadelphia Inquirer1796) Several advertisements for properties in Pennsylvania with smokehouses on occurred in the 1790s and into the early 1800s. There is an 1813 reference to a smokehouse by a reader who complains that his measures against insects are not working. (Buffalo Gazette, 1813)

An 1820 account from Newbern Sentinel (New Bern, North Carolina), 1820 is my first reference where smoking and drying are specifically separated.

The author elaborates on the experience of his teacher who warned him about damp which leads to bitter-tasting bacon. He uses an interesting phrase to describe Mr A of Baltimore namely a man who “followed smoking for gain.” He is therefore squarely set in a commercial mindset.

The author continues. “one good fire per diem will smoke the pieces exactly in the same time they were salted viz. hams 4 weeks, shoulders 3 weeks, other pieces in two. When the bacon is smoked and all returned to the smokehouse, a floor, if not laid before should now be laid on the joist; by this means rats will be prevented from descending on the bacon, and the heat of the sun will be moderate so that the bacon will not drip in the summer heats. Darkness and coolness are necessary to preserve the bacon from flies – it may there hang in perfect safety till wanted!” (Newbern Sentinel (New Bern, North Carolina), 1820)

The fact that smokehouses were a new progression in the 1840s is seen from a newspaper report from Northern Ireland in 1841. The article points out that due to the misconstruction of the smokehouse and because the surface of the meat is not properly wiped dry and there is still saline matter on the outside of the meat, these cause the meat not to dry out but remain moist. Because of this a “pyroligneous acid taste and smell” is left on the meat.

The author gives the requirements for a good smokehouse:

  • it should be perfectly dry;
  • not warmed by the fire that makes the smoke;
  • the fire shall be sufficiently far from the meat so that any vapour from the smoke shall be “thrown off” and may be condensed before reaching the meat;
  • yet, close enough to prevent flies, mice, etc from feasting on the meat.

The art of building a proper smokehouse was still being disseminated through the British Isles by 1841. Not only in Britain but also in Germany smokehouses were not universally used to smoke bacon. The same article refers to smoking meat in Westphalia. Smoking Westphalia hams was done at this time in “extensive chambers in the upper stories of high buildings, some of four or five stories.”

In the constructions in Westphalia, the fire was made in the cellar and the smoke directed to the meat through pipes in which the heat was absorbed and the moisture removed. The smoke was dry and cool when it came into contact with the meat. The meat is, in this way, perfectly dried and had a flavour and a colour far superior to meat smoked in the “common method.” (Belfast News-Letter, 1841) Westphalian bacon and hams were notorious for what was later referred to as cold smoking. For a detailed discussion on this, see Westphalia Bacon and Ham & the Empress of Russia’s Brine: Pre-cursers to Mild Cured Bacon.

The strict aversion to heat of any kind in the smokehouse would not last and subsequent authors and experts found that a bit of heat produces a better environment for drying (less moist).

There is a reference from Lancaster Intelligencer (Lancaster, Pennsylvania), 1833 which states that during smoking the smokehouse should be warm but after smoking, it should be cool and dark. This “heating” of the smokehouse is an interesting reference and was by no means universally practised as we saw from the construction of the smokehouses as described from Westphalia. Another report from 1840 states that the smokehouse should be of a moderate temperature. The purpose is given as it will prevent dampness on the meat. (New England Farmer, 1840)

The Harris operation would progress this concept years later when they invented pale dried bacon where the bacon is dried in specially constructed ovens but not smoked (Harris Bacon – From Pale Dried to Tank Curing!)

– Smokehouse as the Storeroom for Finished Bacon

One system of storing the bacon was to keep it in the salt house till its sold. Then, smoke it and dispatch it to the client. Another system was to use the smokehouse as the storeroom for finished bacon. The system described in Winchester, Tennessee in 1856 calls for the bacon to be removed from the curing vats and the salt to be scraped off. Rub the bacon all over with hickory ash and hang it up for smoking, hock down. Smoke moderately for four weeks with only two fires a day made from hickory chips. On about the 1st of March, take them down, rub them with hickory ash again and hang them again. Here they remain the whole year. It makes an interesting comment that if little green mould appears on the outside of the bacon, it only insures against spoilage. (The Home Journal (Winchester, Tennessee)1856)

The hams and bacon can be wrapped in cotton bags for storage during the summer. Before use, dip the bag in strong salt brines to protect against insects. The next season, while bacon and hams are being smoked, hang the cotton bags in the middle of the smokehouse. The smoke will preserve the cotton.

During the summer, the bacon should not be hung against the roof, due to the heat, but in the middle of the smokehouse where it is cooler. The smokehouse should be dark and in the summer the ventilation holes must be closed to keep insects and rodents out.

– Was this customary in Wiltshire in the 1840s?

In asking this question, we look one more time at the possible nature of sweet cured bacon invented by Harris in the 1840s. (Sweet Cured Harris Bacon) An article from the Yorkshire Herald and the York Herald (1840) reports on the following method of curing used in Hants, Wilts, and Somerset.

The pork is singed by packing straw around the carcass and burning the bristles and hair off. Scalding tends to soften the meat and this method ensures the meat is left firm. The carcass is left to cool after which it is cut into flitches and salted and treated with saltpetre. The flitches are left for two to three weeks and turned three to four times. They are then wiped dry and suspended over a chimney over a wood or turf fire to dry out. A note is made that coarse sugar is used in Hampshire bacon but not in Wilts and Somerset. Hampshire bacon is imported with its particular flavour by the wood and turf smoke. During smoking, the flitches must be taken down and inspected for bacon-fly.

The 1840 newspaper report does not claim to be exhaustive, but it nevertheless creates the picture of a simple non-industrialised process and most certainly there is no mention of a dedicated smokehouse or salt house. In a dedicated butchers shop, as was run by the Harris family, one would expect a smokehouse and a curing room.

– Comparisons with William Oake’s Mild Cured System

We dealt with the mild cured system of William Oake in great detail (Mild Cured Bacon) and since he invented what later became known as tank curing, it is important that we reference his system again.

The first major difference with what we have seen so far relates to drying. Instead of hanging the bacon to dry, Oake used pressure when he re-stacked the flitches after curing, on a dry floor. The weight of the bacon is incrementally increased as the flitches are re-stacks with the ones at the bottom now on the top and by stacking them higher and higher every time it is restacked while always rotating the position of the meat pieces.

Oake called for a quick smoking of the bacon. According to his system between twenty-four and forty-eight hours will suffice to properly smoke the bacon if the weather is suitable, after which it may be packed and forwarded to market.” His smokehouse design is in line with what we have looked at thus far. He also used cold smoke.

Pale Dried Bacon and Wiltshire Cure or Tank Cured Bacon

The next major development in curing also came from C & T Harris (Calne). Pale Dried Bacon was invented by them just before they adopted tank curing. It was invented under John Harris in Calne in the 1890s. It is basically the same as Sweet Cured Bacon but instead of hot smoking the bacon, it was dried in special drying rooms and not smoked. The bacon was therefore pale on the outside of the flitches but it was properly dried. From there the name Pale Dried Bacon.

It was just after this, at the closing years of the 1800s or the very first few years of the 1900s that tank curing technology was transferred from Denmark to Calne in Wiltshire. The technology of mild cured bacon of Oake, invented in Ireland, adopted by the Danes finally spread to Calne, Wiltshire and became the famous British Wiltshire bacon curing or Tank curing in the closing years of the 1800s or early 1900s. For a detailed discussion, please refer to Chapter 10.06: Harris Bacon – From Pale Dried to Tank Curing!

Wet-curing in combination with injection (brine cure – with pumping)

stitch injection elmswell-bacon-factory

The first cooperative bacon curing company was started in Denmark in 1887. It was seven years after the visit to Waterford in Ireland in 1880 “taking advantage of a strike among the pork butchers of that city, used the opportunity to bring those experts to their own country to teach and give practical and technical lessons in the curing of bacon, and from that date begins the commencement of the downfall of the Irish bacon industry. . . ” (Tank Curing was invented in Ireland)

It means that the Danes had the technology and when the impetus was there, they used the technology. The impetus, as we already said, was the outbreak of swine flu which saw a ban on Danish pork. They had no choice but to change their export from live pigs to bacon. The detailed description of Oakes invention and his process came to me through an Australian publication from 1889. It means that Ireland not only exported the mild cure or tank curing technology to Denmark but also to Australia, probably through Irish immigrants during the 1850s and 1860s gold rush, between 20 and 30 years before it came to Denmark. Many of these immigrants came from Limerick in Ireland where William Oake had a very successful bacon curing business. Many came from Waterford. A report is given in The Journal of Agriculture and Industry of South Australia, edited by Molineux, General Secretary of Agriculture, South Australia, Volume 1 covering August 1897 – July 1898 and printed in Adelaide by C. E. Bristow, Government Printer in 1898. Apart from giving the complete system as invented by Oake and crediting him for the invention, it also sites one company who used the same brine for 16 years by 1897/ 1898 which takes tank curing in Australia to well before 1880 which correlates with the theory that immigrants brought the technology to Australia in the 1850s or 1860s.

One further note about the invention of tank curing by Oake from Ireland. He was a chemist and his invention had as much to do with the brine makeup as it had to do with the fact that tanks were used. Morgan’s work, already cited in great detail here, shows clearly that curing brine was a priority in Ireland in the mid-1800s. The possibility that Oake and Morgan interacted and possibly influenced each other is a tantalizing likelihood that emerges from the data.

founders

The original founders of the St. Edmunds Bacon Factory are shown in this old print of the laying of the factory’s foundation stone in 1911.

It was Denmark, however, who continued to expand on the tank curing system or mild cured system, as it was called, using a combination of stitch pumping and curing the meat in curing tanks with a cover brine.  (Wilson, W, 2005:  219) Brine consisting of nitrate, salt and sugar were injected into the meat with a single needle attached to a hand pump (stitch pumping). Stitch pumping was either developed by Morgan, whom we looked at earlier or became the forerunner of arterial injection which is solely credited to Morgan.

The meat was then placed in a mother brine mix consisting of old, used brine and new brine. The old brine contained the nitrate which was reduced through bacterial action into nitrite. It was the nitrite that was responsible for the quick curing of the meat. 

The Auto Cure System and the legendary Oak Woods & Co. Ltd. Bacon Curer

The auto cure system is an excellent example of the fact that the power of the used brine was known and who else to have invented it than the son of the man who pioneered the live brine system, namely Willaim Oake! 

William Horwood Oake set his curing operation up in Gillingham, Dorset with partners. It eventually became the famous Oak’ Woods & Co Ltd. Oake invented the system in which was eventually in use in England, Sweden, Denmark, and Canada. William Harwood Oake passed away on 28 September 1889 in his late 40s and Evan R Down took over the running of the company. There is a report that they exported their technology to New Zealand and South Africa also. They patented it around the world and licenced its use to companies in different countries. Down became the driving force for the international expansion on the back of solid patents. The Danes paid a £4,000 annual royalty for the use of the system which was probably applied in many factories across Denmark. They became the premium representation of Wiltshire bacon meaning the curing of whole bacon sides.

The process is as follows. The pig is slaughtered in the usual way and the sides trimmed and chilled. After chilling, it is laid out in rows on a sort of truck that exactly fits into a large cylinder of steel 32 feet long, 6 feet in diameter and which will hold altogether 210 sides. When the cylinder is filled, the lid, weighing 3 ½ tons (7000lb. Danish) is closed and hermetically sealed by means of hydraulic pumps at a pressure of 3 tons to the square inch.

A vacuum pump now pumps all the air out which creates a vacuum of 28 inches. It takes about an hour to pump all the air out. The brine channel which leads to the brine reservoir, holding around 6000 gallons of brine is now opened. The brine rush into the chamber and as soon as the bit of air that also entered has been extracted again, the curing starts.  It happens as follows.

The brine enters the cylinder at a pressure of 120 lbs. per square inch. It now takes between 4 and 5 hours for the brine to enter the meat completely through the pores which have been opened under an immense vacuum. When it’s done, the brine runs back into the reservoir. It is filtered and strengthened and used again.

An advantage of the system is given that the bacon can then be shipped overseas immediately. The time for the total process is around three days. On day 1 the pig can be killed, salted on day 2 and packed and shipped on day 3.

There are two brine reservoirs. The one is used with a stitch pump to inject brine into the sides as usual before they are placed in the cylinder and the second tank is used. The largest benefit of this system is the speed of curing and many people report that the keeping quality of the bacon and the taste is not the same as bacon cured in the traditional way.

For a full discussion on the father-son due of William and William Horwood Oake and their inventions, see William and William Horwood Oake.

autoclave-2

American Rapid Curing

Auto Curing was, however only a progression of the Rapid Curing system developed in Americ.

Clues as to the possible origin of the American report comes to us from an 1848 report in the Sydney Morning Herald. The author begins his explanation of a certain American curing system with an interesting statement. He says that “they (we) desire considerable satisfaction in promulgating the discoveries and inventions of our fellow labourers in the field of science, no matter whether they be transmitted to us from the shores of the Neva or the banks of the Mississippi, and we, therefore, hasten to lay before our agricultural friends an important American invention, which promises to with the greatest benefit in a particular branch of domestic economy, as well as in a commercial point of view, and which we are certain requires only to be generally known to be usually adopted.” (Sydney Morning Herald, 1848) In this, the author is completely right that adopting and adapting inventions are for the most part not very difficult. It clues us into something of the possibility that Auto Curing may well be an improvement of an American invention.

The author then turns his attention to a certain Mr Davison. Setting the 1848 report in the Sydney Morning Herald aside for a moment, we see if we can find evidence of who this Mr Davison was. A stunning description is given by Paul (1868) who records that Mr. Robert Davison attended the food committee meeting as a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, in order to give information on the subject of desiccation as a preservative process which he studied since 1843. So, here we have Mr Davison’s first name given as Robert. He was an engineer by profession and he has been studying preservation since 1843. It definitely looks like the right man!

Paul (1868) gives us more information. He was not originally from the USA, but resided in London. He writes that Robert was of No. 33, Mark Lane, in the City of London, Civil Engineer, and James Scott Horrocks, of Heaton Norris, in the County of Lancaster, registered a patent for improvements in the means of conveying and distributing or separating granular and other substances.” The patent was sealed.

Paul then explains the basis of Roberts method of preservation being through heated air and using the newly emerging science of creating a vacuum. “The importance of hot blast had been discovered in the melting of metals, and it occurred to him that impelled currents of hot air might be advantageously applied to other processes of manufacture, especially as a purifying and desiccating process. In reference to its application to the purification of brewers’ casks, the question arose, in the first instance, as to the effect it would have upon the strength of the wood.” Here we pick up the similarities of Oake’s Auto Cure system with treating wood. “He (Robert) experimented on the subject and found that, so far from deteriorating the wood, it gave increased strength to it to a large extent. He saw that impelled currents of hot air were a valuable thing that had been overlooked, and he then turned his attention to the desiccation (the preservation of food by removing moisture) of vegetable and animal substances.

The key first observation is that his interest was in the removal of moisture and the application of heated air. You may very well wonder how on earth he brought those two together, but hang on. He did it in an interesting way. Paul (1868) writes that “he was successful in the first instance in desiccating potatoes and other table vegetables, which were preserved for a very long time; and he afterwards operated upon a quantity of rump steaks, and by depriving them of all their moisture, they were preserved in a perfectly sweet and wholesome condition for several months.” So far it sounds like standard drying and hot air would not be required. In fact, any air velocity would aid the evaporation process as is done today with fans, for example, in producing biltong. But using hot air which is moved around sounds very similar to what we use in smoking/ drying cabinets today where the air is indeed wam.

For all South African biltong lovers and American Jerky fans, he reveals something extraordinary. Paul (1868) writes that “at the time he was engaged in these experiments an intelligent young man, brother-in-law to Dr Livingstone. . .” Dr Livingston was of course the famous African explorer missionary who resided at the Cape for some time and laboured mostly in Botswana. He had an intimate knowledge of indigenous drying practices and the value of salt.

Paul (1868) continues describing the relationship with the brother-in-law of Livingston and Robert. He does not focus on information about the indigenous practice from Southern Africa but from North America, even though I am absolutely certain that he would have informed Robert about the drying techniques in Southern Africa also. He mentions that Livingston’s brother-in-law was “then his pupil, mentioned to him that he was doing by an artificial process precisely what the North American Indians did with their buffalo meat and venison by the natural heat of the sun in preserving their provisions, and at the same time, he gave him an extract from Catlin’s work on the subject. The Indian method of drying their meat was to cut it up into thin strips, which were hung upon the branches of trees for several days in the heat of the sun. The moisture was entirely evaporated. The meat was then stowed away, and would keep good for years. Salt they never used, notwithstanding the country abounded with it. What the Indians did by natural means, he did by artificial, by the employment of impelled currents of heated air. He cooked some of the steaks desiccated by this process three or four years after they had been operated upon, and they were perfectly good and retained their flavour. After it had been soaked in water the meat recovered nearly its original bulk. In the process of desiccation, nothing but the water was removed, the albumen being all retained in the meat.” (Paul, 1868)

Take special note of his views on the nature of what causes spoilage in meat and vegetables. “By depriving them of all their moisture, they were preserved in a perfectly sweet and wholesome condition for several months.” Mr. Davison said that “he had not entertained the idea of preparing meat in this way (through drying) for the tables of the gentry, but his idea was to have the meat cut into thin slices, thoroughly dried, and packed away for use as we should biscuits. In this way, he thought an excellent article of food might be prepared for shipping purposes, and for the poorer classes.” Not just is it clear that he targeted the moisture of the meat but also his method of work required cutting the meat into smaller cuts and inserting it into the apparatus manually which is similar to what the Indians (and the tribes of Southern Africa) did in cutting the meat into strips before hanging it.

“Mr Davison remarked that three or four years ago an article appeared in the Times, expressing a hope that some plan would be devised for desiccating meat in a better manner than had hitherto been done. The results of the process he had described were decidedly superior to any charqui (drying of meat) that he had seen. He had long since parted with the last portion of the steaks he had experimented upon. The apparatus for desiccation was at present largely in use for other purposes, such as the seasoning of wood, the purifying of casks, &c. It was extensively used for the former purpose in the royal dockyards. He had no doubt he should be able to make the experiment for the satisfaction of the Committee and should have great pleasure in doing so at the earliest opportunity. The heat of the air in his experiments was 180°, but he believed the desiccation would be effected equally well at a temperature of 120°, when the albumen would not be coagulated.”

Let’s now park Davison’s views of preservation which we know he worked on since 1843 for a minute and return to the Sydney Morning Herald’s 1848 article. Davison is described as, “prior to his present occupation, was long connected with the manufacture of salt.” We also learn that he resided in South America for a time, in a country “with greater capacities for the production of the hog and the ox” and his attention was turned to the preservation of meat. Mr Davison drew upon his knowledge of salt and after much investigation invented a method of curing which will sound very familiar to us. He is described as possessing an “inventive genius,” well educated and assisted in the matter of science by Dr Lardner, “whom he consulted upon his arrival in the United States.” (Sydney Morning Herald, 1848)

So, we learn that he did travel to the United States and there he solicited the assistance of a certain Dr Lardner. He was an authority on the subject of steam engines and the application of steam in industry.

autoclave

From William Douglas & Sons Limited, 1901, Douglas’s Encyclopedia, University of Leeds. Library.

Peters (1846) describes the system as follows: “The apparatus is very simple, consisting of a cylinder made airtight. It has a “mouthpiece” through which meat is loaded into the machine and closed with a lid that is screwed onto the machine. The lid has two air vents which are opened and closed by screws. Next to the machine is a large wooden vat holding the brine, connected to the machine through a pipe and elevated higher than the cylinder. A lifting pump circulated the brine from the cylinder back to the vat.” I imagine it looking something like the apparatus at the top of the three above which were associated with Auto Curing.

“Meat is cut and placed into the cylinder. Brine is allowed to fill the cylinder which is then closed. Brine is now pumped back into the vat till all the brine is out and a vacuum is formed in the cylinder with the meat pieces in. Blood, air and gasses are thus removed from the meat also. Brine is now run back into the cylinder. The air vents are opened and the liquid brine expels all air from the vessel. As soon as the vessel is full, the air vents are closed again, the brine pumped into the vat again and the meat is left in a vacuum. Again, blood, air and gasses are pumped out. The cycle is repeated. The initial intervals between the cycles are short but eventually, as all the blood, air and gasses have been removed from the meat, the brine is allowed to remain in the cylinder for as long as between 6 and 8 hours. The entire process is completed in about 12 hours.”

It is here where the explanation or the link that Davison found with meat curing and preservation moves from the factual to the fanciful. He believed that the blood, air and gasses in the meat created some kind of a “resisting power” to the brine which had to seep into the meat. The blood had an affinity for the brine and left the meat for brine to fill it. The pressure created by the elevated brine created relative pressure greater than the gasses and air. When the meat is under vacuum, the reporter writes that the meat is “swollen, its fibre distended and pores open and it readily admits the brine even at the pressure of the mere quantity of brine which the cylinder will hold.” One atmosphere was sufficient and where double and triple that was used, it would respectively close and completely close the pores.

So, he abandoned the use of hot air but instead used a vacuum and the pressure of the brine. Whether his explanation is accurate or not, his invention worked. The process cures the meat in hours as opposed to weeks and he patented it. The process is named Rapid Cure.

This means that Mr Davison’s invention or the application of a vacuum and pressure in curing has priority in terms of the Oake Woods invention which is a progression of the Davison invention. In all likelihood, what Ewart refers to in his 1878 publication is the American invention that was widely in use in America. The key object of the invention was the speed of curing and not the production of mild cured bacon as was the case with the Oake Woods patent.

The primary method of obtaining “mild cured bacon” from the USA was through the addition of sugar. Ewart writes that “it should, however, be stated, that American bacon, in its several forms of flitch, roll, and ham, and any of them of small and moderate weights, are also mildly cured in which sugar is in a considerable proportion an ingredient in the curing mixture used; and the article when so prepared is deservedly held in the highest esteem.” (Ewart, 1878)

Ewart also reports the formation of a bluish-green mould upon the flesh-cut portions of the flitches and hams from bacon or ham that are “perfectly cured and becomes thoroughly dried.” He states that the mould “most effectually prevents the rusting of the fat on these parts.” (Ewart, 1878)

It is clear that Aoto Cure for the meat industry is a progression of Rapid Cure, developed by Mr. Robert Davison which had huge success in the USA. Auto Cure quickly developed an impressive list of countries who participated in the technology.

Tank Curing

For a detailed treatment on tank curing or Wiltshire curing, please refer to The Wiltshire Cut.

Denmark was, as it is to this day, one of the largest exporters of pork and bacon to England. The wholesale involvement of the Danes in the English market made it inevitable that a bacon curer from Denmark must have found his way to Calne in Wiltshire and the Harris bacon factories. The tank-cured method, as it became known, was adopted by C & T Harris (Calne). The fact was that it was already in Wiltshire in the company Oake’ Woods & Co. Ltd.. Why it took C & T Harris till the second half of the 1800s to incorporate it into their processes is a good question to which I don’t have the answer yet.

A major advantage of tank curing, as it became known in England, is the speed with which curing is done compared with the dry salt process previously practised. Wet tank-curing is more suited for the industrialisation of bacon curing with the added cost advantage of re-using some of the brine. It allows for the use of even less salt compared to older curing methods. One of the biggest advantages was, however, the increased curing speed as nitrites were used which was already converted from nitrates through bacterial fermentation.

wiltshire injection

The question comes up if we have corroborating evidence that Denmark imported the Irish technology in 1880? Clues to the date of the Danish adaption come to us from newspaper reports about the only independent farmer-owned Pig Factory in Britain of that time, the St. Edmunds Bacon Factory Ltd. in Elmswell. The factory was set up in 1911. According to an article from the East Anglia Life, April 1964, they learned and practised what at first was known as the Danish method of curing bacon and later became known as tank-curing.

A person was sent from the UK to Denmark in 1910 to learn the new Danish Method. (elmswell-history.org.uk) The Danish method involved the Danish cooperative method of pork production founded by Peter Bojsen on 14 July 1887 in Horsens. (Horsensleksikon.dk. Horsens Andelssvineslagteri)

The East Anglia Life report from April 1964, talked about a “new Danish” method. The “new” aspect in 1910 and 1911 was undoubtedly the tank curing method. Another account from England puts the Danish invention of tank curing early in the 1900s. C. & T. Harris from Wiltshire, UK, switched from dry curing to the Danish method during this time. In a private communication between myself and the curator of the Calne Heritage Centre, Susan Boddington, about John Bromham who started working in the Harris factory in 1920 and became assistant to the chief engineer, she writes: “John Bromham wrote his account around 1986, but as he started in the factory in 1920 his memory went back to a time not long after Harris had switched over to this wet cure.” So, late in the 1800s or early in the 1900’s the Danes imported the Irish system and practised tank-curing which was brought to England around 1911. The 1880 date fits this picture well.

It only stands to reason that the power of “old brine” must have been known from early after wet curing and needle injection of brine into meat was invented around the 1850s by Morgan. Before the bacterial mechanism behind the reduction was understood, butchers must have noted that the meat juices coming out of the meat during dry curing had special “curing power.” It was, however, the Irish who took this practical knowledge, undoubtedly combined it with the scientific knowledge of the time and created the commercial process of tank-curing which later became known as Wiltshire cure.

Why the system was brought over from Denmark when William Harwood Oake’s dad invented the system in Ireland remains a very good question. It is almost impossible to speculate on what exactly was happening in the Harris, Oake ‘ Wood & Co Ltd and in the St. Edmunds Bacon Factory Ltd., but I have a suspicion that Oake Wood was completely focused on their auto cure system in the 1890s and early 1900s and other companies were looking for a less expensive and equally efficient system which the Danish tank curing offered them. I can on the one hand understand why competitors were reluctant to buy into the Oake Wood system of auto curing and on the other hand, why Oake ‘ Woods was reluctant to sell it to strong opposition.

What we know for certain is that tank curing undoubtedly developed from the Oake Woods factory in Gillingham, Dorset and “diffused” into Wiltshire. It was probably independently incorporated into the Harris operation as was the case with the St. Edmunds Bacon Factory Ltd who both claim to have received the technology from Denmark.

Multi-Needle Injection and Vacuum Tumbling and The Direct Addison of Nitrites to Curing Brine

img076

Multi-needle injector, C & T Harris (Calne) Ltd. C 1960

The composition of the brine changed around 1915 by the direct addition of sodium nitrite. For a thorough discussion on this revolutionary development, see,

Where tank curing used the fermented brine which after fermentation contained nitrites, despite the fact that only nitrates were added to the brine to begin with, along with salt and sugar, nitrites became widely available through pharmacies at this time as it was used in treating certain heart related ailments. Nitrites were now being included directly into curing brines, bypassing the fermentation step.

Multi-needle injectors and vacuum tumblers became commonplace in any met curing operation. It is generally accepted that these developments took place in the mid to late 1900s, but an interesting US patent (number 23,141) was awarded to L. M. Schlarb from Allegheny, Pennsylvania on 3 June 1901 directly related to injection and vacuum machines for meat curing.  (Journal of the Society of Chemical Industry; 1902: 269)

The process is described as “injecting brine and carbon dioxide under pressure into the meat by means of suitable needles connected to a tank containing the brine and carbon dioxide, the pressure in the tank being about 2 atmospheres.” The nozzles it talks about maybe the three-needle injectors that were used until the middle of the 1900s and the unique aspect of the patent was the use of brine in conjunction with carbon dioxide. (Journal of the Society of Chemical Industry; 1902: 269)

The next bit is fascinating as it is possibly the earliest recorded date of the use of a vacuum machine in meat processing. The patent is described in a journal article that “the meat is now placed in a vessel from which the air is exhausted, and brine is then allowed to flow in. The meat is allowed to remain in the brine for about 10 hours, and may then be subjected to the action of carbon dioxide under pressure.” If one removes the presence of carbon dioxide, it is then reasonable to assume that a vacuum machine has been in use in one shape or another to facilitate the diffusion of brine into meat, as early as 1901. (Journal of the Society of Chemical Industry; 1902: 269) The process was, however, not new as auto curing was already in use in the second half of the 1800s in many countries across Europe.

Over the next 60 years, the multi-needle injector became bigger, with more needles until the present machines were being produced from the mid-1900s. Tumbling machines, as we know it today has been in use since the early 1970s.

Current Developments

Two major developments are currently taking root across the globe. One is a return to fermented brines where a natural carrier of nitrates are used as the start of brine preparations. A starter culture is then added to this “carrier” which will be something like celery powder or beetroot, high in nitrates and specially grown with high nitrate content in the soil. Salt and phosphates, where permitted, are added along with reducing and non-reducing sugar to complete the modern curing brines.

The second important development in commercial curing plants of the last decade is undoubtedly the introduction of what we call the grid system. According to this method, grids or bacon moulds are used to give the bacon a regular shape. The meat is normally wrapped in banking paper or some film before it is placed in the moulds and in one form or the other, an enzyme, Transglutaminase, is added to the product. The main purpose of this is to achieve higher slicing yields, but in reality, it also accounts for lower smoking losses. A detailed treatment of this method can be found at The Best Bacon System on Earth. I am inviting producers who are interested to interact with me on the process as long as developments will be used for our mutual benefit.

A host of brines has recently seen the light which claims to be natural and nitrite-free. I remain very sceptical about these and refer you to my articles, The Quest for Nitrite Free Curing and an older article, Nitrite Free Bacon: Barriers against Clostridium botulinum

Finally

This review is done from the perspective of a commercial high throughput bacon plant. It, however, paints a rich picture and most of what is regarded as “artisan” today has been the way that large throughput factories of yesteryear have done it. In years to come, how bacon was cured even when we embarked on our current bacon project in 2008 will be regarded as “artisan curing” as we have seen the transition to moulds or grid curing over the last 10 years.

Consumer demands, perceptions and technology will remain the driving force behind this industry.  Many aspects will have to be added to this review article such as changes to health concerns which altered brining technology. I addressed most of these matters in this complete work.

I think back over the many years I have been engaged in this most glorious art and I realise that I am a fortunate man!  My deal La’tjie!  My prayer for you is that you too will find something insanely exciting to build your life around! The question still remains if the curing of bacon taught me the real secret of life? Through my quest, I am living a fulfilled and productive life, yes! That subject I have explored in great detail, but what about the link with what is fixed and eternal? Will meat curing allow me to touch the face of God? There is the most interesting answer to that question but it’s late and this letter is already very long. The answer to that question must remain till next time!

Just a few more days and both you and Tristan are with us!

Lots and lots of love from Cape Town,

Dad and Minette


Further Reading

Reaction Sequence: From nitrite (NO2-) to nitric oxide (NO) and the cooked cured colour.


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Reference

1837.  Works on Medicine, Surgery Midwifery and the collateral sciences.  Printed for Longman, Orme, Brown, Green, and Longmans.

Archaeology, A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America, reported by Patel, S. in the article The Neolithic Palate, Nov/ Dec 2013.

Belfast News-Letter (Belfast, Antrim, Northern Ireland), 26 Oct 1841, Tue

Bremmer, E..  18 January 2014.  Review article:  Human body preservation – old and new techniques.  John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.  Journal of Anatomy JA – J. Anat. VL – 224 IS – 3 SN – 1469-7580 UR – http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/joa.12160

Binkerd, E. F., and Kolari O. E..  1975.  The history and use of nitrate and nitrite in the curing of meat. Fd Cosmet. ToxicoL Vol. 13. pp. 655–661. Pergamon Press 1975. Printed in Great Britain

The Complete Grazier.  1830.  Fifth edition.  Paternoster Row.  Baldwin and Cradock

Dunker, CF, and Hankins OG.  October 1951.  A survey of farm curing methods.  Circular 894. US Department of agriculture

Flad, R., Zhu, J., Wang, C., Chen, P., von Falkenhausen, L., Sun, Z., & Li, S. (2005). Archaeological and chemical evidence for early salt production in China. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America102(35), 12618–12622. http://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0502985102

Frey, J. W..  2009.  The Indian Saltpeter Trade, the Military Revolution, and the Rise of Britain as a Global Superpower.  Source: The Historian, Vol. 71, No. 3 (FALL 2009), pp. 507-554 Published by: Wiley Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/24454667

Hoagland, R.  1921.  Substitutes for Sucrose in Curing Meats.  United States Department of Agriculture.  Bulletin Number 928.  Professional Paper.  Washington D.C.  January 7, 1921.

Holland, LZ. 2003. Feasting and Fasting with Lewis & Clark: A Food and Social History of the early 1800s. Old Yellowstone Publishing, Inc.

Hui, Y. H..  2012.  Handbook of meat and meat processing.  Second edition.  CRC Press.

Journal of the Society of Chemical Industry.  Feb 28, 1902. No. 4, Vol XXII.

Kraybill, H. R..  2009.  Sugar and Other Carbohydrates in Meat Processing.  American Meat Institute Foundation, and Department of Biochemistry, The University of Chicago, Chicago, Ill.  USE OF SUGARS AND OTHER CARBOHYDRATES IN THE FOOD INDUSTRY.  Chapter 11, pp 83–88.  Advances in Chemistry, Vol. 12.  Publication Date (Print): July 22, 2009. 1955

Lauer K. 1991.  The history of nitrite in human nutrition: a contribution from German cookery books.  Journal of clinical epidemiology. 1991;44(3):261-4.

Launceston Examiner, Sat 17 Mar 1866, Page 2, CURING MEAT BY DR. MORGANS’ PATENT PROCESS

Letheby, H., Professor of chemistry in the College of London hospital, and medical officer of health and food analyst for the city of London, 1870, ON FOOD, Four Canton lectures delivered before the society for the encouragement of arts, manufactures, and commerce, delivered in 1868.  Longmans, Green and Co, London.

Molander, E.. 1985. Effect of Singeing on the Texture and Histological Appearance of Pig Skin. Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University, Department of Meat Technology and Process Engineering, 11 Howitzvej, DK-2000 Copenhagen F, Denmark

Payne, W. J..  1986: Centenary of the Isolation of Denitrifying Bacteria.

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Smith, Edwards. 1873. Foods. Henry S King and Co.

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Images

Figure 1:  Founders of bacon plant:  http://www.elmswell-history.org.uk/arch/firms/baconfactory/article2.html

Figure 2:  Stitch pumping, http://www.suffolkheritagedirect.org.uk/resources/tours/made-in-suffolk.html


Chapter 12.09: The Curing Reaction

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 Curing Reaction
Cape Town, November 1959

Dear Lauren,

I am rushing to have everything ready when you and Tristan are here for the holidays. I sat back and read the title of my letter to you. I can hardly believe that I am able to write this mail. It is, in a sense, the culmination of most of my life. All the travels, across so many countries; having visited countless curing operations; having been mentored by some of the best in the industry; standing on the shoulders of the giants of the past! What a privilege! Yet, producing the best bacon on earth is not predicated upon knowing any of these. This information only equips us to start doing our job. In a sense, it qualifies us to be in the production plant and what we do with what we have, is far more than this, but never less.

Of everybody, with your background in biochemistry, this will be the most helpful. I, myself, are not a trained chemist nor do I hold a degree in food science. I am an entrepreneur who makes my living through meat processing and is curious about the science of my trade. I discovered these truths through the most insane journey ever undertaken. I write about it in order to learn and not to forget. My letters to you guys are like an elaborate notebook!  Having come to the end of my quest, I now set out to review the different factors that impact meat curing by following the chemical reaction sequences to identify practical measures to employ in the factory to ensure proper curing.

Curing involves the development of an appealing reddish/ pinkish cured colour, meat preservation, the prevention of rancid fat formation and a particular cured taste. In these concluding letters, I deal with the chemistry of curing in its relationship to colour development and meat preservation.

bacon dry cured

Photo by Robert Goodrick

THE FORMATION OF NITRIC OXIDE

PRIORITY OF NITRIC OXIDE (NO)

The colour of cured meat is brought about by the reaction of nitric oxide (NO). Nitric oxide plays an equally central role in the nitrogen cycle as a key intermediate. The nitrogen cycle is the collective name given to several interconnected processes by which nitrogen, which exists as a stable gas of two nitrogen atoms (dinitrogen) joined together are converted into ammonia (NH3) which is then converted into amines. An amine is a derivative of ammonia, NH3, where one or more of the hydrogen atoms are replaced by either an alkyl or aryl group.

An important amine is amino acids, the building block of life. Every cell in the body contains amino acids where they are used to build proteins. From muscles to simple structures like cell membranes consists of proteins. When an organism decays, ammonia (NH3) is produced and is oxidised to nitrites and nitrates during nitrification. The one direction of the process of nitrification exists where ammonia and subsequently amines are formed. A reverse process also exists of denitrification where “nitrate is used instead of oxygen as an electron acceptor for energy production, and reduced to gaseous nitrogen oxides (NO, N2O, N2).

Denitrification is important in the nitrogen cycle, but also in bacon curing. The reduction of nitrate to nitrite and nitrite to nitric oxide are all performed by denitrifying bacteria. These bacteria are classed as facultative anaerobes which means that they are capable of existing in an environment with oxygen or without.  The “molecular unit of currency” of intracellular energy transfer is ATP (adenosine triphosphate) and it requires the oxygen to make ATP. When oxygen is however not available, this special class of organisms is able to switch to fermentation or anaerob