The Anglo-Boer War and Bacon: Old enemies become friends

SUMMARY

The remarkable story of Wright Harris and Jan Kok’s participation in the second Anglo-Boer War. These stories begin much in the same way. Their faith played an equally important role in surviving the war and it established a legacy where hard work, faith and opportunity determined the actions of their children grandchildren and great grandchildren. Finally, both stories end with the creation of a bacon curing company!

INTRODUCTION

Food science and the meat industry, in particular, have amazing untold stories.  I was researching great bacon companies of ages past when I received a scanned copy of Bringing Home the Bacon, A History of the Harris Family’s Castlemaine Bacon Company, by Leigh Edmonds.

I discovered a remarkable link with South Africa in the participation of one of the founders, Wright Harris, in the Second Anglo-Boer War on the side of the British Empire.  This peaked my interest since my own great grandfather, Jan (Johannes) Kok fought in the same war, but on the side of the Boers.  Despite being adversaries in war, their stories are very much alike.  Deep religious beliefs were their compass and following its direction ultimately brought us to bacon curing.  In the Harris story, this happened in one generation and in the case of Johannes Kok, it would take 4 generations before his great-grandson would complete the process and become one of the founders of a bacon company.     This is the story.

WRIGHT HARRIS

wright Harris

The story of Wright Harris, the Australian protagonist, begins in England where his parents were married in January 1864 and migrated to Victoria,  Australia.  Wright was the 7th of 11 children.  His father was a farm labourer and wood cutter. Wright remarked in later life that he left school at age 12 when hard work was the lot of most boys and added that “it didn’t hurt us.”  Wright was a devout Christian.  A heritage he got from his mother.  By 1900 he was a regular lay preacher at many churches in the area.

JAN KOK

jan5
Jan Kok at the house on Kranskop where he was born.

Johannes W Kok was born in Winburg in the independent Boer republic of the Orange Free State on 4 April 1880.  The Orange Free State got its independence from Brittain on 23 February 1854.  Winburg itself was a self-proclaimed independent Boer territory since 1837 and was incorporated into the Free State in 1854.  Jan Kok was christened in Winburg on 02 Mei 1880.  He grew up right in the heart of Boer-self determination.

THE SECOND ANGLO-BOER WAR

In October 1899 the second Anglo-Boer war broke out in South Africa.  In the first few months, the Boers had the upper hand, but the British government responded by massing its forces from across the empire.  Wright enlisted in February 1900 in the Victorian Bushmen Contingent.

P. L. Murray writes about the Third Bushmen Contingent in his work, Official records of the Australian military contingents to the war in South Africa, “This corps was largely subscribed for by the public.  It was resolved that, in lieu of drawing the men exclusively from the local forces, a class of Australian yeomen and bushmen should be obtained; hardy riders straight shots, accustomed to find their way about in difficult country, and likely to make an expert figure in the vicissitudes of such a campaign as was being conducted.”

An enormous number of candidates volunteered for enlistment.  The men selected were largely untrained in military matters; 230 were farmers or with some connection to farming.  The selection criteria were based on their ability to ride and shoot.  The men were allowed to bring their own horses.  Many brought two.

They left Melbourne for South Africa on 10 March 1900 aboard the Euryalis and arrived in Cape Town on 3 April 1900.  Wright suffered from severe seasickness on the voyage to South Africa and wrote only two words in his diary, “sea sick.”  Of the 261 men and NCO’s and 15 officers, 17 would loose their lives in the South African campaign.” 

In South-Africa, thirty-seven days later, on 5 May 1900, on an autumn evening, the 20-year-old Jan Kok greeted his mum and dad, took his rifle and mounted his horse.  At 20:00 he rode off with the kommando from their farm Kransdrif.  From there they rode to the farm of A. Nel, Kafferskop.  In all, they were 11 people riding together; 6 from Winburg, 1 from Kroonstad, 2 from Thabanchu and two black people.  They travel to Ficksburg, where they join this Kommando and on 18 May, they set off from Ficksburg to join larger Boer forces.

From Jan’s diary, there was considerable disagreement where they should go and which Boer forces they should join.

The Australians, on the other hand, had none of the indecisiveness associated with a more informal military organisation of the Boer’s.  As soon as they landed at Cape Town, they travelled to Beira and to Marondera (known as Marandellas until 1982), a town in Mashonaland East, Zimbabwe, located about 72 km east of Harare.  Here, all the colonial Bushmen were formed into regiments known as the Rhodesian Field Force; “the Victorians and West Australians forming the 3rd, under Major Vialls.  They marched in squadrons across the then Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) to Bulawayo.  From there to Mafikeng where they were again mobilised and equipped and took part in one of the major battles of the war, the siege of Mafikeng.

Wright noted the following entries in his journal at Mafikeng.

23 July, Monday.  “Left Bulawayo for Mafikeng at 3 o’clock.  Twenty-five in a truck, packed in like pigs.

24 July, Tuesday.  “Ostrich running alongside the train.  A halt for two hours at Palepwe to feed and water horses.” (I am not sure where Palepwe is.  The name is probably misspelt)

25 July, Wednesday “Met by an armoured train.  Reached Mafikeng at about 6 o’clock, and slept out in the rain.”

26 July, Thursday.  “A look around the trenches and around Mafikeng.  Saw the Boer prisoners, two sentenced to death.”

27 July, Friday.  “Got our saddles.  The ponies captured from the Boers allotted to us.  Saw the guns that saved Mafikeng.”

28 July, Saturday.  “Sent out to hold the river against the enemy with four guns.  Got orders to go away and take three months provisions.  Order countermanded (rescinded/ cancelled).”

29 July, Sunday.  “Church parade.  Went to the Wesleyan church in town, had a grand service.  Text Timoty 21 and 22.  On picket, got a piece of shell which had come through the roof.  (This must be a mistake because there is no such reference.  My best guess is that it is 2 Tim 2: 21 and 22 which reads:  “If a man, therefore, purges himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work. Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.”

On 28 July, Jan notes in his own diary that the kommando, under the leadership of General Marthinus Prinsloo, decide that it is not worth fighting any further since the Boers are heavily demoralised.  They ask the British to negotiate a surrender.  At this time they are still in Fouriesburg, in the Brandwater Basin.

The formal surrender was on 30 July 1900, but Jan and his fellow Boers lay down arms on 31 July.  They are assured by the British that they would be allowed to return to their homes and farms, but in the end, this does not materialise.

Jan writes in his diary on Monday, 31 July 1900, “we have our weapons deposited on the surrender of General Prinsloo to General Hunter.  On this day he notes, “a time of new experiences and disappointment, for sure.”  On August 11 they sent us by train to Cape Town (Green Point).” He writes that “the Malaaihers (Malays?) and bastards (colourds?) were standing both sides of the street and mocked us all the way.”

They board the ship Dilwara on 15 August. On 18 August they leave Cape Town and stop over in Simonsbaai (probably Simons Town).  On 21 August they arrived in Durban.  Aboard they are tortured by an infestation of fleas.    They leave Durban on 22 August.  On 30 August, they anchor at the “Chysellen.”  Here they are allowed for the first time to buy some fruit,  “12 bananas for 6 “pence.”

On 8 September they arrive in Colombo Bay. From here they travel 160 miles by train and arrive eventually in Diyatalawa.

boer-camp-ceylon

On 16 September a fellow inmate and an ordained minister, Ds C Ferreira, preach from Matt. 8:12, “But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth”  That afternoon Ds Postma preach from Luke 18:10 (probably up to : 14).  On that day they were very upset that the “koelies” (a derogatory but common term for people of Indian descent) worked on that day, a Sunday as if it was any other day.  Ds Postma’s reading dealt with that judgemental attitude towards others who do not observe and worship in the same way as you do.

He writes on 22 September that he and Gert van de Venter from hut 48 started a “Zingkoor” (a choir).  He attended bible study at hut 63 where a certain Ds Roux spoke.

This was obviously a time of great reflection and soul searching.  On 1 October, he writes that “as I reflect on the past year and what happened to me, I can not say anything else but that the Lord helped me through it all and that he can not but to thank Him for all that He has done for me.”  It is interesting that he named his son, years later, Ebenhaezer, God helped me all the way and brought me to this place.  He never told my grandfather why he named him Eben.  It was not a family name and must have been done deliberately in a time when conservative farmers gave their children the names of their parents or grandparents.  From this entry in his diary, I can see how important this thought was to him and, especially in Afrikaans, the wording is similar to the words used in the bible from where we get the meaning of the name, Ebenhaezer.  I suspect that in naming his son Eben, Jan was celebrating Gods faithfulness in by allowing him to return and have his own family.

There was also ministers in the camp who used Sunday school for a time to criticise the fact that they laid down arms.  Ds Roux accused them of being selfish when they surrendered and say that they were only feeling sorry for their horses and were homesick.  He spends lots of time attending bible study and Sunday school.  On 3 January when a school was started, he attended.  On 7 January he mentions that there was a missions prayer meeting and he starts to attend a missions class.

His grandson, Ds Jan Kok (my uncle), writes a dissertation when he completes his studies as a Dutch Reformed minister, about the development of a missionary zeal in the POW camps and indeed, many of the POW’s returned home to become missionaries.  This was later published under the title “Sonderlinge Vrug” (special or unusual fruit).

Jan became one of the founders of the “Zuid-Afrikaansche Pennie Vereniging” on 1 June 1902. The goal of the organisation was to promote the missionary course and through this, to expand the Kingdom of God.

On 31 July, as Jan surrenders and is taken POW, Wright Harris is still very much part of the siege of Mafikeng and writes in his own diary, “Called out to wait for the Boers at daylight.  Ordered not to start.”  1 August, Wright notes, “Starting out for Mafikeng.  Passed Boer trenches.

He survives the campaign, but his health deteriorates.  He suffers horrible bouts of severe illness.  His Christian faith sustains him through everything, like Jan Kok in the Diyatalawa camp.  Wright also continues to attend church parades, tent meetings, bible readings and prayer meetings.  I wonder if he could have imagined that on the Boer side there were men with much the same commitment and a common experience of faith with him.

In early October, as Jan is getting used to life as a prisoner of war, Wright Harris contracts deadly typhoid fever.  He is taken to hospital where he lay for weeks, delirious and close to death.  He is so severely sick that later becomes convinced that his eventual recovery is a miracle.  As soon as he was sufficiently recovered, he is sent back to Australia and arrived in Melbourne in early Feb 1901.

Wright, deeply committed to his faith, undertakes a year of church work in New Zealand, following the war.  Jan is eventually released on 5 December 1902 and returns to South Africa on 27 December 1902.

FOLLOWING THE WAR

There is a deep belief among the young men at these camps that a reason for the war was that they did not do everything in their power to spread Christianity among the native African tribes.  It was in a way, Gods judgement upon them for their inaction.  It is therefore not surprising that after their homecoming, Jan enrols in the Missionary Seminary of the Dutch Reformed Church in Wellington.  The collective Boer nations had matters to resolve that, in their interpretation of events, brought about such devastation on their land and it is completely understandable and commendable that this became the passion of Jan’s life.   Jan is confirmed in March 1906 in a missions church in Heilbron.

Wright did not have a nation to save and without the spiritual issues that plagued the young Boer-men, focussed on building his own life.  He was ready to do whatever his hands find to do.  Events in his life would steer him, not to full-time church ministry as was the case with Jan, but to a life of business and bacon curing.

Probably through the Methodist church at Scoresby, he met John and his daughter, Janet Weetman.  William Haine ran a butter factory in Kennedy Street, Castlemaine.  He also ran a bacon company part time as the Castlemaine Mild Cured Bacon Company, to earn additional income.  Haine and Weetman agreed for John and Janet to take over the running of the bacon side of things and Weetman roped Wright Harris in to assist them.  The three arrived in Castlemaine in 1905 and started the Castlemaine Bacon Company in a room in the butter factory.  Together with John Kernihan they processed five pigs per week.  John Kernihan and John Weetman were the experienced craftsmen. Kernihan had employed Weetman years earlier in his own bacon company in Northcote but lost his business during the depression of the 1850’s.

Wright and Janet eventually marry on 18 April 1906.  John Weetman passed away on 28 March 1922 at which time Wright and Janet acquired the company and the land the factory was built on.  So started a long and prolific history of the Castlemaine Bacon Company under Wright Harris’s name.

Back in South Africa, Jan remains faithfully at the congregation in Heilbron for 39 years until his retirement in 1945.  My uncle, Oom Jan Kok, who was named after his grandfather, follows in his footsteps and become a pastor in the Dutch Reformed Church.  He faithfully serves in the Moedergemeente, Warmbad for most of his life.  He tells an interesting story that when he was christened, this was done in the “black church” where his grandfather and the man who’s name he received, was the pastor, in Heilbron.  In those years this was of course not permitted under the Apartheid Laws.  My uncle, Jan, needed a “doopseël” (baptismal seal) for some reason and it was eventually found at the “white church” (Heilbron-South) where his grandfather must have registered it.

I, in turn, am named after my grandfather, Oupa Eben Kok and was destined to follow in the footsteps of my great granddad and uncle to become a pastor.  During a year I spent in the USA after my own time in the South African Army (1988 to 1990), I returned to South Africa with a commitment to pursue a career in business.  Bacon curing became my life.

I fell in love with Chemistry and in my mid 30’s decided to enter the world of food manufacturing.  In 2008, Oscar Klynveld and I created Woody’s Consumer Brands (Pty) Ltd. with the ambitious goal of selling the best bacon on earth.   Oscar himself is the son of a Dutch Reformed minister with deep religious convictions.  I always loved writing and storytelling and when I discovered that the field of meat science is replete with amazing untold stories, I start a blog where I feature some of these amazing stories.

It was in researching an article for this site on famous bacon curing companies from around the world and a book I am writing on our setting up of Woody’s Consumer Brands that I came across the story of the Castlemaine Bacon Company and the link they have with  South Africa.  Since the founding of the company, our growth has been meteoric, much like Wright Harris’ Castlemaine Bacon Company.  The Harris family now stand and look back at a company which they eventually sold and they have in a sense completed the full circle, a road that we are still excited to be travelling and in a sense, continue to follow in their footsteps.

On Saturday morning I was standing in our own dispatch area, telling Oscar about this article and my attempts to make contact with the Harris family.  The commitments, disciplines and great lessons from the words of John Harris and the inspiration we can draw from them.

CONCLUSION

The great story of bacon curing is, from the beginning to the end, a human story.  It took the best of humankind, over thousands of years to create a dish that mimics natural processes that are part of human metabolism, every moment.  The story of bacon curing is our own story in a very personal way.  It is a science and an art – human culture at its best.  Telling the story of curing is telling our own personal stories.  They are inseparable.

As humans, we identify patterns, we learn, evolve and we connect.  Looking at our own experience in Woody’s Consumer Brands fill Oscar and me with a deep gratitude and we take courage from the men and woman of the Harris family with their remarkable heritage which is so close to our own.  Bacon curing brings together some of the greatest stories on earth!

References:

I liberally quote and use information from Bringing home the bacon: a history of the Harris family’s Castlemaine Bacon Company 1905-2005 / Leigh Edmonds.  Monash University.  The photo of Wright Harris, this source.

Murray, P. L..  1911.  Official records of the Australian military contingents to the war in South Africa.  Albert J. Mullett, Government Printers.

All information and photos of JW Kok supplied by Jan Kok in private correspondence.

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Bacon and the art of living 9: Ice Cold in Africa (1)

25 December 1891

Dear Children and my beloved Ava,

It is Christmas today.  I hope you received the gifts I’ve sent you and the letters I’ve sent to each one of you.  I write with mixed feelings and great affection.

Cape Town, 1877
Cape Town, 1877

I miss Cape Town and I miss Table Mountain.  It’s summer back home and you have the most beautiful days of the year.  The sun and the festive atmosphere make one forget about the wind and the rain of the winter that sometimes persists up till new years day.  Mostly, the days in December are glorious!   We always do a long hike on boxing day and new years eve.  This year I’m missing it, but next year we will do it again.

I am also excited because I think back today about all that I have learned.  That curing bacon, like living life, is indeed an art that is worth cultivating.  Paying close attention to how it has been done and the traditions that brought us to this place is not intended as a burden.  It increases the pleasure of its consumption!

Christmas in Copenhagen in unlike any I could have imagined.  For starters, it snows!  The home is cozy and friendly!

Juleaften, as they call Christmas eve is the mots important time of the Christmas celebration.  The entire family is together.  Like we do it at home, great food and family are the focal point of the celebration. (Wikipedia.  Culture of Denmark)

Andreas’ dad told me that after the industrial revolution of the 1860’s, Wood-fired ovens and meat grinders became common items in Danish household and a whole new range of foods started to dominate the Christmas supper. (Madadpakjan-sunshine, Traditional Danish Food).

Andreas’ mom prepared the dish in their wood-fired oven, the same way as my mom and you, Ava do.  She selected a pork roast for last night.

Andreas brought home from Jeppe’s factory a joint of pork from the neck with the rind still on.   He cut through the rind to the meat in narrow, long strips.  His mom then rubbed salt and pepper onto the joint and inserted bay leaves into the cuts and roasted it in a hot oven.

The dish was served with boiled and caramelized potatoes (brunede kartofler). These she specially prepared by melting sugar in a frying pan over strong heat, adding a clump of butter, and allowing a portion of small round peeled potatoes to bathe in the mixture until they become richly browned or caramelized. She also served red cabbage (rødkål) with slices of apples. (Wikipedia.  Flaeskesteg)

You would have loved it!

Last night was my chance to tell a few stories.  It was snowing and the discussion around the table turned to the matter of using ice to preserve food and why we have difficulty curing bacon in South Africa.  I think I finally know why Oscar and my attempt to cure bacon did not work.

Edward Smith in his book, Foods, that you are familiar with at this point, listed cold in 1876 as one of the ways to preserve food.

For him refrigeration was mainly the supply of  ice.  Remember that the challenge in the 1800’s was to supply enough food for the old world and a solution was to import food from the new.  Apart from the long voyage from the new world to the old, the fact is that new worlds have warm climates.

Smith says that the “real difficulty is to provide a sufficient quantity of ice at the ports of South America and Australia.” (Smith, Edwards, 1873:  25)  of course, one solution was to load a ship with enough ice to make the journey to the new world, load the meat and transport it back to the old world, still under refrigeration of the ice.

This would be very costly though and Smith stays that “so long as our supplies of meat are from hot climates the expense will be a serious impediment to such a commercial enterprise.”  He suggested that countries with cold climates should either start producing meat for the old world or “by storing large quantities of ice in an economical manner at the ports of other meat-producing countries” (Smith, Edwards, 1873:  25, 26) such as Australia.

He refers to the work of Messrs. Nasmyth of Manchester who “produced machines on the patent of M Mignot, by which 50 lbs. of ice may be made per hour at the cost of condensing and then rerafying air, ”  (Smith, Edwards, 1873:  26)

Andreas knows a lot about the development of refrigeration.  He has been to London and many American cities.

Apparently, ice houses started to be build in the northern hemisphere on the property of wealthy owners from the 1700’s.  These were generally brick-lined pits, build below the ground where ice from surrounding lakes were stored.   (Dellino, C, 1979: 2)  This concept of this natural refrigeration was first described by Frederic Tudor (1783 – 1864). (Kha, AR, 2006:  26)

In the 1800’s commercial cold storage facilities were being build at harbors in America and Europe, mainly for the storage of carcasses, fruit and dairy products.  The ice was cut from frozen ponds, lakes or rivers in the winter and stored in the heavily insulated ice house.  (Mfo.me.uk, Harris) (2)  It is no wonder that Smith equated refrigeration to the production of ice!

As Smith observed, this was obviously not an option for the warmer climates of the new world from the Southern Hemisphere.  It never gets cold enough in Cape Town for any ice to form.

From what Andreas told me, it is clear that the seeds for solving the refrigeration problem were planted and in the 1600’s, the Englishman  Robert Boyle (1627 – 1691) showed that water under pressure have a reduced boiling temperature. (3)  (Kha, AR, 2006:  26)

The mathematics Professor, Sir John Leslie (1766 – 1832) at Edinburgh university in Scotland created ice in his laboratory by absorbing water from a water container with sulfuric acid , thereby producing a vacuum in the closed container.  The vacuum in turn  caused the saturation temperature of the water producing the vapor to be low enough to form ice.

Dr William Cullen at Glasgow University observed in 1755 showing that an isolated water container dropped in temperature during evaporation.  In 1871 Thomas Masters in England demonstrated an ice cream maker where a temperature of close to freezing point can be obtained if a brine mix of salt and ice is used. (Kha, AR, 2006:  26)

The American Charles E. Monroe of Cambridge, Massachusetts, demonstrated a food cooler that effected cooling through the evaporation of water through the porous lining of the refrigerator.  (2) (Kha, AR, 2006:  26)

M. Howell observed in 1755 that air leaving a pressurized air line cooled when it escaped.  A patent, based on this observation, was granted to Dr. John Gorrie (1803 – 1855) for the first machine to work successfully on the air refrigeration cycle.  (Kha, AR, 2006:  26)

In 1824 Ferdinand P E Carre showed that ammonia could reach much lower temperatures than water when boiled at the same pressure.  (4) (Kha, AR, 2006:  26)

Refrigeration was “in the air” in the 1800’s.  It was just a matter of time before this was being done successfully in our homes, at harbours, meat markets and on ships.

The Groote Kerk, 1841.  Center of religious life for David Graaff.  Also the church where Jacobus Combrinck was buried from in 1891.
The Groote Kerk, 1841. Center of religious life for David Graaff. Also the church where Jacobus Combrinck was buried from in 1891.

It is doubtful that David Graaff kept abreast of all the particular developments in refrigeration that Andreas is telling me about.   The practically minded man that I know, and without having talked to him about this, my guess is that he paid close attention to the development of freezing technology generally.  In particular, the race to apply it to ships in order to transport frozen meat successfully from Australia to England and the creation of refrigerated railway car’s.  This affected him directly, after all, and I am sure he noticed the commercial opportunity immediately.

He no doubt took careful notice of the development in England where the railways were using refrigerated cars for transporting perishable goods.  Cold storage works were springing up in docklands and markets from Auckland and Buenos Aries, London, Antwerp and Chicago. (Brooke Simons, P, 2000:  22)

One year after he was appointed manager of Combrinck & Co, he noticed the docking of the Dunedan.  This was the first successful shipment of meat between Australia and England.  David was consumed by the quest to make Cape Town a world class city generally and by making Combrinck & Co a world leader in the supply of meat.  (Brown, R.)  It is only to be expected that David must have identified the creation of large storage works in Cape Town and across Southern Africa and linking these by the equipping of railway cars with refrigeration as a priority and something that he could be instrumental in.  He had the background and the means to effect this.

I would expect that one of the things that was on his mind as the Dunedan docked was the question:  why is the beef not being transported from South Africa?  A much closer source than Australia and why are we not setting up a network to support similar distribution across Africa?

Where our current quest is discovering the art of preserving pork through the curing process and creating of the worlds best bacon, David was looking at solving the problem of preserving meat for later use by the application of refrigeration.

He set out in the 1880’s on a world journey to investigate refrigeration and to familiarise himself with every aspect of the meat trade in England and in the USA.  In Chicago he looked at the most modern systems of meat packing.  As soon as he returned to Cape Town, he set out to apply refrigeration to Combrinck & Co.  (Brooke Simons, P, 2000:  22, 23)

Great business leaders often capitalist in areas where they already have a presence.  Combrinck & Co was best positioned to take advantage of refrigerated railway car’s and cold storage works.   A Scotsman, Sir Donald Currie, the owner of the Castle Line of mail ships, servicing the line between South Africa and Great Britain, was best positioned to capitalise on the transport of meat between South Africa and England. (5)  Currie’s first ship with a refrigeration facility was Grantully Castle which set sail from Cape Town on 13 February 1889 with 15 tons of grapes.  The experiment with grapes was a disaster, but David was ready with a supply of a far more durable product to ship under refrigeration.  Meat!  (Brooke Simons, P, 2000:  23)

There is a very specific application of refrigeration to the production of bacon.

Remember that I told you how Oscar and myself tried to cure our own bacon on his farm in the Potchefstroom district and how, when we ate it, the meat was off?  I think that I finally have the answer why this happened.

It was August 1890 when we tried to make our own bacon based on what we were told by an old Danish spice trader in Johannesburg.  August is the last official winter month in Potchefstroom, but its already warm during the days with temperatures reaching as high as 25 deg C and sometimes even higher.

We thought that the curing salt would prevent the purification of the meat, but the fact is that pork takes approximately 7 days to cure properly.  Whether wet or dry cure is used, the brine must have sufficient time to permeate the joint in order for it to do its preserving work.  Pork goes off quicker than beef or lamb.  If it has not been cured, it will be off within 3 days under warmer conditions like we have in Potchefstroom.

The only way that this can be done in our warm climate is under constant refrigeration.  This is also the reason that it is good for us to focus on the curing of bacon and possibly other pork cuts and not on cold storage refrigeration as David is doing.  Our investment is in the process of curing and not in large scale storage or transportation.  Donald Currie and David Graaff have already staked these claims.  We have neither the money, not the time to compete against them.  Since they are not experts in the curing and processing of pork, this is an area where we can steak our claim with a great likelihood of success for our venture.

The fact that David is about to build a new, much bigger storage works in Cape Town will be to our advantage since we can use this as refrigerated storage for our carcasses as well as for our bacon, before it is sold to ships and clients throughout South Africa.

Not just have I received a letter from David, informing us that he is interested in discussing our venture when he visits Denmark early in 1892, but I have also received a telegram from Oscar that he will be visiting at about the same time.

I have mailed both and asked if we can combine their visits.  I believe Oscar and David will have much to discuss on the trip and will find great pleasure in each others company since they are of similar personalities.

We will need some form of refrigeration at our factory in Cape Town, but not to the size as David is building.  David and Oscar will have many practicalities to discuss.

Another lesson that I have learned is that we can look at cooking methods and technology that are generally available to households and build the products that we produce around these technology.

Take as an example the meat that Andreas’ mom prepared for Christmas.  I see a clear trend that people have less and less time to prepare dishes that were prepared by our grandparents in the home.  Ovens are also becoming generally available to households in Cape Town and this opens up the opportunity for preparing roasts.

If we can prepare neck joints with the skin on and cut in the same way as Andreas did, in narrow lines, cut through the rind and fat, to the meat and we can rub salt and spices onto the meat in the same way as the housewife would do, people who dont have as much time as our grandparents did will support us.

This level of curing and preparing of meat is something that David and his Combrinck & Co never had to do.  They are used to supplying basic joints to clients throughout the Cape Town and surrounding area.  It is here that Oscar and I intend specializing and being different.

Here is my Christmas promise to you.  In two years time, this time, I will be in Cape Town and Oscar, I and the Woody’s team will make you a Prague Ham.

Prague Ham
Prague Ham

I have learned that we will be in the business of creating the exceptional for people from all walks of life.  The fact that they will eat our food is a sacred trust.

The Christmas lunch is coming up.  I cant wait to see the magic that Andreas’ mom has prepared for us.   My sadness of missing you is balanced by the excitement to share with you everything that we are learning.

Christmas love and greetings from Denmark!

Your Dad.

Bacon and the art of living Home Page

 

Notes

(1)   Ice Cold in Africa is the title of a book by Phillida Brooke Simons, on “The history of the Imperial Cold Storage & Supply Company Limited” which was taken over by Tiger Brands in October 1989.  ICS dates its official foundation to Wednesday, 19 February 1902 when it was legally registered in Pretoria.  The company’s origins were much older.  It was in 1868 when a Swiss-born butcher names Othmar Bernard Scheitlin handed the over his business which he owned since 1849 to his foreman Jacobus Combrinck.  The business became Combrinck & Co and dominated the meat trade in Cape Town Peninsula.  When Jacobus retired, he handed over the reigns to David Graaff who was his foreman, just as he has been to Mr Scheitlin.

During the 1880’s David Graaff traveled extensively throughout Europe and the USA to familiarise himself with among other, developments in refrigeration.

Upon his return refrigeration chambers were constructed on the premises of Combrink & Co., thus bringing refrigeration to Southern Africa.

Combrink and Co was transformed into the Imperial Cold Storage & Supply Company Limited who later changed its name to ICS.

By the time that ICS lost its independance, ICS had over 100 subsidiaries as well as branches all over South Africa. (Brooke Simons, P, 2000: 7, 22, 27)

 

Phillida Brooke Simons
Phillida Brooke Simons

This chapter is named in honour of the work of Phillida Brooke Simons who has been responsible for many other books, including ones on South African architecture.  She was the editor responsible for retelling the story “Jock of the Bushveld” by  Sir Percy Fitzpatrick.

One obituary reads: “A distinguished Honorary Life member of the Historical Society of Cape Town, Phillida Audrey Fairbridge Brooke-Simons died on 29 July 2013 and we remember her with deep affection in this memorial to her life and work. Her contribution to historical literature was considerable, particularly in recording the history of the old buildings in the Cape and the lives of those who have contributed to progress in South Africa.”  (Sabinet.co.za)

(2)  My grandparents used a similar system on their farm Stillehoogte in Fredefort district.  The “cooler” had two layers of bricks.  Between the inner and the outer was a layer of insulation of anthracite.  The outer layer was “staggered”.  Water dripped over the outer part of the wall to affect refrigeration on the inside.

The cooler on the farm Stillehoogte.  Taken some time before 1977
The cooler on the farm Stillehoogte. Taken some time before 1977

They continued using the system, well after they got electricity on the farm.

To the right of the cooler, my grandfather, Eben Kok is looking through his binoculars.  He was sitting like that many afternoons to see who was driving over his motor-gates (motorhekke).  He had signs put op next to the gates “privaat motorhek/ private motor gate”.  The idea was that only his family could use these gates. The rest of the people had to use the traditional gates.  He passed away when I was either 7 or 8.

(3)  The French meat processing equipment producer Lutetia used the same basic principle discovered by Robert Boyle in their thawing massager/tumbler (patent 92-07091).

Under pressure, the temperature of steam, injected into a chamber drops and thawing of meat is effected without cooking and therefore denaturing the meat proteins.

Lutetia describes their invention as follows:  “Defrosting is obtained by injecting expanded steam into the massager previously put under vacuum. At low pressure, the steam condenses on the surface of the food at low temperature. So, at 50mbar, the steam condenses at 33°C which is insufficient to lead to coagulation on the surface of the meat. The steam can come from a LUTETIA steam generator or from the factory boiler via the LUTETIA client kit. In order to reduce the humidity level, the massager drum may be fitted with a double envelope fed with a tepid mixture of mono-propyl glycol and water. In order to accelerate the heat transfer and to homogenise the defrosting, the blocks of meat may be passed through the block breaker before defrosting.”  (http://de.lutetia.fr/equipement.php?id=7)

(4)  In 1930 the Crosley system of refrigeration, based on Carre’s cycle was widely sold in the US.  (Kha, AR, 2006:  26)

(5)  In 1891 the Lions (the British Isles) became the first team to tour South Africa.  (Wikipedia. Currie Cup).  The team was entertained on the voyage to South Africa by Donald Currie himself.  It was the maiden voyage of his most recent steam boat.  In Currie’s luggage was a golden cup which he planned to present to the team who performed best against the touring Lions.  The tourists were to strong for the locals and the trophy went to Griqualand West who lost by the smallest margin, 0-3.  (Joffe, E, 2013: 99)

In 1892 the cup became known as the Currie Cup, presented to the winner of a fiercely contested local tournament.  The inaugural Currie Cup tournament was held in 1892 with Western Province earning the honour of holding it aloft as the official first winners. (Wikipedia.  Currie Cup)

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Tristan and Lauren with the Curry Cup, September 2014

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References

Brooke Simons, P, 2000, Ice Cold in Africa, Fernwood Press.

Brown, R.  Design Dissertation Report.  http://issuu.com/archirube/docs/designreportprint2/1#

Dellino, C.  1979.  Cold and Chilled Storage Technology.  Blackie Academic and Professional.

Joffe, E.  2013.  Before Mandela’s Rainbow.  Author House

Kha, AR.  2006.  Cryogenic Technology and Applications.  Elsevier, Inc.

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

http://de.lutetia.fr/equipement.php?id=7

The Cape Town Guide 1897 Cover

http://madadpakjan-sunshine.blogspot.com/2012/05/traditional-denmark-food.html

http://mfo.me.uk/histories/harris.php

http://reference.sabinet.co.za/sa_epublication_article/cabo_2014_a5

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture_of_Denmark

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fl%C3%A6skesteg

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Currie_Cup#History

 

Pictures

Figure 1:  https://www.flickr.com/photos/8270787@N07/sets/

Figure 2: https://www.flickr.com/photos/8270787@N07/sets/

Figure 3:  http://www.gavrilovic.hr/en/product/prague-ham/68/

Figure 4:  http://www.namibiana.de/namibia-information/who-is-who/autoren/infos-zur-person/phillida-brooke-simons.html

Figure 5:  Photo supplied by Andre van Tonder.  I think my dad took the pic.

Figure 6 – 11: Eben van Tonder of the Curry Cup at the Springbok museum in Cape Town

Bacon and the art of living 5. The salt of the earth

October 1891

Dear Tristan and Lauren,

It is autumn. It mirrors my mood as I am writing to you today. As much as I am excited every Monday morning about what is on the menu that week, I am also frustrated because I know that I must get done here so that I can get home. The value in knowledge is not in the knowing, but in the doing.

Everything that I know and learn must translate into products that are sold to consumers who are willing to pay for the goods. If this does not happen, I am no more than a man engaged in mind games. What I learn and the skills I acquire must change into profit for a business.

On the other hand I also know, as another good friend that I met in Denmark has told me, if I have 5 years left on earth and I have to do something new, it will be best if I spend the first four years preparing for it.

Working through the complexities of the matters at hand will have a reward in my life, but also in yours if you would choose to follow on this exciting path. It really seems like the most complicated industry in the world.

Every day is spent on solving a giant mathematical equation.

Lithograph of Livingstone and his party going down the Zambesi rapids Credit: Wellcome Library, London
Lithograph of Livingstone and his party going down the Zambesi rapids
Credit: Wellcome Library, London

The friends name is Martin Sauer. His dad has been in the pork business all his life and has travelled extensively through Africa. I was telling Martin one day all that Jeppe and Andreas has been teaching me. Martin laughed and said that I will spend a lifetime on these matters and must not try and remember everything. When I get back home I will have ample time to go over my notes. More than this, I may learn many new things that may seem to contradict some of the things that I’ve learned. I am looking forward to meet his father because I heard that he met Livingston.

It was a strange thing that Martin told me.  The thing about learning things that may seem contrary to what I was taught at first.   What was even stranger was that the following Monday, Jeppe told me that this was true when it comes to saltpetre and nitrite. Remember that I told you that it is the key ingredient in curing bacon?

This statement is not entirely accurate. The real magical ingredient in bacon is salt!

So opened up to me another vast world. The world of salt.

At night, after supper, we still read Foods by Edward Smith, written in 1867. He writes, “the oldest and best known preserving agent is salt, with or without saltpetre.” (Smith, E, 1867: 34) (1)

Remember the quote from the American Encyclopedia of 1858. It said that “Very excellent bacon may be made with common salt alone, provided it is well rubbed in, and changed sufficiently often. Six weeks in moderate weather, will be sufficient for the curing of a hog of 12 score.” (Governor Emerson . 1858: 1031) (1)

So Jeppe started last Monday, during my lunch time lessons to discuss the matter of salt. As was the case with saltpetre, a world started to open up for me that I did not know existed.

That white substance that I used so many times back in Cape Town and now, here in Denmark, without giving a second thought as to the nature and the power inherent in it.

As I could have guessed, the story of the use of salt goes back much further even than the story of humanity.

Archaeologists in Bulgaria have discovered the oldest prehistoric town ever found in Europe, dating back to the fifth millennium BC.  The area is home to huge rock-salt deposits, some of the largest in southeast Europe and the only ones to be exploited as early as the sixth millennium BC.
Archaeologists in Bulgaria have discovered the oldest prehistoric town ever found in Europe, dating back to the fifth millennium BC. The area is home to huge rock-salt deposits, some of the largest in southeast Europe and the only ones to be exploited as early as the sixth millennium BC.

It is likely that the Neanderthals (2), some 125 000 years ago, that ancient and extinct subspecies of homo sapiens (Wikipedia, Neanderthal) were the first to use salt to preserve meat. They probably prepared and stored food “at locations near readily available salt and may well have learned to preserve food with it.” (Bitterman, M, 2010: 16).

There is evidence that using salt to preserve has been practiced since before the last ice age, some 12 000 years ago. Salt deposits in the hills of Austria and Poland, the shores of the Mediterranean and Dead Sea, the salt springs and sea marches across Europe and Asia would have provided salt to cultures across the world. (Bitterman, M, 2010: 16) To this list I can add the great salt pans and salt springs across our great African land.

It is doubtful that the use of the salt was very sophisticated.

The next step in the development of the technique of preserving meat was curing (2). Adding salt to meat evolved into an art.

A Dutch legend says that the curing of herring was invented by Willem Beukelsz around the early 1300’s. Whether this is entirely true or not, we know for a fact that the Cossacks produced cured caviar. The Romans used a sauce called garum on their food. Garum was made among other with brine (salt solution). (Laszlo, P, 1998: 5, 7, 11)

Marcus Porcius Cato (234 BCE – 149 BCE) or Cato the Elder was a Roman statesman, who devoted himself to agriculture when he was not engaged in military service. (Wikipedia, Cato_the_Elder) He recorded careful instructions in dry curing of hams. (Hui, YH, et al, 2001: 505)

Curing took meat which we culled from nature and brought it into culture. (Laszlo, P, 1998: 14) It turned the art of preserving into an expression of community and “togetherness” by transforming “preservation of food” into culinary delights of great enjoyment.

As our way of life evolved, we domesticated our food sources. We started with the fig, probably many years before we did the same to grain. Archaeologists found domesticated figs dating back to 9400 BCE. Sheep were domesticated around 8000BCE, cattle and pigs around 7000 BCE. (Bitterman, M, 2010: 17)

In the time period 15 000 to 5000 BCE, we developed a need for salt for ourselves and our domesticated livestock. The livestock had to supplement their diet with salt and we needed it for curing and preserving foods, tanning hides, producing dyes and other chemicals and for medicine. “We evolved with a physiological requirement for salt; our culture was born from it. Access to salt became essential to survive. Salt localized groups of people.” (Bitterman, M, 2010: 17)

The Danes are great traders and Copenhagen is a key centre for trading Saltpeter.

The salt mines of Trapani and Pacco, flamingoes with an Arab windmill (WWF Italy Archivi, photo credit: Gerardo Cortellaro)
The salt mines of Trapani and Pacco, flamingoes with an Arab windmill (WWF Italy Archivi, photo credit: Gerardo Cortellaro)

There is evidence that by 1,200 BCE, another great traders civilization of ages past, the Phoenicians, were trading salted fish in the Eastern Mediterranean region. (Binkerd, E. F.; Kolari, O. E. 1975: 655–661) Saltworks were one of the main features of their settlements in Labanon, Tuniaia, Egypt, Turkey, Cyprus, Crete and Sicily.

By 900 BCE, salt was being produced in ‘salt gardens’ in Greece and dry salt curing and smoking of meat were practiced and documented. (Binkerd, E. F.; Kolari, O. E. 1975: 655–661)

Ancient records of 200 BCE tell us that the Romans learned how to cure meat from the Greeks and further developed methods to “pickle” various kinds of meats in a brine marinade. Salting had the effect of reddening the meat and the report of this observation became the first recorded record of the colour effect of saltpeter. (Binkerd, E. F.; Kolari, O. E. 1975: 655–661)

Phoenician ships spread the technology of salt making across the Atlantic, to Spain and as far north as England. India, China, Japan and Africa developed their own salt industries.

Hardly a region on earth or a civilisation could be found who did not produce salt. Salt was taxed, traded, used as currency and consumed on a global scale. (Bitterman, M, 2010: 17 – 25)

The domestication of our food sources, the need for preservation and the technology to produce salt developed hand in hand as features of the spread of culture and civilisation with humans.

What was the mechanism that made salt such an effective preservative?

In order to understand the mechanism of salts preservative power, we must first understand salts composition.

Before the 1700’s, scientist could not distinguish between the different alkali metals. Sodium and potassium were often confused. Potassium was produced artificially by slowly pouring water over wood ashes and then drying the crystal deposits. Some of these metals were also found naturally on the edges of dried lake beds and mines and sometimes at the surface of the ground.

Henri-Louis Duhamel (1700 – 1782) realised that certain metals had similar characteristics. He studied samples of salts found in nature and produced by people artificially. This included the study of saltpetre (potassium nitrite), table salt, Glauber’s salt, sea salt and borax. (Krebs, RE, 2006: 51) He discovered sodium carbonate and hydrochloric acid, a solution with a salty taste, in 1736. (Brian Clegg, rsc, chemistryworld)

In 1802  Humphry Davy was appointed Professor of Chemistry at the Royal Institution and soon after Director of the Laboratory.
In 1802 Humphry Davy was appointed Professor of Chemistry at the Royal Institution and soon after Director of the Laboratory.

Humphry Davy, an English Chemist, was the uniquely talented young man who changed history when he isolated sodium and potassium in 1807.

He had the first direct electric current generator at his disposal, the electric battery that Alessandro Volta had invented in Paris in 1800. Davy ran an electric current through caustic soda (sodium hydroxide) and was able to isolate sodium from it. He did the same for potassium, isolating it from potash.

Chlorine was already being produced through electrolysis by the decomposition of sea salt by the electric current. Caustic Soda and chlorine had many applications by the end of the 1700’s.

Fats were processed with caustic soda to produce soap. Fabrics were being bleached with chlorine, a process discovered by Berthollet. (Laszlo, P, 1998: 50)

In 1807, Humphry Davy found that the “muriate of soda” produced by burning sodium in a vessel full of chlorine was chemically identical to salt. (Brian Clegg, rsc, chemistryworld)

Humphry wrote in 1840, “Sodium has a much stronger attraction for chlorine than oxygen; and soda or hydrate of soda is decomposed by chlorine, oxygen being expelled from the first, and oxygen and water from the second.”

“Potassium has a stronger attraction for chlorine than sodium has; and one mode of procuring sodium easily, is by heating together to redness common salt and potassium. The compound of sodium and chloride has been called muriate of soda, in the French nomenclature; for it was falsely supposed to be composed of muriatic acid and soda; and it is a curious circumstance that the progress of discovery should have shewn that it is a less compounded body than hydrate of soda, which 6 years ago was considered as a simple substance, and one of its elements. According to the nomenclature which I have ventured to propose, the chemical name for common salt will be sodane.”

“Common salt consists of one proportion of sodium, 88, and two of chlorine 134; and the number representing it is 222” (Davy, H. 1840: 247)

The importance of this is that the knowledge that the salt used for preserving food is mainly sodium chloride, existed from the early 1800’s.

It was now possible to analyse the nature of sodium chloride and the other kind of salts that exist. The nature of the composition of salt that has been dissolved in water and the interaction between salt and meat and between salt and microorganisms such as bacteria that are present in meat.

It is possible to look at everything that make up sea salt and salt from inland springs and dry salt beds and we can begin to understand and appreciate the effect of salting meat and how it happens that it preserves the meat.

It was found that salt had other metals and compounds of a diverse, but consistent nature.  These other elements present in salt that we find naturally on earth, do they impact on the curing process at all?  And if so, how? (4)

As I have learned, answering these questions would be very important in order to improve the consistency and the quality of the bacon we cure.

It has been a very busy week-end. Martin took me around the old city.  I am excited to learn more about Livingston from his dad since I have heard that Livingston has seen many of the great salt beds and natural salt springs in Africa.  So much work has been done by scientists in Europe and America, in India and China.  Has there been any discovery in Africa that can help enhance our understanding of the effect of salt on curing in order to improve our processes and procedures and ultimately our products?

I am excited for the new week. Martin agreed to take me along when he is meeting with ship owners who buy their bacon. I hope to learn much from him. He has been trading with many of the Europeans who have moved into the north and central parts of Africa.

I continue to miss you guys. Keep my letters.  Read them often.  Work hard in school.  Help Ava around the house.

Warm greetings, with love!

Your Dad.

Bacon and the art of living Home Page

Notes

(1)  We have seen how pervasive the occurrence of nitrate is on earth.  One expect to find it in every natural salt spring, salt marsh, dry salt lake and in sea water.  “Some curing” will take place with almost any natural salt.  However, it has been shown that bacon that was produced with either no nitrites or nitrite levels of 15 ppm, “off-flavours were high and increase rapidly.  A significant reduction in off-flavours in pork during storage was observed when nitrites were added > 50 ppm.”  (Rahman, SM,  2007:  307)

Salt springs, analysed in South Africa contained as little as < 1 mg/ L of Nitrate (H)

This does not correlate with the statement by Smith and the American Encyclopedia about the fact that normal salt was equally successful in curing meat.

Adding salt enhance the flavour, but it also accelerate lipid oxidation, even at low levels of addition.  Lipid oxidation leads to off flavour development in meat that does not contain any nitrites.  Even a 0.5% addition of sodium chloride significantly increase lipid oxidation when added to restructured pork chops and pork sausage patties following freezer storage.  (Pearson, AM, et al, 1997:  269)

(2) ‘The binomial name Homo neanderthalensis – extending the name “Neanderthal man” from the individual type specimen to the entire species – was first proposed by the Anglo-Irish geologist William King in 1864 and this had priority over the proposal put forward in 1866 by Ernst Haeckel, Homo stupidus. The practice of referring to “the Neanderthals” and “a Neanderthal” emerged in the popular literature of the 1920.” (Wikipedia. Neanderthal)

(3). Meat curing can be defined as the addition of salt to meat for the purpose of preservation. (Hui, YH, et al, 2001: 505)

(4)  It turns out that “food-grade salt of the highest purity should be used in meat curing practices.  Impurities such as metals (copper, iron, and chromium) found in natural salt beds, salt produced from salt springs or sea salt accelerate the development of lipid oxidation and concomitant rancidity in cured meats.  Although salt may be of very high purity, it nonetheless contributes to meat lipid oxidation.  Nitrite and phosphates, help retard this effect.” (Hui, YH, Wai-Kit Nip, Rogers, R.  2001:  492)

 

References

Davy, H. 1840. The Collected Works of Sir Humphry Davy …: Elements of chemical philosophy. Smith, Elder & Co.

Gouverneur Emerson . 1858. The American Farmer’s Encyclopedia. A O Moore.

Hui, YH, Wai-Kit Nip, Rogers, R. 2001. Meat Science and Applications. Marcel Dekker, Inc.

Krebs, RE. 2006. The History and Use of Earths Chemical Elements. Greenwood Press.

Laszlo, P. 1998. Salt, Grain of Life. Columbia University Press.

Pearson, AM, et al.  1997.  Healthy Production and Processing of Meat, Poultry and Fish Products, Volume 11.  Chapman & Hall

Rahman, SM.  2007.  Handbook of Food Preservation.  Second edition.  CRC Press.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neanderthal

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cato_the_Elder

http://www.rsc.org/chemistryworld/podcast/CIIEcompounds/transcripts/salt.asp

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neanderthal

 

Pictures

Figure 1:  http://www.livingstoneonline.ucl.ac.uk/biog/dl/bio.html

Figure 2:  http://www.france24.com/en/20121031-bulgaria-oldest-prehistoric-town-discovered-europe-provadia-solnitsata-ancient-salt-site-archaeology/

Figure 3:  http://www.culturaitalia.it/opencms/museid/article.jsp?language=en&article=/en/contenuti/percorsi/percorso197/capitolo_0004.html&tematica=&selected=

Figure 4:  http://www.engineerswalk.co.uk/hd_walk.html

Bacon and the art of living.

 

 

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“Bacon, that magical delicacy!  Cured pork meat, mostly smoked, with a reddish, pinkish colour and a distinct taste.”  I have always loved it.

The Dutch East Indian Company (VOC) established a trading station at the Cape of Good Hope to supply water, fresh vegetables and meat to passing ships on their long voyage between the East and Europe (Heinrich 2010: 10).  Since this time bacon has been a prized commodity at the tip of the great African continent (Heinrich 2010: 32).

When the VOC’s Jan van Riebeek established the trading posit in 1652, pork meat was in short supply on account of the pigs that came with Van Riebeek found it hard to adapt.  They died within months of landing and piglets did not live longer than a few days. (Heinrich 2010: 31, 32)

Imported bacon has since those days been better than local, heavily salted pork.  As the local bacon from Van Riebeek’s day (Heinrich 2010: 32), the Combrink bacon had to be soaked in water for 16 days before it could be eaten.

My dad was a local magistrate.  Together we would undertake a weekly trip to the Combrinck & Co butchery in Woodstock to buy bacon.  According to him Combrinck was taught how to make bacon by Othmar Scheitlin who started the butchery.  He knew and liked Scheitlin a great deal.

Scheitlin was born in Switzerland.  When he turned 18, he left home.  He traveled through France, Holland, England and Germany, got a job as a cabin-boy and worked his way to the Cape of Good Hope.  Here he set up the pork butchers shop in Woodstock where Jacobus Combrinck was a foreman and later took the business over when Sceitlin returned to Switzerland with his family (Linder 1997: 270; Simons 2000: 7).

My dad would make the hour long journey from our home to Papendorp, as Woodstock was known in those days, once a week to buy quality pork and this would always include bacon!  He would always tell me that the only thing Scheitlin and Combrinck could not do well was curing bacon!

The good bacon was made in Holland and England with sweet Wiltshire Cure and imported by Scheitlin.  I remember my dad buying it.  Every time he took his money out, he would tell Jacobus Combrinck or whoever manned the cash register in a “lecture like voice”, “Quality, quality, I don’t mind paying for quality, young man!”

I was 6 years old when Combrinck & Co moved to an area in Cape Town called the Shamble.  To shop number 4.  The move happened in the 1860’s.

The quality of the bacon did not improve and the stench of the Shamble where the cities animals were slaughtered, would make me intensely dislike the weekly trips with my dad.

They would slaughter the animals and bury the offal on the beach so that the tide would carry it away.  At night, one could hear what sounded like hundreds of homeless dogs fighting over scraps of food on the beach.  By day there was the unbearable stench and the flies.  Millions of flies. (Simons 2000: 13, 14).

My great grandfather on my fathers side fled to Holland from Denmark after the civil war between the Protestants and the Catholic’s.  In Holland he was trained as a miller and limiting opportunities in Holland motivated a petition to the VOC to be sent to the new colony as a baker.  On my mom’s side, my great grandfather came to the Cape as a soldier of fortune, trained in Waldeck, Germany, hired out to the VOC by the prince of Waldeck and sent to the Cape to protect it from the locals and enemy nations.

The family on my mom’s side were at this time living in the Orange Free State and the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek, the ZAR.

The scene was set for the adventure of a lifetime.

Oscar Klynveld was farming with milies, cattle and pigs.  His farm was in the old Boer republic of the ZAR, in the Potchefstroom district.

I knew him from visiting friends in the Fredefort district, close to Parys.  We became friends when I helped him one year to get his chickens to the different kooperasie stores in the district in time for Christmas when his ossewa fell into a ditch during a terrible storm.  We distributed his chickens and bread flower and became friends for life.

I have always been irritated by the thought that the bacon produced in the Cape was of such inferior quality.  Bacon was still being imported from the Britain and Holland to the Cape and sold to the locals as well as to passing ships who were prepared to pay high prices for it.

War and roomers of war were again in the air by the late 1800’s.  I was 26.  The Anglo Boer War of 1881 made me realise that Britain wanted to control the trade route to India at all costs.  They also wanted to control the recently discovered Diamonds from Kimberly and the gold from the Transvaal.  They would never relinquish them!

Unlike most of my countrymen, I did not see any possibility for victory against the might of the British Empire.  Instead, the thought started to develop that we must think past the war and strengthen ourselves economically.  No matter who’s flag was flying in the Cape!  “God only help those who help themselves!” was another one of my dad’s many sayings.

This was the point that Oscar and myself have been discussing at his farm when I told him about the bacon and he told me about his pigs.  How one sow produced many piglets compared to cows and sheep who had few babies in a year.  A picture started to form in our minds.

We made the decision that we would make and sell quality bacon.  Nothing else would do. Sold across our land and to passing ships, the best bacon on earth!

When it seemed imminent that war would break out sooner rather than later, we started to market our plan to carefully selected friends and family.  We needed support for the venture.

A meeting was held in Oscar’s voorkamer on the farm.  It was a bitterly cold night.  A hand full of burgers came.  Oscar’s wife, Trudie, expecting their 3rd daughter was there.  My Ava was there.  James and Willem, Oscars two brothers came and Anton his father-in-law.

Oscars dad was a minister in the Dutch Reformed Church.  He opened the meeting with scripture reading and prayer and said a few words.

We decided that since my kids were in primary school already in Cape Town, I have to go.  Travel to Europe and Britain and learn the art of curing bacon!  Oscar would stay behind, muster the support and prepare for our factory in Cape Town.

We decided not to go to England straight away.  On the one hand there was the fear that war could break out any day and this would jeopardize our quest.  On the other hand, since my ancestors came to the Cape of Good Hope from Denmark and since an old spice trader advised us to visit Copenhagen first, the decision was made to start there.

The next thing I knew, cold Free State wind was in my face and I raced back to the Cape through Bloemfontein.  I spend a last week-end with my Ava and the kids.

We hiked up our beloved Table Mountain.  It was the mountain that brought us together.  As kids we would spend hours and days exploring its majestic cliffs.  As teenagers we both acted as guides, taking European and American visitors to the top.

We climbed one of our favourite routes.  At the top we sat for a long time, looking down on a growing city.  A small mountain stream ran all the way from a crack in the mountain where a gorge has been formed by geological activity that non of us understood, through the city basin, past the VOC castle and into the sea.  I wished the moment would last forever!

Before I knew it I was off to a waiting steam ship in the Cape Town harbour and the adventure of a lifetime!

What follows is the collection of letters I sent to friends and family from Europe and later, from the Cape Colony.

We set out to discover the art of curing bacon.  In the process we all changed.  During the quest, we not only had to learn the art of curing meat, we came face to face with ourselves and who we are.  Our deepest fears and hopes.  We learned about love, family, great friendship, trust, comradery, courage and following an unlikely dream.

These letters tell both the story of bacon and the art of living.

 

 

(1) Heinrich, Adam R.  2010.  A zooarcheaelogical investigation into the meat industry established at the Cape of Good Hope by the Dutch East Indian Company in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, The State University of New Jersey.

(2) Linder, Adolphe. 1997.  The Swiss at the Cape of Good Hope. Creda Press (Pty) Ltd

(3) Simons, Phillida Brooke. 2000. Ice Cold In Africa. Fernwood Press