LookBack11.11

The local Future Farmers of America encouraged its members to engage in pig farming. Here, member Rhea Dalton feeds pigs in this 1960 photo from the school yearbook.

Part of living in the South involves tradition.

Southerners have a bevy of traditions that range from our accent to our choice of overalls for wearing on the farm, to what sports we play and certainly to the foods we eat.

Last week we saw how cornbread became a Southern staple. That is, it is an important part of the Southern table.

But equally important is eating pork.

We have written about pork before in our series of articles on country ham, but we will repeat some of that because the food item we are writing about this week is bacon!

When our nation was settled, the pioneers hunted for their meat. They typically ate venison (deer), wild turkey, rabbit, and had a real fondness for bear meat!

As towns were settled, pigs were brought over from the Old World and pork was on the table!

Of course cows were also brought over from Europe, but there was a difference in eating beef and eating pork — an important difference.

Because people a few hundred years ago had no form of refrigeration, beef was a difficult meat to preserve. If a steer was slaughtered it was cooked in its entirety and eaten over a short period of time, or else it would go bad.

Pork, on the other hand, was easier to work with. It could be cured and placed in a cool place and would keep for months. Curing was done with salt, and every farm had a smokehouse for helping with the curing process.

While every farm had a milk cow, it rarely had a herd of beef cattle but always had a small pen of pigs.

In written records from the colonial days we know that pork was a regular part of the American diet. And we could list all of the various cuts of pork we consume, but we will now divert our attention to bacon.

Hogs were slaughtered in the fall or early winter after a few good frosts, because cutting fresh meat in hot weather makes it easier for the meat to go bad and would ruin its taste.

Families would get together and have a long day of killing a few hogs, gutting the bodies, scrapping off the hair, cutting it into pieces and even grinding up parts for sausage.

The fresh meat could then be cured by soaking it in brine (salty water) or rubbing it with salt and placing it in huge wooden troughs and covering it with salt. Once cured it could then be smoked in the smokehouse, which makes it more resistant to spoiling and adds to the flavor of the meat -such as in country ham.

Bacon is a cut from the belly of the hog or from less fatty parts of the back. The word “bacon” comes from the Germanic “bakkon,” meaning “back meat.”

But why was bacon so popular in the colonies and how did it end up on the breakfast menu?

In many foreign countries, breakfast is a grain- or oat-type meal like oatmeal or Cream of Wheat. Bread, cheese and fruit are also a popular meal.

However the American diet quickly took to frying a slice of thick-cut bacon for breakfast, and then cooking an egg or two in the leftover grease from the bacon. Bacon and eggs are as popular today for breakfast as they were 200 years ago.

The ease of frying a slice of bacon in a hot skillet also made it a typical evening meal, and early taverns and inns would offer a rasher of bacon with bread as a supper meal. “Rasher” meaning a side of meat.

European travelers would complain that the only meal available to them on the frontier seemed to be a slice of thick bacon and bread.

On the farm, it was common for the wife of the family to cook extra biscuits and then take the leftover bacon grease and pour it onto sliced biscuits. She would then wrap them in newspaper for the children to take to school for lunch.

And bacon was used for seasoning when cooking other cuts of meat, or for vegetables. A small crock of bacon grease was on every kitchen shelf to use for frying and cooking, back before Crisco was invented.

Today even fast-food restaurants offer “breakfast all day” — thanks to our good old tasty bacon!

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