A city girl meets a farmer who changes the way she thinks and feels about food. This blog looks at farming in a whole new way. How far removed are we from our food? We're not eating like our grandparents -- not even close. Hope you'll stick around to find out why and what can be done to change that for everyone!
Sunday, January 8, 2012
For the Love of Bacon (and an English Hog Farmer's Son)!
The way to a man's heart is through his stomach.
Mom said so and I believed her. When Richard and I met, I began stuffing my husband. Yes, you heard me and no, it was not taxidermy! It was down home Southern cooking. We hadn't known each other very long until he enjoyed the comforts of homemade fudge, biscuits and milk gravy, waffles loaded with fruit and cream, beans and corn bread, real fried chicken, kale greens, chicken and rice stew, cajun sweet potato fries, and thanks to me his first omelette just to name a few things that graced his plate. All these "stick to your ribs" meals were complimented by more desserts than you can imagine.
I was crazy about him. He loved southern food. So, sweetening him up was absolutely necessary you see (at least, that is what my mama always told me). Or maybe I'm just old-fashioned and there was some deep part of me that desperately needed to declare my domestication. It had been in a dusty old trunk in the attic cubby to that I will attest. A single girl's cooking never exercises culinary skill. Unless, of course, you count the graceful way one deposits a tray into the microwave as a plus.
One morning my darling husband asked for a "fry up" by which I deduced he must mean something from a skillet. Translation skills and culinary expertise. My tool belt definitely needed a few more loops! So, after a brief exchange the American determines this is fried eggs and whatever else. I begin frying what I know to be bacon. However, this was not what my dashing Englishman had in mind at all. My husband pleasing radar was in good order though as I did not fry the strips crispy. That would not have done at all but since it was more on the chewy side but well done husband smiled through breakfast as we made cow eyes at each other. Then, he breaks the news.
"Darling, in England this is not proper bacon. It is what we call streaky bacon. A proper bacon is back bacon. We may flavour a recipe with streaky but we would never serve it with eggs."
Sliced English Back Bacon
Utter and irreversible culinary failure!
"There's more than one kind. I mean, well, there is Canadian bacon," I started.
"No, darling. That is not bacon either. I don't know why they call it bacon for it most certainly is not bacon. It is gammon or what you call ham."
"Oh," I said voice trailing into the distance.
For heaven's sake, I needed a recovery and had none.
"Do you mean fat back? Salt pork? Jowl bacon?"
"It is part of the back, yes, but the meaty portion."
"Oh, my mother uses fat back to season beans. You wouldn't want to eat it fried though that would be pretty gross."
All I could do was apologize. There was no such thing in the grocery stores that I had graced. At least, until, my husband and I discovered Jungle Jim's the ultimate foodie paradise, which boasts a section containing all things English including back bacon! (And I knew in that moment that there was a God above who loved me because He led us to find what my husband really wanted to eat!).
American bacon is essentially pork belly while English bacon is cut from the back, not the belly. It is remarkably lean giving off very little grease when cooked. It is meant to be cooked well but not crispy to retain its succulence. This was an education for me. And, I started feeling a little duped. Why are we eating pork belly when a proper butcher's guide tells you different? I even happened on a British girls' blog living in America who asked, "Where can I find real bacon? I found the streaky pork belly and fat off the back but what did they do with the meaty round portion? What did they do with the rest of the pig?" Interesting, eh?
For the health conscious reader, I was amazed to learn that each slice (what husband calls a 'rasher') whether American or English will cost you about 100 calories (calories will vary on slice thickness, of course). However, the English bacon contains 5 grams of protein per slice drastically defeating its fatty opponent that only has 1 gram of protein per slice. I humbly admit that America doesn't have everything if we can't get a butchering facility in our nation to slice a proper piece of bacon. Folks, we've been hoodwinked.
At first, I was skeptical too but marrying the son of a hog farmer who also operated a chain of butcher shops in England left me with little argument. They know the anatomy of the animal better than I ever could. A followup trip to an old-fashioned butcher shop complete with a huge poster naming all the pork sections proved his case. My question still remains though, "Why is the land of opportunity only cutting pork belly fat for us? If the three big killers are heart disease, diabetes, and colon cancer then why aren't they providing healthier options for the people?"
It's not only the fattier portion but so chemically infused that it defies the word 'curing'. Real bacon, just like it was made years ago in this country, was cured with salt and brown sugar. It was not infused with brine, dextrose, nitrates, and nitrites. Bacon in Britain is still cured the old-fashioned way, which is much healthier and truer to the beast. I hate to admit it because I love American bacon. The grease definitely has its uses too in southern cooking but the truth is they have sold us chemically infused fat and told us it was bacon. Yes, it is a bacon of sorts but Europeans only chop this in bits and use it to flavour dishes (lardons) and the Italians do much the same and call it pancetta. It is a flavouring not a meat portion cured with salt and brown sugar, not a chemical cocktail.
Pork is NOT the other white meat. Pork is a red meat if it has been properly raised on pasture or in the woodland, not fattened in an 18x24 space with about 20 other pigs bumping into it with its only diet being corn and confinement. That is not how a pig should be raised. If they are raised the right way, they are also one of the cleanest animals. If they put all of us shoulder to shoulder in a feed lot, we'd smell pretty special too after awhile.
So, the flesh is whiter because they are...malnourished, cheated, cheaply fattened on corn, duped just like the folks they are bred to feed. In 1991, the media took off with that slogan. In March 2011, the Pork Board changed their slogan to: "Pork. Be Inspired."
What's wrong with this picture? I mean, why not stick to that 'white' lie?
The pork has lost its flavour and color due to commercialization and confinement with no grazing. Folks may notice. Let's drum up a national campaign for pork as a white meat and tell the whole world it is just as good as chicken!
Pork sales rose 30% in 1991 due to that advertising. Right in line with the new lie about corn sugar....I'll save that for another blog.
Large Black (Devon) Sow on Pasture
This was my first discovery on the road to getting closer to my food. There's more. Tons more.
Every greasy bit is open for discussion too. If you would like any links, let me know. Otherwise, Google away because the information is out there. Most of us just don't google pork production on a daily basis. We watch TV and catch every commercial though, and we believe them.
Next up: Pork Production Then and Now (with guest, Richard Boutall)!