Saturday, April 14, 2012

Early Virginia Hams and Bacon

I've been reading the journal of Nicholas Cresswell, a young Englishman who came to Virginia in 1774 with the ambition of making a fortune as a planter. He got sideways with his neighbors after the Revolution broke out and he refused to support the rebellion.  Threatened with "Tar, Feathers, Imprisonment, and the D---l knows what," Cresswell fled Virginia in 1777 and ended up returning to England.

Before he departed, though, he captured in his journal this excellent account of the art of curing bacon and ham in Virginia:
The bacon cured here is not to be equalled in any part of the world, their hams in particular. They first rub them over with brown sugar and let them lie all night. This extracts the watery particles. They let them lie in salt for 10 days or a fortnight. Some rub them with hickory ashes instead of saltpetre, it makes them red as saltpetre and gives them a pleasant taste. Then they are hung up in the smoke-house and a slow smoky fire kept under them for three or four weeks, nothing but hickory wood is burnt in these smoke-houses. This gives them an agreeable flavor, far preferable to the Westphalia hams, not only that, but it prevents them from going rancid and will preserve them for several years by giving them a fresh smoking now and them.
The hogs, he noted, grew fat in the woods on a mast of "acorns, Walnuts, Chestnuts, and all wild fruits").

And now I'm officially hungry.

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