I can never understand what it is about bacon.
It is the one thing that vegetarians are always asked – ‘Don’t you miss bacon?’
And as for Americans, they seem to be obsessed with the stuff. People on forums declare ‘Bacon Days,’ one (veg) blogger has a strapline of ‘Bacon is not an herb.’ (Cringing at ‘an herb’ – I really hate treating H as a vowel – like an hotel, but that’s for a different post).
At one point I knew a fair amount about bacon. Or rather, I knew a lot about Danish rolled bacon. And ham.
My parents sold the stuff. They sold a lot of it. They must have done, to only work three days a week, still make a decent living, pay for my private education, buy expensive cars, clothes, eat well, drink and smoke.
So onto bacon. Mostly it is sold flat, ie unrolled, but where I lived bacon came rolled. A bit like everyone preferred haddock to cod, they also preferred rolled bacon.
Bascially, it means that instead of getting back (expensive), or streaky (cheaper), you get the two together. In a roll. Quite clever really.
We bought middles, sides, and threequarters. This refers to how much of the dead pig you are buying. The middles are shorter, and fairly easy to carry. The threequarters were massive as they included the hams at the end. The sides were even bigger.
Somewhere on the side was the shoulder. As we had a reputation for selling top quality bacon, it was incredibly difficult to sell this part of the dead pig. My father would sell off half pound papers of shoulder at one shilling and sixpence, later it was seven and a half pence, post decimalisation. Later it went up to 15 pence. But what people wanted was the rolled middle.
We started loading up from home before seven and arrived at the market around half seven. My dad and I unloaded the trailer/horsebox, around seven or eight middles to sell on a Saturday, a side or two, some threequarters, and three or four cheeses (50/55 lbs). Then we had to unload the bacon machines. Hugely heavy.
Once we were set up at the stall, my father would start cutting the bacon. He was incredibly fast, and piled up papers and papers (approx 3 or 4lbs in weight) to fill our display boxes. At the time, we had the best display on the market. He turned the machine with one hand and caught the bacon with the other and flicked it over onto the sheet of film. Yes, I know. Hygiene regs would say that was appalling but I doubt anyone died from it.
Most people bought half a pound. Others bought one or two pounds. Some people just pointed and said I’ll take all that. A few regulars, would ask for an amount and ask me or my mum to choose which one we liked best. It didn’t matter to them whether it was smoked or plain, just whichever one we thought would taste the best. It was usually, the smallest, and most tightly packed roll, incidentally.
Ordinarily we cut bacon on a number six setting. Some people liked it thinner on number five, so they would wait for my dad to cut a pound or so specially for them. Others liked it thicker on number seven.
I mentioned the shoulder, but there was also the corner, or ham corner. This was extremely popular. Not quite ham, but more like large pieces of back. There wasn’t much of it on a threequarter so it sold very quickly. Ironically you could sell expensive corner and struggle to sell bits of shoulder at one shilling and sixpence.
People would ask my dad to cut a slice of ham with the knife because they wanted a thick slice, and he refused, saying he could do it accurately with the machine – usually setting number 12 I think. He could pretty well gauge how to cut a pound slice, or the thickness someone wanted.
As tastes changed, and fickle customers wandered off to supermarkets, we had to change what we sold. No more smoked ham. No more sides or threequarters, just middles and individual hams.
Originally we had gone down to one of the three railway stations in town to collect from the Danish Bacon Company. Later, as rail went the way of all things, they delivered to us in trucks, once or twice a week. After that, we used a local supplier who ran an excellent business. I used to love going to sit in Uncle Bert’s office, while my dad went around the factory to inspect the bacon. Finally, we ended up using Makro. Not the same to me, but to be fair, not bad quality.
My dad rarely ate bacon. Not surprising really. He was probably sick of the sight of it. He preferred a boiled egg for breakfast. Whenever he made breakfast for my mother she got a boiled egg. When I made breakfast for her she got bacon and egg. Which she always said she preferred.
As for me, I grew up on two rashers of bacon for breakfast. Bacon and tomato, bacon and mushrooms, bacon and courgette, occasionally bacon and egg.
I took the stuff to university. Kept it in my wardrobe cupboard so I could knock up a few sandwiches. More lack of hygiene but I didn’t get food poisoning.
It was a staple food. It came free and it was always around, but it was hardly gourmet. Just. Bacon.
So I’m always perplexed about people wondering how I can exist without bacon. Easy.
We had a neighbour whose daughter was vegetarian. She was posh Yorkshire (there are a few of us), and he was mediocre Newcastle. She was posh Yorkshire vegetarian in fact. So he would sneak out and eat bacon sandwiches at a local cafe. Everyone knew. Eventually she found out too. They got divorced. How not to cheat on your wife. Over bacon???