A few years ago I posted a story about a brunch organised by the English smallgoods company, T. Wall and Sons at the Savoy Hotel in London, to promote their new product. This was called Macon - pronounced with a hard ‘c’ to indicate that this was ‘bacon’ made from mutton.
Mutton bacon may have been a new product for T.Wall and Sons, but it was hardly a new concept. Instructions on how to prepare sheep like pig suddenly appear in great numbers in cookery books from about 1730 onwards - but the practice is likely to already have been well established for a very long time before this. Curing the back (bacon) or leg (ham) of a sheep is a pretty obvious alternative to performing the same process to pork, because the sizes of the animals are not too dissimilar, and it is hard not to believe that sheep farmers pining for a bit of bacon did not think of the idea before the seventeenth or early eighteenth century. But making such assumptions is not the true way of the historian, so I will put the investigation of the history of mutton ham on my (very large) pile of pending projects!
For some reason, in the aforementioned post, I did not give the instructions for making mutton ham or bacon, so before I look at other cured pork alternatives, here is the advice given by Charles Carter in his book, The Compleat City and Country Cook (London, 1732):
For Legs of Mutton Ham Fashion.
You must have Hind-Quarters very large, and cut Jigget Fashion, that is a Piece of the Loin with it; then rub it all over first with Bay Salt, and let it lie one Day ; then put it into the same Pickle above-mentioned, and in seven Days it will be red through; then hang it up by the Handle, and Smoke-dry it with Deal Dust and Shavings, making a great Smother under it, and in five Days it will be ready; you may boil it with Greens, and it will cut as red as a Cherry; so serve it Ham Fashion.
There is no shortage of mutton-ham recipes in old Australian newspapers – after all, the country was ‘built on the sheeps’ back.’ The Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW) of 26 November, 1898 gave the following instructions:
A mutton ham, if properly cured, makes a nice breakfast dish either boiled or broiled, but I recommend the latter method of cooking, treating the meat as would be done in the case of a bacon ham. Choose the small leg from a freshly-killed sheep. Then mix a pound of dry salt, an ounce of bay salt, half an ounce of saltpetre, and two ounces of coarse brown sugar. Make these ingredients hot in the oven, then rub the leg most thoroughly all over; it should lie for a week, but must every day be most carefully rubbed with the hand, and turned on each occasion. At the end of the week, mix half a teacup of good vinegar, and a teaspoonful of black pepper; put this into the pickle, and rub and turn every day for another seven days. Then drain off the brine, wipe the meat dry, and hang up in a place free from damp to dry- When a month has elapsed the ham will be fit for eating, and found most delicious; but on the careful rubbing and turning does its excellence entirely depend.
And the following version, from The Land (Sydney, NSW)of 6 December 1946 ups the ante by ‘corning’ (curing in brine) a leg of lamb, and then cooking it with a piece of bacon – presumably to improve the flavour and further enhance the deceit.
Ingredients: 1 leg lamb corned, 1 piece boiling bacon, 1 or 2 lb., few onions, cloves, herbs, 1 tablespoon vinegar.
Method: Weigh joint and bacon and reckon time of cooking, 20 min. for lamb and 20 min. over per lb. and 25 min. for bacon, put all into tepid water, bring to boil and boil gently until tender, remove bacon as soon as tender, remove the joint, take out bone in the pocket where bone came from stuff [with] bacon, then press between two dishes with heavy weights on top, keep in cool place until cold. This is delicious served with slices of cold chicken.
If no sheep, then what? I have an interesting, but rather awful and now entirely unlawful, idea from the past for you today:
When nicely saved and smoked there is nothing more delicious, and it imparts to cabbage or greens boiled with it a rich and tender flavour. The flitches and cheeks are the best parts, and pepper and sugar should be used more freely than salt or saltpetre. A nicely roasted tender hare, with a bit of this bacon, is good. The hare should be stuffed with a pudding of bread and oysters, a little thyme, pepper, salt, parsley, &c if basted with the juice of the oysters, and a little butter mixed through it, it is most delicious.
The country house, a collection of useful information and recipes, ed. by I.E.B.C. (1866)
There is another rather awful, but competely lawful, type of not-real-bacon of course. It is the vegetarian version - which may very well be tasty in its own right, but in which I fail to find any connection to the taste or texture of the real thing. As my final offering, I give you the following example, which would be perfectly fine, I am sure, if it were named Bean and Nut Loaf.
I quart kidney beans ½ pint almonds
½ pint English walnuts 1 can pimientos
½ pint black walnuts 1 tablespoonful salt
½ pint pecans 1 saltspoonful black pepper
Soak the beans over night; next morning drain, cover with fresh boiling water, boil twenty minutes; drain, throw the water away, cover again with fresh water, and boil until tender; press through a colander. Chop the nuts and pimientos. Add them, with all the other ingredients, to the beans. Form into a small ham and place on a greased paper; brush with melted butter; bake in a moderate oven one hour. When done, take out the ham, brush it again with butter, dust it thickly with breadcrumbs and brown. Serve this cold, cut into thin slices.
Mrs Rorer’s Vegetable Cookery and Meat Substitutes (Philadelphia, 1909)