Editor’s Note: This is the second part of a two part series.
In 1866, recipes were printed in brochures with directions for preserving meat without refrigeration. One recipe directs that 100 pounds of meat be covered with salt for 24 hours to draw out any moisture and kill any bacteria. The meat would then be cleaned of salt and packed in wooden barrels. Salt brine would then be prepared consisting of seven pounds of salt and cayenne pepper, one quart of molasses and eight gallons of fresh water. This mixture was then poured over the meat and the lid sealed on the barrel. This meat preparation would preserve the meat for months.
Unfortunately, the meat when removed from the barrel was too salty to eat without further preparation. The meat was usually boiled for a few minutes to remove most of the salt. It was then tenderized by pounding it with a wooden hammer, but by the end of the hot season, the meat would be getting pretty rank. In the hot climates, food became highly seasoned to preserve meat and cover partially spoiled food.
There were several recipes for curing hams, most of which involved smoking them. First, hams were soaked in salt for a number of days. The hams were then packed in barrels and salt brine was poured over them. The hams were then rubbed with saltpeter and a gallon of molasses was added to the brine then soaked for five or six weeks. The hams were then dried and smoked. After slow smoking, the hams were rubbed with ground pepper to keep insects and flies off.
Pork steaks, pork chops and roasts were salted and cooked until half done. The meat would then be placed in jars with lard for preservation. When needed for meals, the pork would be taken out and the roasting or frying would complete the cooking. Lard was also used to pack and preserve beef in sealed jars.
Bacon was either packed and cured with salt or smoked. A large piece of “salt pork” was usually added to a pot of beans for seasoning and flavor. A cup of coffee and a slice of smoked bacon in a piece of cornbread or tortilla would often become a meal when on the trail.
The sailing industry often pickled meat, eggs and fish, in vinegar and oil for the long voyages. Some also packed the meat in fine ground charcoal which would preserve it for a year.
While serving in Vietnam, I tried their dish called Nuoc Mam. This was a Vietnamese fish sauce made with fermented fish and served with Bun Cha, a type of noodle. The fish was fermented until the meat fell off the bones, then strained to remove the bones and scales. This method preserved the fish and made it into a thick sauce. A person would be able to smell the aroma a block away. The Korean dish, Kimchi, is the fermenting of cabbage and other vegetables. It is usually served as a side dish or served over rice or noodles. It also smells like rotting cabbage. I think it is an acquired taste that I haven’t captured at this time.
In 1810, decades before Pasteur discovered that heating food killed bacteria and prevented sickness, a French inventor named Nicolas Appert found that placing food in glass jars and heating them would sterilize and pasteurize the food. This was before anyone realized why pasteurization was effective. This process quickly made its way to England and the rest of Europe and became the foundation of canning food. This new method of preserving food became so popular that the British Admiralty ordered 3,000 pounds of canned meat for the navy fleet.
In 1852, spoiled meat from another supplier known for his cheap prices caused mass condemnation of canned foods and canned foods suddenly became distrusted. However, the trust was restored when the process of preparing condensed milk appeared by Borden.
Today it is easy to just open the refrigerator or freezer, pop something into the microwave and in minutes have a complete meal.
We’ve come a long way from eating jerky.