Salting bacon (meat preservation part 5)

Onward in the Oeconomia: Coler’s word on bacon and its dishonest sellers

To salt bacon and keep it long

(marginalia: bacon, how it is to be salted and kept for a long time)

You salt bacon just as you do salt meat and then hang it into the smoke, and when it has smoked enough, you hang it up somewhere in the house or elsewhere that the air can reach it. But in fortresses where they hang up and store many hundreds of flitches of bacon (Speckseiten), half pigs and such things, one must pay attention at what time it was hung up and in what year so that you check each year and make sure to eat the ones that are beginning to turn maggoty and are about to spoil, and replace them with others. But when you notice it turning maggoty, take salt and vinegar and make a brine (Salzwasser). Brush the hams or flitches with this, pour it over or brush them all over, especially around the hams for it turns repulsive (garstig) most quickly around the bones. On how to salt hams, see Cato de re rust. Cap 162, Palladium lib 2 c 19.

To sell bacon

(marginalia: bacon as the profiteers (Wucherer) are prone to selling it)

Here I must point out an evil ploy of the fraudsters (Schinder, lit. skinner or knacker) who like to take advantage of their neighbour. As soon as they have slaughtered the pig, they sell the bacon because it is still fresh and thus it weighs again as much as when it is fully dried. Many fatten fat pigs, let the best of the grain be shaken out in the mill, they bake with that and give the rest to the pigs, that makes them nicely fat. Then they sell away the bacon all fresh and keep the other meat. Thus they can have the meat for free. These are well-provisioned people like the priest (Pfaff) Magnus who ate the eggs and gave away the broth for the LOrd’s sake.

Bacon (Speck) is among the most common ingredients in German Renaissance cuisine, and almost any wealthy household must have made its own. Since it tended top be used in smaller quantities, but preserved in large chunks, managing its state of preservation would have been a concern. Re-salting and treating it with vinegar probably helped, as did keeping track of which piece was oldest. Especially sop if you had a large supply to keep.

Interestingly, the military writer Leonhart Fronsperger addresses the same issue in his 1563 Besatzung, a treatise on how to manage, equip and provision fortress garrisons. He writes:

And when bacon is to be had in the towns and country the same should be kept provisioned at all time. And if it were the case that this bacon should hang too long and there was concern that it was growing too old and spoiling, the same should be fed to and sold among the troops over time and replaced with new. That way, you will always have a good supply.

(p 13)

It makes you despair of the state of bacon soldiers would regularly see.

There is yet another reference to a classical source, this time Cato the Elder’s de agri cultura cap. 162. Palladius II.16 (not 19) is such a brief and summary reference that its purpose can only be showing off the writer’s erudition.

Coler’s second paragraph is a warning to incautious buyers, and it suggests that bacon was fairly expected to be quite dry when sold. The abuses he describes – abstracting grain from the mill, feeding pigs on what would rightly be other people’s bread, and selling bacon before it was fully cured – are commonly lamented and fit into a wider pattern of distrust of the market. We have no way of knowing how commonly millers defrauded their customers or vendors adulterated foods, but we can say they were generally suspected of doing so all the time. The words he uses are interesting: Wucherer normally means a usurer and, by extension, a hoarder (Kornwucherer held back grain in times of dearth), but here is clearly intended to mean a fraudulent seller. Schinder literally referred to people who skinned and disposed of animal carcasses unfit for human consumption, a job that towns often reserved to servants of the executioner and that always carried a severe social stigma. Again, it is clearly being used as an epithet to disparage fraudsters. Nobody in his right mind would buy meat from an actual Schinder.

Finally, the reference to the Pfaff Magnus is an example of the commonplace anticlericalism that pervaded popular culture in Renaissance Germany. Pfaff originally was a title for a secular priest, but by the sixteenth century had become the derogatory epithet it continues to be. Sideswipes at the venality and hypocrisy of priests, especially Catholic ones, were as common at the time as quips about the mendacity of politicians are today. Even Coler, a man of the cloth himself, happily joins in, knowing full well that it does not mean HIM.

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