One day last week, after filling the basement wood stove with birch, my kitchen took on a familiar smell that I couldn’t identify. Similar to that of yet-to-be-worn moccasins, or tents aired out after a camping trip, I puzzled over the aroma until my memory dug up a match: Habacure, a commercial salt mom rubbed on chunks of fresh pork to turn them into tasty cured bacon.
Not until I arrived in Terrace did I know anyone who smoked their own bacon instead of curing it.
As a kid, mom cured our bacon using a reddish-brown salt crystal that came in a tall cardboard tube similar to Tinker Toys.
Known in its natural state as saltpetre, it is the natural mineral source of the chemical potassium nitrate, a white crystalline solid, usually encountered as a powder.
Whether the aroma of Habacure was artificially induced or not, I don’t know, but it tantalized my taste buds as I helped mom apply the salt to the fresh pork.
The curing procedure took several weeks, beginning as soon as the butchered carcass was well hung out to drain all blood.
Mom divided the bacon cuts into two- or three-pound chunks before applying the Habacure.
Though lovely smelling to work with, applying the Habacure ranked low on my list of favourite tasks. Brought up from the root cellar, the meat was always cold, near 40°F, but never freezing. Gradually my fingers chilled and stiffened, and the salt itched my wrists.
“Rub each piece liberally all over with the Habacure,” mom would say. No surface or crease could be overlooked. We scooped out a handful of Habacure and vigorously rubbed it into every crevice.
Once each piece had been salted on all surfaces, they were fitted snugly into a large crock, covered with an upside down dinner plate, carried down to the dark root cellar, and the plate weighed down with a rock.
Periodically – perhaps once a week – the crock was brought back up to the kitchen and the pieces piled in short stacks on the kitchen table. The crock was emptied of all brine, washed, repacked with freshly rubbed pieces of pork, and the crock returned downstairs.
How many weeks the cure took I don’t remember. But when mom declared the cure complete, and sliced bacon for breakfast, it was every bit as scrumptious as any commercially-cured bacon.
Mom diced it to fry with leftover boiled potatoes as a quick meal on washdays, ground it before frying it crisp and baking it as a topping over macaroni and cheese, or added it to sandwiches.
Rural Saskatchewan lacked electricity until 1952, the year I graduated high school. But in 1947, a butcher in Edam 10 miles away opened up the area’s first freezer locker plant powered by two diesel engines.
He rented big lockers capable of freezing much of a butchered pig or cow. He also parcelled and wrapped the meat into portions depending upon a housewife’s size preferences, or made sausages.
From then on, much of our meat was fresh frozen though it necessitated a weekly trip to the locker plant to bring home enough meat for the week.
We kids looked forward to the drive, capped by an ice cream cone from the drugstore with its row of vinyl stools, just like in Happy Days. Sitting waiting in our car, we also got to watch the town’s teenagers endlessly strolling past on Saturday night.
Until the power arrived along with a refrigerator, our milk, cream and daily supply of fresh meat was kept cool in a bucket lowered on a rope into a well halfway to the barn.
Every meal meant a trip to the well to bring up milk, and another trip back afterward.