living in an era when there is no refrigeration. None at all. If
you live in a town you might get ice delivered to your house every
week or so during the spring, fall, and winter, about twice or three
times a week during a Southern, Texas,
or Southwestern summer. However, if you live in the country, you're
not going to have ice except as a special treat a few times a year.
Of course, if the creek nearest your property freezes over during
the winter-thick ice, not thin-you might go down and saw chunks
of ice out of the creek. Unless you've got well-insulated underground
storage for it, it's not going to last much past the middle of June.
So-how are you going to preserve meat for late spring, summer, and
early fall eating?
Meat was dried-the stuff called 'jerky' from what Native Americans
called it, though the practice seems to be world-wide. In sub-Saharan
Africa exactly the same stuff is called 'biltong.'
It was pickled. It was smoked. Those were about the only ways of
to DR. CHASE'S RECIPES OR INFORMATION FOR EVERYBODY, the thirty-sixth
edition of which came out in 1866, here are some recipes for preservation
of meat without refrigeration. One of the recipes for preserving
beef deals with hundred-pound lots, which would not be unusual on
a farm or ranch. First you would thoroughly cover the beef in salt
'to draw out the blood.' After the beef remained in the salt for
twenty-four hours you'd drain it and pack it into a wooden barrel.
Then you'd prepare the preserving brine. This would consist of seven
pounds of salt, one ounce each of saltpeter (potassium nitrate,
also used in making gunpowder) and cayenne pepper, one quart of
molasses, and eight gallons of 'soft water.' That was usually rainwater
caught in barrels and allowed to settle until all the dust went
to the bottom of the barrel. This you'd bring to a boil and 'skim
well.' You'd then let it cool, pour it over the beef, and put a
lid on the barrel.
Now, obviously, this stuff is gonna be mighty salty when you take
it out of the barrel. What you'd do to get rid of the salt would
be parboil the stuff-throw it in a pot of water and boil it for
fifteen or twenty minutes. After that you could cook it in whatever
way you wanted to. Unfortunately, parboiling has an unfortunate
effect on the meat. It makes it about as tough as boot leather.
After the meat was parboiled but before it was cooked a good cook
took a heavy metal skillet and pounded the meat with the edge of
it to tenderize the stuff.
By the end of summer, the onset of autumn, this preserved beef would
be getting a mite 'high,' to say the least. The primary reason rich
brown gravies and tangy sauces were invented was not to 'enhance
the flavor of the meat,' but rather to disguise the fact that it
was pretty far on the way to being rotten.
preserve mutton-the hams only-you were advised to put the mutton
hams into a weak brine for two days. Exactly how much salt
made a 'weak brine' isn't mentioned. After that, for each one hundred
pounds of mutton hams put six pounds of salt, an ounce of saltpeter,
two ounces of saleratus, and a pint of molasses into six gallons
of water and pour it over the mutton in the barrel. You would leave
the mutton in the brine for two to three weeks and then take it
out, dry it, and apparently dry it as you would jerky. According
to a note, the saleratus kept the meat from getting hard.
were several methods of curing hams, all of which involved smoking
them. Mr. Thomas J. Sample of Muncie, Indiana, writing in 1859,
prepared his hams this way. To what Mr. Sample called a 'cask of
hams'-he apparently used large casks, for this recipe is for twenty-five
to thirty hams-he allowed them to lie in salt
for two or three days. He then packed them in casks and poured his
brine over them. The water-he doesn't give a quantity-had to have
enough salt added
to float a 'sound egg or a potato.' That's a lot of salt.
To that he added a half-pound of saltpeter and a gallon of molasses.
He then left the hams in this brine for six weeks. After that time
he took them out, drained them, dried them, and smoked them. Dr.
Chase adds that immediately dusting them, upon removing them from
the smoke, with finely-ground pepper will keep flies off.
A Marylander, Mr. T. E. Hamilton, who took several first prizes
at fairs with his hams, did it somewhat differently. First he rubbed
the hams with fine salt and let them sit for two days. He then made
a brine of four gallons of water, eight pounds of coarse salt, two
ounces of saltpeter, one and a fourth ounces of potash, and two
pounds of brown sugar. This he poured over the hams and let them
pickle for six weeks. After that he took them out, drained them,
dried them, and smoked them. Having eaten Virginia smoked ham myself-though
it's been well over half a century-I can testify that the hams of
Virginia and Maryland, which are very similar, are great.
have pork chops or pork steaks for summer from the winter kill,
this method was used. After pickling the pork 'until it is salty
enough to be palatable,' you would fry it or cook it until it was
about half to two thirds done. Then you would pack it into airtight
jars in its own lard. According to Dr. Chase, when you took it out
and finished frying it or cooking it, it would be as fresh as you
could want. He mentions having handled beef in the same way, packing
it in lard, and that it was preserved, as well. Bacon was also prepared
like this. After being cured and smoked, it was cooked about half
way, then packed in lard in airtight containers. According to Dr.
Chase this worked on the same principle as canning, by excluding
air from the meat.
One method Dr. Chase mentions would supposedly preserve meat for
as long as three years. He recommended packing it in finely-ground
charcoal. (Don't try this with modern charcoal briquettes. They've
got a lot of petroleum products in them as well as charcoal-and
not just the 'light the bag' kind.) Apparently this is the way the
British Royal Navy packed meat for long voyages. Dr. Chase mentions
that Captain Cook sailed three times around the world with the meat
for his crews packed in powdered charcoal, and the meat was still
edible at the end of the third year-long voyage.
Oh, yes-to preserve eggs, pack them in finely-ground corn meal.
According to the recipe, eggs will keep 'perfectly fresh' for up
to a year this way. Now-aren't you glad you live in the era of home
"Charley Eckhardt's Texas"
February 21, 2008 column