Those of us who are in the UK recently had the opportunity to watch Channel 4’s Mummifying Alan, a program in which an chemist in the Archaeology Dept of Manchester University was finally able to test his theory of how the very best Egyptian mummies were preserved.

This he did with the donated body of cancer victim Alan who has been in some fashion made immortal by the processes of mummification and arguably by filming.

Anyone who missed this amazing program can catch up over the next couple of weeks here:

In the meantime, it opens up possibilities for a certain wizard who lives to preserve pigs.

The vital ingredient was “natron” or Egyptian salt. This differs from ordinary salt by containing much sodium carbonate decahydrate, and sodium bicarbonate, as well as trace nitrites.

Well now. The former chemical is pretty nasty, but bicarb as we call it in the UK is common in baking as a rising agent when mixed with acid.

Could we all be missing a trick when we have a convenient alkali for sterilizing meat? This reverses most of what I know of curing, which tends to be slightly acidic.

Bicarb is also used in Chinese cookery to tenderise meat, but salt and saltpetre are renowned for toughening protein. Perhaps there’s a balance to be found.

Meanwhile, Alan (RIP) was also treated to a makeover of beeswax and sesame oil which combination was to protect any vital parts (skin especially) from the strong natron brine.

I am already envisioning a ham with a honeycomb and sesame-oil rub! And to stop any nasty holes which can attract flies (such as where the femoral artery opens-out in a whole ham) they used pine-resin which I know to be both edible (retsina anyone?) and antibacterial.

Lastly, the bandaging and dehydration of Alan’s donated body was a beautiful and extreme example of the care we should take when wrapping our hams in muslin cloth and air-drying.

Experiments will follow on my part!

Meanwhile, Alan remains in a lab for study, but his wish was to eventually rest in a museum.

If this happens, I plan to visit him and “commune” how delicious his eternal legacy and that of Dr Buckley happens to be. And while you dear reader will not thank me for this, he would have enjoyed being accused of ham-acting.



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