As you can imagine, I spend quite a lot of time looking at old books; that’s what wizards do, after all.

It seems that I’m not the only one. Recently, John and Charlotte (owners of the amazing Mangaliza pigs) lent me “Handy Guide for Pork Butchers” first published in 1905 and like many of its contemporaries there are multitudes of dry-cure and brine recipes for bacon, ham, brawn, salt beef, sausages and so on.

In many cases, the salt and saltpetre levels are both very high for today’s standards. I mean this both in legal terms and for our modern tastes. Our palates have changed much in the last 100 years, and there is less emphasis on the need to preserve food for leaner times.

Still, there’s a lot to be learned from these recipes. I thought I was being my wizardly self when I realised that what sustains pork in life (ie, the blood) would therefore provide all the vitamins, enzymes, sugars and trace elements that would make a brine really very special. Until I found a 1916 recipe that requires the addition of a quart of blood.

Anyway, I digress. There are one or two terms that are often used in such recipes, and the meanings are becoming obscure. So to assist, here are some of them translated.

Bay Salt. This is not salt with bayleaf powder. It is salt from the bay of a sea. In other words it is natural, unrefined sea-salt in large crystals. The size of crystal makes a big difference in dry curing, and the flavour makes a large differing in dry curing, a subtle one in a brine.

Kosher salt. There is nothing non-kosher about salt of any sort. Again, it is the size of crystal that counts. Kosher salt (salt for koshering) is generally a large grain of crystal similar to that you would put in your salt grinder for the table. It need not be rock salt, but might be.

Saltpetre. Potassium Nitrate, still much in use today although almost never without sodium nitrite along side. For commercial purposes, a mximum of 250mg/kilo of pork is permitted. You can use original recipes at home without ill effect providing you do not have an allergy and I recommend keeping it away from very young children who’s metabolism is not developed to use nitrate (unlike an older child-adult which has specific strategies to utilise nitrates)

Sal prunella. Our forefathers thought they were purifying saltpetre when they made this. The process involved mixing high-grade charcoal and saltpetre together, heating in a kiln and pouring the result into moulds to create briquettes of Sal Prunella. Actually, this is potassium carbonate (very strong alkali) and potassium nitrite: the very thing (along with sodium nitrite, which does the same thing) which modern curers use.

Molasses and sugar. Ok, you know what those are. But a word of warning. They ALWAYS mean from sugar cane, and not from sugar-beat. It makes no difference in a dry cure, but you’ll start to see some differences in a brine that you boil regularly.

So that’s a helpful start, I hope.

Happy curing!

Jasper aka BWiz

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