For hundreds of years people have been salting, curing, and smoking bacon to preserve it. In the days before the refrigerator nearly all meats were cured in some way shape or form and it was common for households to have their own smokehouse. These days with the convenience of grocery stores, the art of home charcuterie has gone by the wayside in favor of paper thin, limp, boring bacon. The good news is it’s making a comeback with folks who want to take control of their food, and it is way easier than you think! With a few basic ingredients and a pork belly you have the chance to experiment with flavors and bite into some of the most delicious bacon that has ever graced your plate.
If you don’t raise your own pork, call or stop by your favorite butcher shop and ask for a pork belly. You may find that you need to place an order, but a few days wait is a small price to pay. I recommend a 5 pound belly for your first try. While you are at your butcher, ask them if they sell Pink Curing Salt (Cure no. 1 is what you will need for this bacon) This is what cures the bacon and it is necessary to ensure the safety of your final product. Some butchers will sell it to you in a 4 oz package, which is more than enough to cure a 5 pound pork belly. If you cannot find Pink Curing Salt in a store, you can easily find it online in any quantity you desire.
Pink Curing Salt is tinted pink to avoid confusion with table salt (Do not confuse with Pink Himalayan salt!) It contains sodium nitrite and sodium chloride which staves off food-borne illnesses like botulism & listeria. -You’re probably thinking ”aren’t nitrates supposed to be bad for you?”. According to the FDA so long as they are used in the correct amounts these nitrates are proven to be safe. You also may be thinking: “Why can’t I do this without nitrates?”. The recipes that say they are nitrate free utilize celery juice in the curing process. (Those gray nitrate free hotdogs at the store look really yummy don’t they?!) Celery contains naturally occurring amounts of nitrates, so they aren’t really “nitrate free”. Secondly, the amount of nitrates in celery isn’t standard. The nitrate levels in one bunch of celery can be different from the next due a number of factors: where it was grown, the nutrient level of the soil etc. all effect the quantity of nitrates it contains. This variance in nitrate levels is why I value the consistency of commercially produced Curing Salts when curing meats safely for my family. Unfortunately botulism is a horrible thing that really does happen, and I take it seriously.
I’m really excited to share my recipe for homemade meat candy…um…I mean bacon with you. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do. I also hope you will discover a new hobby!
Maple Bacon Recipe:
The amounts of Salt, Sugar, and Curing Salt are absent since the amount of these ingredients varies depending on the actual weight of your pork belly. BEFORE BEGINNING to ensure accuracy I recommend weighing all ingredients. I got a digital scale from Amazon for a very reasonable price. Head on over to this fantastic cure calculator to convert your pork belly’s weight from pounds to grams then simply enter the new number in the cure calculator to get accurate weights for salt, sugar, and cure, then continue.
One pork belly (about 5 pounds)
In a small bowl combine the following:
2 Tablespoons Ground Black Pepper
2 ½ teaspoons paprika
Cure no. 1
Rinse the pork belly with cold water, pat dry. Rub the curing mixture over the entire surface of the pork belly.
Place the rubbed pork belly in a 2 gallon zip-lock bag, rest it on a rimmed cookie sheet and pop it in the refrigerator.
Once every day flip the bag of pork belly to rest on its other side and give it a good massage. Repeat this process for 7 days.
On day 8 remove the pork belly from the bag and rinse it off in cold water and pat dry. Place it on a rack on top of a cookie sheet to catch any possible drips and return it to the fridge, uncovered for another 24 hours.
Smoke the now cured pork belly (I like to use maple or apple wood) until an internal thermometer reading reaches 150 degrees (it takes about 2 -3 hours, check it frequently)
While the bacon is still warm from the smoker, sprinkle it with a very light dusting of maple sugar.
Allow the bacon to cool completely in the refrigerator before cutting. It makes it a lot easier to cut. Cut to preferred thickness by hand or with a meat slicer. Package in desired amounts, store in freezer for future use.
“Crush and strain” is a perfect method for a small scale beekeeper to extract honey. This method also yields a higher quantity of wax than standard capping and extracting methods since the entire comb is used and not just the caps. It requires little to no investment, and believe it or not, top quality honey and wax can be extracted/produced with items you already have in your kitchen. After a horrendous first year of beekeeping bloopers back in 2012, I have found some items that have helped to resolve my crush and strain woes.
Here are a few tips from someone who has learned the hard way:
Always use cold water when rinsing beeswax before processing. Never hot. While hot water may seem like a quicker way to remove honey residue from crushed comb it only serves to compound the mess. Beeswax melts quickly and can and will ruin all of your utensils and your kitchen and your life..which brings me to my next point.
Have a dedicated wax rendering tool set. That ugly pot in the video up there? $4 at bargain mart. Wax is it’s sole purpose. I’ve been using it to render beeswax for years now, and this thing has seen some serious abuse. Abuse I would never ever put my daily kitchen set through.
Wax rendering is a job left best in the garage or the barn, or outside, just not in your kitchen.
Beeswax is highly flammable so use caution. Do NOT let kids do this.
Yes…you can use a microwave but it takes for-eh-ver, the heat is uneven, and in my opinion it doesn’t smell as “bee-like” as it does using the hot water bath method.
Now that we have all that cleared up, lets get to the tutorial!
*This tutorial begins assuming you have already crushed your honeycomb, strained the honey and are now in possession of a pile of crumbled comb free of honey. (A honey crush and strain tutorial is on the docket for spring)
Rinse and dry comb that has been strained of honey and place in a pint or quart sized jar depending on how much comb you have
Bring a small sauce pan ½ full of water to a boil, then place the jar of comb in the boiling water and allow it to melt. You may have to poke it down and stir it every now and then. (I like to use a chop stick for this.) until is it totally melted, it can take some time depending on the quantity you are melting.
While all of that is happening, grab an old pair of panty hose and cut the toe end off at about 6 inches. Slide the hosiery over a vessel you wish to strain the melted wax into. (I use silicone measuring cups for an easy pour spout and simple clean up).
Once melted, pour wax through panty hose. We are straining the wax to remove impurities such as straw or bee fragments…it happens every now and then. You’ll also get teeny tiny amounts of propolis and pollen. You can toss it or you can save it to make a propolis tincture when you have enough.
Pour strained wax into prepared wax molds. You can buy molds that say “beeswax” in pre-measured sizes or you can use silicone molds, or an old muffin tin (FYI: 1 beeswax muffin puck weighs approximately 2.5 ounces in case you were wondering.)
Let wax cool completely before removing from molds. And SNIFF! Ah! Nothing smells better! Store in a cool dry place.
After some time passes you may notice that your wax develops a cloudy coating as it cures. This is called “bloom” and it is perfectly harmless.
The average going rate for beeswax is $5.00 per ounce…if you can bear to actually sell any.
Since some of you may be wondering why I “rinsed the honey residue” from the crushed comb when many people like to place their comb on a pan in the apiary and allow the bees to clean the comb for them. My reasoning is simple: This action promotes a behavior called “robbing”, it’s when bees from other hives come and steal resources from another hive. Robbing also calls attention to our rather large population of Bald Faced Hornets we have in close proximity. Bald Faced Hornets come and rob the crushed comb intended for the honey bees, then when they have exhausted that pile of free food they wage war on our bee hives, killing and eating the bees, the larvae, and the honey. Bald Faced Hornets have killed a few of our hives in the past (hives that were new and trying to establish themselves), for this reason I forego the gesture and clean the comb myself.
In our region apples had a very good year and the trees were loaded! While we don’t have apple trees on our property we have a few people we call “apple angels” that let us come pick their trees when there is an over abundance. I processed about 4 bushels of apples this season into apple sauce, apple peel jelly, apple pie filling, and I made my personal best record of fresh apple pies. My apple corer peeler had seen a lot of action, so much in fact that I’ve actually began to enjoy the monotonous task to the point that its almost become a zen thing for me. I just fill the sink with apples, give them a nice swishing around in fresh water with a splash of vinegar and start cranking away, often forgetting to count out the apples as I go. To make sure I’ve got enough apples prepared for the empty pie shells waiting to be filled on the counter I find that going through my apple scraps and counting cores works perfectly for when I’ve zoned out and forgotten to count. Or you could just count them out ahead of time…I just like to live on the edge apparently.
I’ve even roped my kids into helping! Little O enjoys it just as much as I do, and Jake likes to crank in the wrong direction. The other night O helped me peel and core a whole bushel of apples! We made 7 apple pies and the rest of the apples were loaded onto the trays of my dehydrator and dried into what is probably one of our favorite snacks.
I’d like to share my apple pie recipe with you, its got to be my favorite apple pie I have ever eaten…maybe it simply tastes so good because I made it myself, or maybe it really is The Best Apple Pie Ever. I do know this: So long as you bake it, it will always be the best.
The Best Apple Pie Ever
For the crust:
• 1-1/2 cup flour
• 2 tablespoon sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 2 tablespoon + teaspoon cold lard or Crisco
• 1/3 cup butter
• 1/4 cup cold water
1. Add all ingredients to a large bowl, using a pastry blender or fingertips work the lard into the flour, then slowly add water continuing to blend until dough begins to stick together.
2. Roll into a ball and turn out onto plastic wrap and chill up to 3 hours.
3. Before baking, remove from plastic wrap, roll dough out, and place in pie pan.
For the Filling:
6 Apples (a variety of tart and sweet)
1 ¼ tsp Cinnamon
¾ cup Sugar + more for top
Sprinkle of Nutmeg
½ tsp Vanilla
1 Tbs Lemon Juice
3 Tbs Minute Tapioca
1 whole egg beaten for top
1. Fold all ingredients together.
Pour into prepared crust, apply top crust in your preferred method.
Brush top with beaten egg & sprinkle with sugar.
Place pie on a cookie sheet, cover top in foil. Bake at 425 for 20 minutes, remove foil. Reduce temperature to 375 and bake for 25 minutes.