When my Dad was in charge, he never “made” breakfast, he always “scared it up”. When living in a cabin – he assured us – he would leave the door open so that he could run outside just in time to catch the manually-flipped “flapjacks” as they exited the chimney. I thought of all that last week as I noted an unexpected “find” in a nearby meat department, thereupon bringing home a lovely, glistening, five-pound “pork belly”.
After drying the exceptionally lean fresh cut, I covered it with a dry rub of salt, pepper and brown sugar (my private stock of maple sugar too precious to reduce further), and set it to cure, wrapped, in the bottom of my outdoor refrigerator where I was careful to turn it several times daily over its five-day aging process. Rinsed, dried and ready for the most sacred step of all, it went into my pre-heated smoker over chips of maple wood where I tended it lovingly for about five hours. With a golden “bark” and an internal temperature of 165 degrees, I pulled it out to cool gently before slicing thick quarter-inch slabs redolent of sweet-salty maple magic.
The next morning, I made a brief stop at our hen house to pick up a couple of just-laid brown eggs before putting a skillet on the heat. I drank in the incomparable smoky smell of the first few strips of hours-old bacon which I set aside on kitchen toweling when half done. Spooning just a jot-and-a-tittle of hot pan fat over the quivering yokes, the bacon returned just in time to get re-acquainted and back to temperature before it was savoring time. You’ll have to cut me some slack for believing that I haven’t scared up a better, sweeter-tasting breakfast than that one in a very long time; and I still have at least 4.5 pounds of incomparable smoked pork belly to look forward to.
Back on the Vermont hillside farm of my teenage years, the smoking fire would have been funneled underground through several feet of smoldering maple chips or dry corn cobs before being “trapped” in an inverted wooden barrel where the bacon and hams hung suspended, for a longer period of time. We had no “electric freezer” back in those times and in that far northern clime, and along with other parts of the pigs and other farm animals the cut meat leavings were merely wrapped, labeled and placed on shelves in an old outdoor cabinet in our woodshed where they kept frozen solid until May – or maybe June.
My Dad was probably fortunate to pass on from this world before such wonderful breakfast fare became “illegal”.