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Hog’s flesh salted or pickled and dried, usually in smoke. — Webster, 1882

Mr. Ely quotes some of the prices that prevailed during the blockade: Beans, 10@12 cents per pound; beef, 20@25 cents; pork and bacon, 18@26 cents; potatoes, 6 cents; sugar, 20@25 cents; butter, $1.00; eggs, $1.00 per dozen. — May 16, 1881.

noteThe part of the hog or pig commonly used for bacon is the thin part of the ribs or belly, salted and either dried or smoked in slabs. In Laura Ingalls Wilder’s day, bacon wasn’t purchased already sliced and packaged (much less already precooked!), but was cut from the smoked slab as needed. The Ingallses raised their own bacon, and although Laura only writes about having a pig in Little House in the Big Woods during her growing-up years, she is fully capable of handling all that is involved in preparing the meat from a fat hog butchered in The First Four Years. Of course she must have experienced this at some point in her past dozen or so years!

Breakfast Bacon. Cut off the rind and smoked part; slice very thin; cook in a frying pan until the fat is tried out and the bacon is dry and crisp, or fry in deep fat. Drain on paper, and serve alone or as a garnish for beefsteak. — Mary Johnson Bailey Lincoln, Mrs. Lincoln’s Boston Cook Book: What To Do and What Not To Do in the Kitchen (Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1884), 246.

Bacon fat. In frying bacon, fat is rendered off and collects in the frying pan, as seen in the photo. It may have bits of crisp or burned bacon in it, or other debris. If you fry a cut-up potato in this grease, most of the icky (but tasty) bits will stick to the potato, leaving your grease fairly clear. You can then pour the fat into a container for storage, or use it – as Caroline Ingalls did – as the shortening or butter in cornbread, to fry other meats or eggs in, or as a flavoring when cooking cabbage or other greens. In a pinch, you can use chilled bacon fat in place of shortening when making biscuits. In warm weather, bacon fat can go rancid rather quickly, so modern cooks should keep it in the icebox.

How to Save Your Bacon. For more than thirty years past the Germantown (Pa.) Telegraph has published the following recipe for making brine to cure hams, bacon, and meat designed to be permanently kept in pickle: To one gallon of water add one and one-half pounds of salt, one-half pound of sugar, one-half ounce of saltpeter, and one-half ounce of potash. If pure potash cannot be obtained omit it altogether. In this ration the pickle can be increased to any amount desired. Let these be boiled together until all the dirt from the sugar rises to the top and is skimmed off. Then put the pickle into a tub to cool, and when cool pour it over the meat. The meat must be well covered with pickle, and should not be put down for at least two days after killing, during which time it should be sprinkled with powdered saltpeter, which removes the surface blood, leaving the meat clean. Some omit boiling the pickle, and find it answers well, though the operation of boiling purifies it by throwing off the dirt always found in salt and sugar.

This recipe for curing has been extensively circulated: For every sixteen pounds of meat take one pint of pure salt and one ounce of saltpeter. Pack the hams in a tight cask, shanks downward, and sprinkle the salt between them. Dissolve the saltpeter in water and pour it over them. In the course of twenty-four hours add sufficient water to cover the meat. Let the hams remain in the brine six weeks and then smoke. In hanging them in the smokehouse let the shanks be downward. By so doing, the juices will remain in the meat and give it a delicious flavor. An English recipe for making brine is as follows: Four pounds of salt, one pound of sugar, two ounces of saltpeter and two gallons of water. This will cute as much meat as can be covered in the pickle. It is difficult to tell how much salt and other antiseptics to employ, or how long to employ them, without knowing how the meat is to be smoked.

In the South, where most excellent bacon is made for home use, the meat is never placed in brine, but is rubbed and kept covered with dry sugar and salt till the meat is well flavored, and is then transferred to the smokehouse, where it is subjected to the action of dry air and smoke for several weeks. The meat loses much in weight, but has fine keeping qualities, although it contains but a small amount of salt. In places where bacon is put up for the market it is common practice to cure the meat in common salt brine, letting it remain in it till it is wanted for sale, and then to subject it to a dense smoke, just long enough to give it a brown color and a light flavor of smoke. Hams, shoulders and side bacon, cured in this way, are greatly inferior to those to which the salt and other antiseptics are applied in a dry form and which remain in a dry atmosphere slightly charged with smoke for several weeks. – Lake Preston (Dakota Territory) Times, December 29, 1881.


note“Brought home the bacon” / “Save the bacon.” Literally, the phrase means “to succeed in winning the prize, or in winning one’s point.” It appears that the common phrase of saving or bringing home the bacon long pre-dates the early American carnival sport of trying to catch a greased pig in a ring. In Farmer Boy (Chapter 18, “Keeping House”), Almanzo and Royal mimic the sport when trying to catch poor Lucy, Almanzo’s pig whose mouth has been stuck shut because of the pulled candy Almanzo gave her; Lucy ran between their legs and upset Almanzo, and Lucy “whirled and dodged and ducked and ran like anything.”

In Nathan Bailey’s dictionary of 1720, an index of “Canting Words and Terms used by Beggars, Gypsies, Cheats, House-Breakers, Shop-Lifters, Foot-Pads, Highway-men, etc.,” he included this definition for “bringing home the bacon”: “the Prize, of whatever kind which Robbers make in their Enterprise.” This suggests that bringing home the bacon meaning prize was understood as early as the eighteenth century. Saving the bacon had a related meaning in this early dictionary; it commonly was used to represent any “narrow escape.” It is also interesting to note that the compiler of this old collection considered that the phrase, “to save one’s bacon,” had a related meaning. — Charles Earle Funk, A Hog on Ice and Other Curious Expressions (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1948), 183.

Charles Ingalls puns that he “saved the bacon” by keeping it away from bears. Young Laura may not have understood the multiple meaning of the phrase. To her, Pa literally kept their bacon from being eaten; he was not winning anything new, but was in fact keeping the family from a great loss: their year’s pork.


bacon (LHP 4; TLW 20; THGY 13)
     bacon fat (LHP 5)
     “brought home the bacon” (BW 2)
     “saved the bacon” (BW 1; PG)
     home-cured and hickory-smoked (TLW 20)