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an ode to bacon
originally published in the carrboro free press
by margot carmichael lester
9.30.08
general

I didn’t realize how bad my bacon habit had become until a few weeks ago. There we were dining in the lovely Salish Lodge restaurant, perched over Snoqualmie Falls near Seattle. Everyone in the place was transfixed by the view of the falls, the Cascades and the river. Me? I couldn’t take my eyes of the plate full of rashers on the vacant table next to ours. The folks seated next to us had ordered the delectable side and – get this! -- never laid a finger on it. I reckoned they had planned to save it for a hike or something. But when they pushed away from their table, there it was – not even in a go-box. Just sitting there, abandoned. What a crime!

While we waited on someone to come take our order, my husband Steve soaked up the commanding view, but I couldn’t take my eyes of that pork. It was perfectly cooked – not too done, not too floppy. Just right. My stomach growled, and I instinctively reached across to snag the tasty…

“Honey!”

It was Steve, thrusting reality into my pork-induced dream. And just as the busboy swooped in to clear the table.

“What a tragic waste,” I muttered.

***

Hi, my name’s Margot and I’m a bacon-holic.

I don’t remember my first taste of bacon. As an umpteenth-generation Southerner, it’s always just been there, right alongside its kissin’ cousin, country ham. As is my birthright, I cotton to all pork – belly, jowl, loin – in all preparations – barbecue, sausage, baked, broiled, fried, etc. But it’s bacon and country ham that really get my engine revvin’. And bacon that I eat most, because, honey, have you tried to find decent country ham north of the Mason-Dixon? Let me tell you a secret: don’t even.

But bacon? It’s everywhere. And artisan producers are dishing up some incredible flavors. Right now – I know because I just went in to check – there are six different kinds of bacon in my stash (and two containers of bacon grease, too). As a card-carrying Bacon of the Month Club member, I’ve had the pleasure of tasting several varieties of small-run Hungarian smoked bacon, honey bacon, cinnamon-sugar bacon (outstanding with French toast, let me tell you what!), garlic bacon, Tellicherry peppercorn bacon, and sel-du-mer bacon (talk about an amuse bouche!).

I’ve tried a bacon-infused cocktail. And I even wanted to try that bacon ice cream fellow Southern Belle Cat Cora pulled together on Iron Chef. Y’all can recoil, but I think it sounds awesome. Still, I’d do ol’ Cat one better and sprinkle some pig candy over top of it. Now you’re talking!

Those fancy things are all well and good, but for my money, a good thick-cut slice of plain-old small-farm-produced bacon is the only meat that really matters. Just slap some butter or bacon fat in the skillet and cook those suckers up. (You can mash it flat with a brick if you’re particular about aesthetics. I ain’t) And I make it in quantity, because, you know, I have to do a lot of quality control.

How much do I love bacon? Let me count the ways:

• I would eat it all the time. I’ll eat bacon any time and in or on any thing (have you tried it on a grilled-cheese sandwich with a slice of tart apple? Wheelaw!). It may be what’s for breakfast, but at my house it’s for lunch, dinner and snack-time, too.

• I have loved and lost for it. I continued to date a guy who was colossally wrong for me because he made fantastic bacon every Saturday and Sunday morning. Another dude wanted to date me, but despite the mutual admiration, when I found out he eschewed pork, I had to say “Bless your heart” and move on. The thought of seeing someone who thought bacon was wrong was even wronger.

• I would inflict bodily harm for it. I was raised a lady – heck, Granny had me curtsy to her guests – but I’d stab a fork in your hand if you reached for the last slice of bacon without checking with me first.

I can’t tell you exactly what it is that makes bacon my favorite food. Maybe it’s the sweet-saltiness of the meat. Or the chewy factor (what dandies might call “mouth feel”). That delectable mix of fat and lean. The fact that it goes with everything, just like my Great Aunt Nan’s pearls. Oops, does that count as casting pearls before swine?

When all’s said and done, I reckon it just boils down to the simple fact that bacon is a lot like love. It can’t be rushed – and when you do it almost always ends badly (is there anything sadder than a charred strip of bacon? I think not.) Rather, good bacon like good love, requires time and attention. And, like that special someone, you just can’t get enough.


ABOUT MARGOT CARMICHAEL LESTER

Margot’s a content strategist and freelance journalist. She consults with and/or writes for businesses large and small, and new and traditional media. She’s also the author of four books, including Be a Better Writer: Power Tools for Young Writers -- co-written with her husband, Steve Peha -- won the 2007 Independent Publishers Association gold medal for teen/young-adult nonfiction. She is currently working on two additional titles in the Better Writer Series, one for college students and another for corporate employees. A Southern belle and sex symbol for the intelligentsia, she was born, raised and still lives in Orange County, N.C.

more about margot carmichael lester

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COMMENTS

russ carr
9.30.08 @ 9:27p

You are sadly accurate in the inability of 90 percent of the United States to produce anything approaching the smoky, salty goodness of real country ham. It is the sine qua non for ham biscuits, red-eye gravy, and my favorite Thanksgiving stuffing. Fortunately for me, there is mail order.

But ah, there is worse than charred bacon: the abandoned bacon of your Snoqualmie rendezvous. Bacon cooked wrongly is irresponsible; bacon ignored is unconscionable.

Due to the aforementioned ham deprivation, my fallback breakfast of champions is a fried egg and bacon (three strips please!) sandwich. A couple of slices of wheat toast, a sprinkling of salt and pepper, and maybe a daub of mayo for lubrication. A couple of those and a mug of black coffee and I'm well-fueled, if a bit worse for the cholesterol. Hang the bran cereal and the donuts; "the most important meal of the day" demands meat, and there's nothing better than crackling strips of our pal, the pig.

[edited]

margot lester
10.1.08 @ 10:29a

truth be told, russ, i would go far beyond a mere fork-stabbing over the last piece of proper country ham.

alex b
10.13.08 @ 5:53p

Heavens, I don't understand how I missed this, but so glad I found this.

cheryl l
10.24.08 @ 1:09p

Have you seen Vosges chocolate "Mo's bacon bar"? It is truly delish... chocolate AND bacon, mmm-mmm-good!

margot lester
10.24.08 @ 1:21p

oh yes i have. if only i'd TASTED it, though.



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