My one consistent concession to better health has been to give up bacon.
I know. I know.
My relationship with bacon is long and deep. I see quite clearly the griddle that covered two burners and my mother frying it up for us on the rare mornings we had bacon. Boxes of cereal and loaves of bread by the toaster were our usual fare, with each kid rotating around the kitchen table as we descended from upstairs to fight over who got to read what cereal box and to complain about globs of jelly in the butter.
Would you stand at the stove turning bacon over and over with a fork for this bunch of ingrates? Neither would my mother. But come summer, and by that I mean late summer, with fresh tomatoes—home grown tomatoes — stacked in pyramids in every grocery store, my mother fried bacon like a madwoman, and we had bacon and tomato sandwiches for weeks.
They were my father’s favorite sandwich and we found great benefit in this. Mother, too, benefited from it, because it meant an easy supper, one in which she would gladly substitute two hours of peeling potatoes, chopping vegetables, searing meat for twenty minutes of bacon turning.
Once a friend and I, on a tight schedule to get back to the office, raced to a local breakfast buffet—we were starving and strictly speaking weren’t supposed to be off-campus—and after insisting on a table by the steam tables, made such a spectacle of ourselves with the bacon, that we paid our bills and slunk out, vowing never to return until the memory of our behavior had sufficient time to fade in the minds of the wait staff.
We never went back.
There is something about big mounds of fried bacon that thrill me no end. It is almost primal, like the “fight or flight” response, and I can’t be completely responsible for my actions. For years I attended the Appalachian Writers Workshop in Hindman, KY. In the early days the meals were prepared by local women, good country cooks, and always on the long tables with bowls of scrambled eggs, melons and piles of biscuits was a big stainless steel bowl of jumbled up fried bacon.
Mounds of it. And they kept it coming, a new bowl emerging from the kitchen as soon as the one on the table ran low. Thinking of my mother patiently turning strips on a griddle, I stuck my head in the kitchen once to ask how they managed to serve up so much bacon for such a large group.
“We deep fry it,” was the answer.
Deep fried bacon. Let us ponder that for a moment.
Yes, it is rapturous.
But, things change and eventually all the dire warnings about nitrates and nitrites and nitrosamines sank in and I have eschewed bacon for better health. That, and I am too lazy to stand there turning it for 20 minutes. And it makes a terrible mess that I am also too lazy to want to clean.
But then, I discovered two things, two things of equal importance.
I discovered I can cook bacon in the oven—the same twenty minutes required, but now I can read a book while the bacon is cooking.
And I discovered Sally Nash’s tomatoes.
A friend told me about Sally Nash, stating boldly that her tomatoes were the best home grown tomatoes ever, and she hesitated telling me, because selfishly, and quite rightly, she wanted to make sure there wouldn’t be a run on them.
I get it. I hesitate to tell you now.
I wait until mid-July, early August to start my BLT feeding frenzy. I insist on only field grown tomatoes and I have discovered the smaller tomatoes seem to be sweeter and better able to fit on bread. Which must be good hearty country white bread to stand up to all that mayonnaise. and by mayonnaise, I mean Miracle Whip.
I buy thick cut bacon, and it doesn’t matter much which brand. I lay out the strips like little soldiers on a big baking sheet, and go put my feet up. Lunch will be ready in soon. I don’t make excuses, I don’t rationalize, I enjoy.
The window for such indulgence is very small. Two, three weeks tops. But my grease container has been restocked for the coming winter, my memories of my mother burnished, my soul—I’m not kidding, my soul—restored.