April 4, 2011
LIMA Before there were refrigerators and high-tech, granite-laden kitchens, there were smoke and salt and guys like Mark Mohr.Absent the convenience of refrigeration, the pioneer cook's job entailed not just preparing but preserving the nightly meal. As Mohr pointed out Sunday to a group at the Allen County Farm Park, the work was time-consuming, but essential.It could take a long time, a month or more, depending on what you're smoking and the space, but the meat stays good a long time, Mohr said.Smoked and cured meats were essential to survival for anyone who was away from fresh food sources for long stretches. There were three basic methods used, dry curing and hot and cold smoking. Curing involves coating the meat in salt and sugar or saltpeter and storing it in a cool, dry space until the chemical response cures the food. Hot smoking entails salting then hanging the meat in a smokehouse with a fire source. Cold-smoking is similar, but the fire is outside the smokehouse, typically in a pit, and the smoke is piped in to where the meat is hung. Hardwoods such as hickory or oak are typically used for the smoking. Mohr used downed limbs from a nearby apple orchard.The idea of all of the processes is basically to draw the water out of the meat. It's similar to beef jerky. When you wanted to eat it, you soaked it in water to leech out the salt and add the moisture back in, Mohr said.Meat that is properly smoked or cured can last years, Mohr said. He recently sampled some ham he originally smoked in 2009.It could last quite awhile. Back then, they had to fight to keep the mice and the bugs out of it, but the meat was still good, Mohr said.The 16 participants in Mohr's Sunday workshop got to try some of the product. Instead of 2-year-old ham, Mohr smoked some side pork the slab of side meat typically used for bacon to stew into some beans and served them up with corn bread.Mohr learned the art of smoking meats at the Slate Run Metro Park in Columbus. But his enthusiasm for history goes back a good deal farther.It was an eighth-grade American History class. I had a great teacher and that got me started, Mohr said.You can comment on this story at www.limaohio.com.