A look at the history of bacon reveal that the word is likely derived from three sources. The French word bako, the Germanic word bakkon or Old Teutonic backe. All the words mean “back” in English, which is where bacon cuts are usually taken from. In the US the cut is from the pork belly.
During the Middle Ages bacon (or bacoun) was used to describe pork in general. It was around the 12th century that the phrase “bring home the bacon” originated. Legend says that a church in Dunmow, England promised to give bacon to any man who could swear to the church and God he hadn’t argued with his wife for a year.
Thus, the man that was able to bring the bacon home to his wife was held to be a good individual. Whether this is really part of the history of bacon or not is uncertain. However the phrase has struck.
The British and the Bacon
By the 17th century, bacon had come to refer to the pork’s side cured with salt and not to pork in general. The Oxford Companion to Food refers to bacon as a product of the UK. Other accounts state that bacon wasn’t solely a British product.
However the British system for making them was used in other countries. Other accounts say that preserved pork were part of the British diet for hundreds of years.
By the 18th century, production of bacon in Britain had become widespread. According to some accounts of the history of bacon, John Harris of Wiltshire set up one of the first bacon curing shops in the country. The place has certainly become known for its production of bacon.
Some claims that the word was derived from the German bak. The French acquired it from the Germans and was introduced to the English. The word first appeared in the English language in the 12th century. Although still disputed, some claim that by the 15th century, bacon had come to mean cured meat and not just any type of pork.
The Romans had their perna (ham) and the petaso (shoulder bacon). Based on accounts of the history of bacon, the Romans browned the meat. Then they flavored it with some pepper and wine. The early Anglo Saxons used the bacon fat to add flavor to other foods, something still done today. The Germans consumed the meat with bean pottage.
William Ellis wrote in 1750 that bacon was very popular among the French and English. In particular the meat was well liked in northern England. Bacon was referred to as pickled pork.
Most were dried and salted. Others were set in the chimney breast to give it a smoked flavor. The English also ate bacon scallops with eggs. Others mixed the meat with bean pottage. A lot of the recipes spiced it up with salt, pepper and other seasonings.
There are still a lot of questions about the history of bacon. No matter how it began, it has become one of the most well loved meats in the world.