I’m registered with the site www.helpareporter.com (brainchild of Peter Shankman: firstname.lastname@example.org) that delivers daily queries from journalists on any topic imaginable. It works on the theory that anyone might potentially be an expert on something, or know someone else who is. It’s an example of social media and word-of-mouth at its finest and most creative.
In any case, one of today’s queries was a request for beef jerky encounters, which got me thinking, of course….
I first encountered beef jerky around age nine as a member of an intellectually-advanced-but-economically-underfunded sibling group (i.e. we were avid readers/experimenters whose allowances reflected extreme parental frugality).
After reading a combination of George Herter’s cookbooks/manly advisories (http://oregonmag.com/SearedJuly.htm) and Edgar Rice Burrough’s Apache Devil and The War Chief (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edgar_Rice_Burroughs), my sisters and I decided to make beef jerky, so we pooled our meager resources and bought a roast.
My oldest sister was in charge of the operation; my middle sister and I were on stand-by to fetch and carry. She prepared the roast according to Herter’s directions, reducing it to slices of the correct thickness; than marinating the slices in a vinegar-and-pepper bath; finally arranging the slices in a huge pan*; and then into the oven where the meat “cured” into jerky overnight at a very low temperature (we used a wooden spoon to keep the oven door cracked open to allow air circulation).
The next morning: jerky magic had occurred from our humble efforts! The slices had shrunk by 50%, but the smell and taste were heavenly. Never mind that we produced jerky in an electric oven in the rural South; now we, too, could preserve meat to sustain us on a lonely trek across the prairie. It was amazing, it was–
Gone. All gone. Our brother came through the kitchen, found the jerky unguarded, and ate *almost* all of it then and there. He didn’t realize how much work had gone into it, how much shrinkage had occurred, and how little jerky there was to show for our efforts. Sadder, wiser, we ate the remaining shards he’d left behind, knowing that even if we could summon the enthusiasm to try a second round, we wouldn’t have the money for raw materials again–not for a long time.
*Sidebar: A November 1977 flood uprooted a stop sign from somewhere and washed it down the creek toward us. My father salvaged it, used a torch to remove the paint from the sign’s high-quality steel, then shaped it into a rectangle with rolled sides. He made a huge baking pan that was roughly the same size as the interior of the oven and big enough to hold almost anything: biscuits, a roast, baked potatoes. It’s been more than 30 years, and the pan is still going strong. In a semi-related note, my parents have also been using a huge, heavy, glass pasta bowl for about that length of time. It began life as the window/porthole of a front-loading commercial washing machine. How’s that for form AND function?