True South

A Little Bacon Grease, please

In praise of the olive oil of the south

By Susan Kelly

I miss bacon grease.

My grandmother and my mother — and I, as well, for a while — had a round, silvery metal container on the top of the stove for bacon grease where everyone now has their sea and/or kosher salt bowl. The container held a clever, fitted strainer neatly built in, where crispy bits of brown were trapped. These are the bits, my mother says, that make your eggs unlovely if you scramble them up in the same cast iron pan that you cook your bacon in. I have no use for these aesthetics, but it’s easier to answer, “Fine.”

Even less appealing to the eye, beneath the sieve was stuff that resembled pus, but grainier. A semi-solid that wasn’t quite white, but wasn’t quite yellow.

Nowadays, we don’t even cook bacon anymore, or rarely, the
big-breakfast must-have that smells so good. We buy it already cooked at Costco and just nuke that baby for your BLT or spinach salad or squash casserole. But at one time bacon grease was king. It reigned over butter, margarine, Crisco, the works. Bacon grease went into cornbread and was an understood ingredient for the pot likker in crowder peas and butterbeans and green beans. You put a dollop in a pan and fried up a hot dog or slice of bologna. Or okra. Heck, you used a cup of the stuff in red beans.

Bacon grease went into the dog food, too. Lab to dachshund, it made their coats shine, or so it was believed. With our dogs drooling over those dry chunks coated with bacon grease, their supper looked so good I nearly wanted to eat it myself.

Bacon grease was the olive oil of yesteryear, though it didn’t come in pretty containers, and you actually had to cook to get it. You couldn’t buy bacon grease at T.J. Maxx, or upscale foodie stores, or the everyday Teeter, for that matter. Still, like olive oil that comes from certain regions or specific orchards, bacon grease had a provenance too: your own kitchen. It wasn’t cold-pressed or extra virgin or truffle-flavored. It was, however, labeled, though not in a foreign language or with pretty, Italianate fonts. The container said GREASE right there in raised, silver, block, all cap letters.

Even purists could throw a little sausage grease in there, too. Neese’s patties are preferred over links, though links are an admittedly more convenient vehicle to dredge, swipe and swish through the syrup left behind by the pancakes and waffles. To this day, I’m still unsure what made me feel more that I’d become a bona fide grownup in the kitchen of my first apartment: potholders, or that store-bought GREASE can.

When it comes to stove-sitting-stuff, salt bowls may be trendier, even healthier, but nothing — including spoon rests and olive oil spritzers — has the personality and presence of a metal grease container. Empty frozen O.J. cans need not apply.  OH

In a former life, Susan Kelly published five novels, won some awards, did some teaching, and made a lot of speeches. These days, she’s freelancing and making up for all that time she spent indoors writing those five novels.

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