(by Beverly Weinstein)
My mom grew up during the Depression in a small West Virginia town, the third of nine siblings. Her cooking experience as a child must have followed her into adulthood. I can think of no other reason that she insisted on keeping a glass jar filled with bacon grease beside the kitchen stove in her modern suburban kitchen.
Once cooled, the grease went from translucent to ugly beige with small specks of dark brown bacon bits throughout. The consistency fell somewhere between Crisco solid and butter left out on the counter overnight.
I remember a few of Mom’s uses for this cherished culinary treasure. A small amount went into the white flour gravy that accompanied the mashed potatoes served most nights at dinner, as well as on the bottom of the cast iron skillet when she fried pork chops. Frying was always her cooking method of choice.
Sunday morning breakfasts were the primary source of the bacon fat. Mom would set out a package of bacon, a dozen eggs and a loaf of Wonder Bread. She started by frying the bacon. When she was satisfied it was crisp enough, she set it aside. Then she poured most of the sizzling bacon fat into her jar leaving the rest in the skillet to cool slightly. After popping two slices of white bread into the toaster, she cracked eggs into the waiting skillet, four at a time, taking care that the yolks stayed intact. Hot bacon fat was continuously spooned over the eggs. When the corners of the whites started to crisp and turn brown and the yolks lost their raw yellow color, it was time to eat. Our family of four got two eggs apiece—Dad was served first.
When I entered the seventh grade, our Sunday breakfast took a different turn. My Southern Methodist Mom had married a midwestern Jew, and his brother, my Uncle Joe, convinced Dad to join a temple and get his kids a Jewish education. Mom was required to convert to Judaism. All that was required was a few meetings with the rabbi, who (like everyone else) was no doubt charmed by her Southern accent and feminine demeanor, and a check from my dad.
Bacon and eggs were now frequently replaced with a feast of lox, cream cheese, smoked white fish, and creamed herring from Sand’s Delicatessen. Bagels, a loaf of rye or pumpernickel, and coffee cake came from The New York Bakery next door. Both shops were on the way home from temple.
Over time, the variety of food continued to expand, but the jar of bacon fat remained in its place next to the stove.
Beverly Weinstein is an executive recruiter in New York City. She still enjoys an occasional slice of bacon.
(Slightly Healthier) Bacon and Eggs
eggs (preferably farm fresh or at least cage free)
bacon (preferably nitrate-free)
bread (preferably whole wheat, seven grain, or sourdough)
Fry the bacon in a cast iron skillet.
Remove when crisp, and place between paper towels to absorb the grease.
Crack eggs into the same skillet, and spoon bacon fat over them until edges are brown and crisp.
Serve with buttered toast.