There are so many food preparation skills that are being lost to time, people used to bake all their own bread, for example, and I heard recently – although this may be an urban myth – that Yorkshire pudding batter didn’t always come frozen in little tins. Whilst there is a welcome move back towards real bread and home prepared foods there are some things that are still not widely practiced at all.
In rural areas one doesn't have to go too far back in time before you find families raising pigs and then slaughtering them before winter rather than struggling to feed them through this time. The meat was eaten then or processed and preserved through a myriad of procedures, passed down from generation to generation, so it could be kept and consumed over the cold months. Salting was a common process and this was extended to the use of nitrates which cured the meat more succesfully and with less salt, better removing chances of botulism with the added bonus of improved flavour and colour. Offcuts were minced, seasoned and stuck inside intestines, eaten either fresh or dried. Smoking was another method used, the product of poor combustion clinging to the meat, its convenient anti-bacterial properties as appealing as the wonderful aroma and taste. Nowadays many butchers don't know these skills, let alone the public, with bacon coming mass produced and pumped full of water, sausages filled with a textureless pink paste and hams "smoked" with a paint brush and a pot of liquid smoke.
Over the years I've taught myself to make sausages and have learnt a few different cured products, turning out bacon and salt-beef. The results are always infinitely better than your average supermarket product and normally give the artisan products a good run for their money too, completely outside of the satisfaction of a job done yourself. Mainly due to London living though I've never got around to adding smoking to my repetoire. I've read about it a reasonable amount, and thought about building a smoker at my dad's house on many an occasion, but it has never quite materialised so when the chance came to review a smoking course for Ooh.com I jumped at the opportunity.
The course was run in Milton Keynes which, as well as being convenient for me as it's where I grew up, is a short drive up the M1 from London. The day I attended we had 5 students who I found were all very much into their food (I guess you would be if you attended a smoking course) which made for some really interesting chats during the various breaks. With 5 attendees the course was in Turan the smoking tutor's house but there is also a local hall available for larger groups. The cost of the course was £75 for the day, which ran from 10am to about 4.15pm for us. Lunch was provided in the form of a couple of tasty home-made soups and there's more than enough smoked food from the course to eat too - we definitely didn't go hungry.
On the course we covered all aspects of smoking running from the preparation of food (brining and so on) through various home build cold smokers, health & safety (he is a fireman after all), hot smoking, the all important smoke generation, which woods to use and so on. It was an information packed day with lots to take in, luckily we were provided with all the material we'd learnt along with Turan's cold smoker plans if we wanted to make one at home. This was a hands on course where we got the cold smokers fired up, smoking eggs, cheese and some sides of salmon over the course of the day, along with using an ingenious hot smoker design to turn out some delectable hot smoked trout.
Turan is very passionate about smoking and this passion came through in the course, along with the broad knowledge he has on the subject. It was hard to not come away wanting to give it a try yourself and I've already knocked up plans of my own for a little smoker, utlising what I picked up on the day. I'd really recommend this course for anyone with an interest in learning some skills that we shouldn't let get lost to the ravages of time. You'll come out of the day knowing lots more than when you started (even if you've read up on the subject like I have) and also realising that it's not that tricky, or expensive, to start turning out fantastic smoked products at home.