There are many common bonds among baby boomers, due, in no small part, to the growing homogenization of a post-war country. We were the first generation to grow up with television; the first to fully benefit from a national interstate highway system and the popularization of air travel — all contributing factories to the formation of our modern age identity. Yet when Mister Boomer speaks with other boomers, he is struck by how many common bonds we share that had little or nothing to do with our generation, but rather, have everything to do with our parents’ generation.
One such commonality is the kitchen bacon grease can. While some boomers do not share this family tradition, others immediately recall the object in their own homes. Yet this tradition dates back even further than our parents’ generation. Most likely European settlers brought the notion of reusing bacon grease to the U.S. the same time they brought domesticated pigs. The grease congealed so was easy to transport and store for a while, and was used as the number one shortening for early homesteaders during the westward expansion. It was replaced and replenished several times a week, so the supply was plentiful and was used before going rancid.
Many boomers will recall stories from their grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles about the Great Depression. It was a time when people used every bit of everything they could get, and that was especially true for foodstuffs. Mister Boomer discovered that both his parents’ families had their version of a bacon grease can during the Depression.
When Mister Boomer tells people his mother kept an empty coffee can on the stove for the express purpose of collecting grease, a nod of recognition follows for many boomers. His mother combined beef, bacon and pork sausage grease, though. Any remainders of browning ground beef for spaghetti sauce went to the can, as did pork chop renderings and Sunday morning bacon drippings.
Even as a young child, the whole idea grossed out Mister Boomer. He especially did not want to be around when his mother dipped into the can to make eggs for breakfast or to start onions and liver or other dishes that weren’t high on Mister B’s list of favorites. Mister B’s father developed a taste for chipped beef on toast during his army days, and continued to like it well into the 1950s and ’60s. It was in regular rotation for Sunday morning breakfasts. He often cooked it for the family himself, using a little grease from the can to start his pork sausage in a cast iron skillet. Before pouring in Half & Half or whole milk to make the gravy, he’d strain excess grease back to the can.
Despite many of us sharing this commonality, Mister B doesn’t know a single boomer who professes to continue the tradition in their own households. Were you as grossed out as Mister B, or did a level of financial stability edge our thinking away from the frugality of the task, despite its practical application?
Even though a good number of us do not keep a grease can in our kitchens, now Amazon sells “bacon grease containers” specially made for the purpose and pork-centric hipster havens speak the virtues of cooking everything from French toast to French Fries in bacon grease. Will this be a passing trend or will the next generation latch on to the idea of recycling bacon grease now that its culinary virtues are being heralded?
How about it, boomers? Did your mother have a bacon grease can in the kitchen?