A night in hog heaven with the Bacon Club
Megan Dickerson biked with her fruit-filled pig's head cake all the way from Chinatown to her Bacon Club rendezvous in Roxbury. She had gone to Chinatown to get bacon, as befits an appearance at the club, but the cake stole her heart. Sadly, the time it spent in the basket of the bike was hard on the pig cake, which lost an ear and a snout and was badly bruised on its side.
So Dickerson sits down at the little kitchen table crowded with bacon hors d'oeuvres and desserts, sips a mint julep sweetened with bacon-infused simple syrup, and begins lengthy and complicated reconstructive surgery.
The cake is one of only two non-bacon edibles at this, the fourth Bacon Club meeting and pot luck. The idea of this loosely organized group was born over a few beers among friends about a year ago. They dreamily envisioned an event where only bacon dishes were served. They laughed, drooled, and meandered conversationally elsewhere. "We were like, 'That'd be crazy,' " says Deb Nicholson, the self-appointed mistress of the club. "But I remember things like that. I might have even texted myself."
Guests are gathering while Dickerson mends her cake. A collapsed frosting snout becomes a skin graft for the damaged side, the remaining ear turns into the missing snout (a crab apple keeps it from falling down), and floppy strips of bacon stand in as ears. A mascot is born.
Nicholson hosts the Bacon Club in her Mission Hill apartment. It's a simple place on the first floor of a triple-decker, with a modest kitchen lit by a makeshift Christmas-light chandelier. A small, friendly, and slightly ramshackle screened-in porch overlooks a backyard full of grape vines.
That's where Nicholson found the leaves for her bacon dolmas. She blanched the leaves and pickled them for a week before stuffing them to bursting with brown rice and bacon. Savory and tart, they are served in a deep bath of rich olive oil and fresh lemon juice.
Almost everything on the table is finger food and going fast - bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with toasted almonds, and bacon-wrapped bananas roasted with curry powder and brown sugar. The bananas are spicy, smoky, sweet, tender, and crisp in the same remarkable mouthful. Hummus with bacon and green and black olives, spread on crostini, is being scooped up quickly by the 10 participants.
Nicholson invited the initial group with a mailing that included the answers to obvious questions. As to whether participants could cook at her house, she wrote, "No. I accumulate a healthy amount of bacon grease on my own without any help, so please cook your bacon at your own house." Her advice about the fare: "Bacon Club dishes may be low-brow, high-brow, trashy, weird, or exotic."
Steve Gisselbrecht and his husband, Tom Wethern, arrive with at least four dishes, including the only kosher bacon that afternoon. The couple made salmon bacon, using a simple technique Wethern picked up from a Vancouver restaurant. They dredged a thin strip of smoked salmon in cornmeal along with smoked Spanish paprika and cracked black pepper, then fried it lightly. One batch was fried in peanut oil (that was the kosher stuff) and the other in leftover bacon fat. The cornmeal gives the end product a bit of a crunch that is reminiscent of the real thing, and the bacon fat lends the actual flavor of bacon. It is salty, but convincing.
Gisselbrecht, a research biologist, is also a chocolate aficionado. For years, he'd save up all his sick days and time off from work and spend a week, usually during the holidays, making chocolate in his home in preparation for a blow-out party and chocolate bacchanal. That ended because, he reports, these parties became "too out of hand."
Not so with the Bacon Club. Not yet, anyway. Guests begin arriving around 4 p.m., and continue trickling in for at least three hours, eventually spilling out of the kitchen and onto the porch.
Nicholson isn't worried that too much attention will close down the Bacon Club. Rather, she hopes that other bacon-lovers - or lovers of anything else - will find inspiration in her model and re-create it in their own kitchens.