Can you smell that bacon sizzling in the pan, the smoky promise it makes? Um, me neither. In fact, I’ve never cooked bacon in my life. I grew up kosher, and bacon is pretty much the poster child for Unkosher Deliciousness. Sure, pepperoni pizza is a double-whammy since it combines pork products (Not Kosher), which of course is meat, with dairy (result: Extra Super-Duper Not Kosher), but the smell of bacon cooking travels for miles; it’s downright rude in its in-your-face unkosherness.
Weekend mornings were torture for me during my adolescence—I had a paper route in our apartment complex, and the weekend papers were expected to be delivered before 8. As if the waking up early part wasn’t hard enough for a young teen, in my dazed state I’d wander the building’s hallways toting stacks of smudgy newsprint, floating from doorway to doorway on the aroma of my neighbors’ breakfasts. Were the people in 3A having eggs with their bacon, or pancakes? Perhaps 2K was firing up the waffle iron. Whatever it was, the whole building would be suffused with that unmistakable, intoxicating scent. My stomach would growl plaintively, and I’d feel guilty for wishing I was a bacon eater.
There were a variety of substitutes—facon—available to us, and if memory serves my brothers and I ate them all enthusiastically. The big treat was Beef Fry:
It sort of looks like bacon, doesn’t it? The big problems with Beef Fry were that a) it was expensive, and we were poor; b) it didn’t smell much like bacon while cooking; and c) the end result was always tough and chewy, not fatty and crisp and gently yielding to the tooth, as I fantasized bacon must be. We’d get all excited whenever my parents sprung for a package, but in the end I was always mildly disappointed. Our other option was both more workaday and more satisfying—Morningstar Farms Bacon Strips:
Are you familiar with Morningstar Farms? As far as I can remember, they were the first vegetarian brand to appear in neighborhood supermarkets. Their bright green boxes were frequent residents in our family’s freezer, especially the ones containing faux breakfast meats. While I like the faux-sausage links a lot (and still eat buy them every so often), my favorite growing up was the facon (which back then was called “Breakfast Strips,” but now they’ve gone all-out and labeled it as Bacon—not sure how they get away with that, exactly).
Way back when I’d cook ‘em up in a frying pan, with oil—they’d turn a lovely shade of golden reddish brown, and the smell was almost exactly what I’d experience while delivering the newspapers. And by frying them, they’d pick up some of that fatty goodness I’d drool over on other people’s plates at the IHOP. Not quite the same, but as close a substitute as I was going to find.
Now that I’m not kosher anymore, I’ve rediscovered exactly how fabulous and irreplaceable the real piggy strips are. When I worked back-of-the-house at Café St. Bart’s, nothing would make me happier than their fantastic Cobb salad—hold the avocado and blue cheese, dressing on the side, and extra Niman Ranch applewood-smoked bacon. Oh. My. God. Bacon is goooooood. But in the nearly twenty years since I’ve observed the laws of kashrut, I still have yet to cook bacon in my own home. And likely, I never will, for two reasons: First, I have a definite mental block on allowing blatantly nonkosher items into my kitchen. There’s been no pig of any kind here, nor any shellfish. It’s just too far over the line, I guess. And second, bacon in particular is crazy unhealthy. Between my weight issues and S’s cholesterol ones, it’s just not worth it. Doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy an occasional strip outside our home, though.
On one of our recent trips down to south Jersey, we stayed overnight with S’s brother and sister-in-law. At breakfast, L served bacon—the familiar yellow Oscar Mayer box, which I’ve picked up more than once in the supermarket over the years before deciding not to put it in the cart—which she cooked in the microwave. It was pretty darn fabulous, let me tell you. Both S and I reconsidered our no-bacon-in-the-home stance for a few minutes after that. But then I remembered the facon of my childhood, and thought perhaps it was worth a shot. I picked up a package, and yesterday I cooked some facon for our breakfast—in the microwave, just like L did with the real thing.
It wasn’t half bad. Crispy, salty, smoky . . . and that smell! It’s exactly like bacon (although I suspect that it might not be exactly like the real thing if one were to put them side-by-side—but since that’ll never happen in my kitchen, I’ll consider it an exact match).
Oh, and the best part:
They make a mean FLT.