TERRE HAUTE —
Bacon taught me a life lesson.
I wrapped strips of it around chicken livers and secured the cold, gooey bundles with toothpicks to earn money. I was 16 and working in a hotel restaurant. Sure, I had other duties — washing dishes, busing tables, mopping the kitchen, delivering room service and an eventful stint as emergency breakfast cook — but handling the chilly, finger-numbing livers-and-bacon prep detail stands out. Because an actual chef later cooked them and reaped the raves of happy diners, I learned a crucial work ethic, to be content to serve as a mere cog in the wheel of an objective larger than myself — bacon for the masses.
It’s a crispy slice of Americana.
In that spirit, Terre Haute is about to experience its first BaconFest on Saturday afternoon in the Indiana Theatre. From 1 o’clock to 5, fans can sample bacon dishes created by Wabash Valley pro and amateur cooks competing for two Best of Bacon Awards. The event marks the first fundraiser for Terre Haute Ministries, a nonprofit alliance of churches that organizes relief and assistance efforts for needy and disaster-stricken people in this region. Admission is $10 per person.
When asked, “Why a BaconFest?” Honnalora Hubbard, Terre Haute Ministries’ executive director, answered succinctly.
“Because I love bacon,” she said.
She and millions of others. Bacon sales in the U.S. sizzled last year, hitting an all-time high of $4 billion, according to Information Resources Inc. Celebrations of the salty fried pork slices abound this spring, from sea (Atlantic City, N.J.) to shining sea (Oakland, Calif.) and points in between, including Chicago, Denver, Albuquerque, N.M., Washington, D.C., Fargo, N.D., and Des Moines, Iowa. Terre Haute joins a roster of 36 festivals listed on the bacontoday.com 2014 calendar.
“People love bacon,” Hubbard said. “I don’t know why.”
She’s got a pretty good hunch, though. There’s the taste, sound and aroma, along with the emotional bond.
“There’s no better smell in the world than — when you’re camping out — somebody cooking bacon over an open fire,” Hubbard said. “Doesn’t that take you back to your childhood?”
Yes. Before my days of livers-and-bacon hors d’oeuvres assembly, I honed my chef skills frying bacon and eggs over campfires on Boy Scouts camping adventures in the western Indiana wilderness. As a 12-year-old, I considered stray ashes and dirt particles to be acceptable seasonings. Anything goes with bacon, after all.
True bacon culinary artists handle that truism with more sophistication. The variety of bacon-based recipes presented at Saturday’s BaconFest will probably surprise some fans. (Those attending also may be surprised to learn of bacon dental floss, candles and soap. “I would not recommend the bacon soap,” Hubbard cautioned. “You will smell like dog treats.”)
Hubbard’s own recipe book is impressive. She makes apple pie with a cinnamon-roll crust crowned with a bacon-brown sugar crumb topping. And then there’s her bacon-sea salt fudge, candied bacon (baked with brown sugar and cinnamon) and bacon burgers. The latter transcends conventional bacon burgers, or bacon cheeseburgers. Hubbard takes a chunk of bacon (unsliced), grinds it in a food processor, combines it with hamburger (a 50-50 mix), cooks the patties, and tops it with bacon strips aboard a sandwich bun.
“That, to me, is a real bacon burger,” she said.
She understands cooking competitions, too. Years ago, when she and her husband traveled the country on a ministry with motocross professionals, Hubbard entered and won a national chili championship at the ranch of country singer Loretta Lynn. Alas, Hubbard’s winning recipe contained no bacon. “It was my pre-bacon period,” she recalled.
Of course, bacon isn’t health food. Its consumption is a simple pleasure best kept in perspective. “All things in moderation,” said Hubbard, who hits the gym daily.
As a once-a-year tradition, which Hubbard hopes the festival becomes, an afternoon of bacon amounts to a tasty diversion to support a charitable organization. Terre Haute Ministries, formed in the wake of the 2008 flood, includes more than 30 churches of various denominations and welcomes more to join. The alliance assisted 3,500 families hit by that flood six years ago, coordinated 10,000 volunteers to help rebuild homes destroyed by 2012 tornadoes in southern Indiana, and helped people affected by the 2012 Garfield Towers fire. Its stated goal is “mobilizing the body of Christ and our community to help meet needs of those at greatest risk in Terre Haute.”
As Hubbard puts it, “Sometimes, [the efforts involve] a major disaster you read on the front page, and sometimes, it’s a single mom’s disaster in needing help to pay an electric bill.”
Bacon and a good cause create a pairing that’s hard to pass up.
Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or email@example.com.