Canadian Peameal Bacon

by Ari Weinzweig

Canadian Bacon is a pickled eye of pork loin, and, seemingly has its origins in the work of Wiltshiremen who came over to Canada. Compared to American bacon, it’s: a) a different cut (a lot leaner than American bacons, which are made from pork belly), b) cured in a wet brine, c) not smoked, d) rolled in cornmeal.

While the latter is fairly common with stuff like catfish, best I can tell, this makes it completely unique in the bacon world. From what I’ve learned over the years, the rolling wasn’t any big brilliant culinary thing, but really just a practical solution to a practical issue. “In the ‘olden’ days, you would go to the grocery store, ask the meat counter for your “Peameal Bacon,” I learned from Canadian born, now living in the U.S bacon importer, Ken Haviland. “They would grab a hook,” he told me, “pull a loin out of the brine solution, roll it in cornmeal, package it up, weigh it, sticker it and hand it to you.”

With that in mind though, I’ve always wondered about the origin of the “peameal” name; the question came up because when I really thought about I realized that it was a bit odd since all the Canadian bacon I’ve ever come across was rolled, as I said above, in cornmeal I’ve never understood why the stuff isn’t called “cornmeal bacon.” The answer, apparently, is that Canadian bacon was originally rolled in ground dried yellow peas, but later that was changed to the more readily available cornmeal.

Folks from Canada, and in some case from areas up near the border, are pretty darned passionate about this bacon. As is true for grits in the South, peameal bacon can carry big emotional attachments up north. Just asking about peameal evoked a whole lot of info, emotion and some good culinary story telling. Seriously, all you have to do is talk to a couple Canadians (or close-to-Canada Americans like Ms. Stevens) and you start to realize that peameal bacon sandwiches, while pretty much unknown down here, are about the equivalent up there of pastrami in Manhattan or cheese steaks in Philadelphia. Iconic is starting to sound like understatement. I’d ask all my Canadian relatives about it but of course they all keep kosher so Canadian bacon is just something they’d seen signs for in the market when they went shopping.

Molly Stevens, author of the award-winning book Braising is one of the latter. She grew up in Buffalo, close enough to Canada that Canadian bacon and hockey were both a big deal for her family. “In my family,” she started out, “for some reason, it’s long been one of those ritual foods.” For me, Canadian bacon is just one more option on a long list cured pork options, and, in honesty, not in my top two or three. But for Molly (and I’m sure many others like her), is as much about emotion and memorable family meals as it is about the pork.

“Peameal for us symbolizes summer at the beach in Canada, and all that goes with it; long days, no school, and so on,” she said. “I remember one year when an in-law sliced it too thinly, and we were all silently horrified. Of course, we were polite enough but each made a mental note to watch the next time that THAT brother-in-law went anywhere near the peameal. Then there was the other time when someone bought the pre-sliced stuff. Again, horror.” This is a much mellower way of staking claim to the way cured pork (or any food really that has this sort of sub surface significance to it) is handled, but it reminds me of the Jamon Serrano producer in Spain who once told with a semi-serious smile that he’d have to kill me if I cut off the fat on the ham. (Here in the US we fear the fat, there they know it as the best part!)

So, assuming that incompetent in-laws have been kept safely out of the way, how’s Canadian bacon slicing supposed to work? “The deal is, you get a big hunk—anywhere from 2 to 3 pounds, slice it not too thin, not too thick. Grill it over medium heat so it stays just ever so pink in the center and the cornmeal coating and external fat grills up crispy. Then you serve it on a soft sort of Kaiser roll—the best of them have a thin crispy crust and soft absorbent interior. You slather on Hellman’s mayonnaise, add lettuce and slices of summer ripe tomato. Depending on the size of the roll, who sliced the peameal, your pigginess, etc. you may stack two slices, or maybe one. Oh, and a few thin slices of orange Canadian cheddar is acceptable too.”

As with so many foods that we grew up on, the importance of this one goes way beyond the actual sandwich itself, which is in essence “just” (I’m wary of even putting that word in here) a Canadian bacon BLT. “Even the thought of this sandwich,” she explained, “brings a rush of familial memories and ties me to my childhood in a deep way. And the first taste always thrills me. Even to this day, when my family calls from the beach, where they all still gather, and tell me that they’re having peameal, I feel a pang of nostalgia. Now the funny thing is that I’m sure there are other ways to prepare peameal, and I know I could figure out a recipe using really high grade pork and brining it myself, and I could get a quality roll to serve it on, and use only really good cheese, and homemade mayo, but you know what, I don’t really want to. For the one or two peameal sandwiches I eat a year, I love that they are just what they’ve always been.”

I’m not the world’s expert on this stuff but word is that there are still some very good versions available from various local butchers. (Happy to hear your suggestions if you have them.). To my experience, the best Canadian bacon in the States is the stuff that’s imported by the appropriately named Real Canadian Bacon Company, which is based not far from Ann Arbor, in the town of Troy, Michigan. It was started by the above-mentioned Ken Haviland, originally from an Ontario, but who went on to work for General Motors here in Michigan. While working here he grew increasingly frustrated that he couldn’t find the real Canadian bacon he’d grown up with—most of what’s available here in the U.S. is already cooked and sometimes smoked and not all what folks who love this stuff are seeking. I guess we really should refer to that as “American Canadian bacon;” by contrast what you get up north of the border is indeed, real Canadian bacon—needless to say, the taste and texture of the two are totally different.

With that in mind, Ken came to the entrepreneurial conclusion that he’d have to import his own. The RCBC offers the peameal both as a big chunk and pre-sliced. As per Molly’s memories, I’d recommend going with the chunk and cutting your own. Like her, I prefer it cut a bit thicker—you get a nicer mouth feel and the eating experience is, I think, more interesting. The flavor is mellow—a light refreshing summer local wine compared to the earthy, smoky well-aged intensity of say, the dry cured bacon from Allan Benton—the wine analogy, which now that I think about it, fits perfectly with Molly’s memories of beach eating. I’ve made up a fair few of the sandwiches just as she described them and they are, really, some very nice, refreshing, fun, summer eating. I’ve been cooking the bacon in a skillet but of course doing it on the grill as Molly mentioned above would be a good way to go. It’s best, I think, to have the bacon warm so it softens up the bread and all the accoutrements.

22 Responses to “Canadian Peameal Bacon”

  1. Kara Kaufmann says:

    Hi!

    I just wanted to say how fantastic it was to read the peameal bacon article this morning! Ever since I moved to Ann Arbor last September I have been devoted to tracking down peameal bacon locally, and sadly enough, I can never find it. Between my British husband and my Canadian self, we crave, crave, crave it all the time, and miss our Saturday mornings with tons of slices of bacon, ketchup and fried white bread sandwiches (doesn’t get any unhealthier…)

    I just checked out the Real Canadian Bacon company in Troy, which is a great start, and if you happen to get any feedback from others about local butcher shops that carry it, let me know! And if Zingerman’s ever began carrying it, I just may be in heaven (!)

    I’m elated!

    Kara

  2. marsha meier says:

    as a native Torontonian,now living in Auburn Hills Mi, i cannot wait for someone to come visit me and bring my peameal bacon and Coffee crisp candy bars! and now to find this company the Real Canadian bacon company in Troy,it is right around the corner from me, i am in heaven!

    can’t wait to get an order, slice it, fry in the pan and put on white bread, oh the mouth is watering right now!

  3. betsy says:

    nice history of peameal bacon ! i have 30 lbs in my freezer right now waiting to be thawed, put in an aluminum foil throw away pans and smothered in marmalade . Add 1/4 inch of tonic water or ginger ale and bake – serve w mac n cheese, a hearty fall salad and absolutely slice it THICK ! This is a command performance club dinner and sorry Ken from RCBC – where i ordered it with wonderful service last year- i was in Crystal Beach,Ontario this summer (Buffalo NY vacation land) and went to the plant itself to pick up the goods :)

  4. Mary Ann says:

    Great article on peameal bacon. I can’t say enough about it. I’m a transplanted Iowa girl, brought up on pork and introduced to peameal bacon by my Canadian husband. I’ve eaten it for breakfast, lunch, appetizers and dinner. It is outstanding grilled. We serve it whenever our relatives from “out west” (Minnesota, Iowa, Arizona) are here and they love it. It’s a little more subtle flavor than ham and has great texture.

    There’s another place to get it in the states,too. My husband’s company, Gord’s Great Canadian Bacon in Ferndale (www.gordsbacon.com) also imports it- low salt and low fat, with the same tremendous flavor.

  5. Francesca says:

    I knew about this canadian bacon just this morning. In this week I’ll go to buy it SLURP :-P

  6. Maria says:

    For Christmas we were given a peameal bacon fresh from Canada. The family did not know the recipe for preparing the curing of the pork loin. Is there anyone that can give me a recipe for curing the por loin for canadian bacon?

  7. Mike Brautigan says:

    For those of you who are not aware, Hiller’s Markets in the western suberbs of Detroit(Northville, Plymouth,etc) make their own pea meal bacon and it is great!

  8. W. Aardsma says:

    Your web site was linked to from the Wikipedia article on Canadian bacon.
    Just wanted to make a few comments. My last visit to Toronto I noticed that my usual breakfast eateries were now offering “bacon” and “peameal bacon.” On previous trips they offered “bacon” and “American bacon.”
    In 2006 I visited Vancouver and the restaurants that I ate in offered “bacon” and “Canadian bacon.” When I asked about “Peameal bacon” they were not familiar with the term. If you look at the Knight and Day chain’s menu on the web, you’ll deduce that “bacon” for them is American bacon.”
    Perhaps this was a concession to American tourists. Vancouver is heavily dependent on Americans coming up and spending $$$. At the time of my visit their newspaper was bewailing the economic downtown caused by Americanos staying home.
    I also noticed that a McDonald’s in Vancouver had a “Bacon McMuffin” on the menu in addition to an Egg McMuffin and a Sausage Egg McMuffin. The Bacon McMuffin used American style bacon. B.T.W., the sausage that they used tasted different from in the U.S. and was actually strange tasting.

    Your description of how peameal bacon is made reminded me of scrapple, a hideous breakfast meat that I think was invented to chase off unwanted company. It is a mixture of pig meat and cornmeal among other things, probably whatever was swept up off the floor. I did see if for sale at one of the Holiday Markets in Troy (Mich.) in the 1989-1996 time period. I only eat it to remind myself how awful it tastes.
    There’s another pig-based bacon alternative I’d like to mention, Taylor Pork Roll. The main company is in the Trenton (NJ) area, Hamilton or Springfield Township, I forget which one. It may also be used as a sandwich meat. A diner on the east side of Canton Center Road, in the same shopping center that used to have the wonderful Bakers Square in the late 1980’s, offered a Taylor pork roll sandwich. My waitress made the mistake of saying it was “fresh from Taylor, Michigan.” Typical in-grown “Detroiter” ignorance. She had her knowledge of the topic corrected and expanded.

    I am presently looking for someone who makes Ozark bacon, something that I discovered in Kansas City. It is closer to ham and is popular in Missouri and Arkansas. If you “Google” it on the web you’ll see it pop up here and there, even in California.
    I also discovered pancetta bacon in Kansas City, something that you do NOT want to use as a breakfast meat, although it does grease up a pan nicely. It is used for seasoning and possibly a sandwich meat. It must be an acquired taste.

  9. Michael Green says:

    your article says it all …. more often than not my last stop exiting Canada is not Duty Free, but a grocery to buy a couple peameal roasts. I slice some, vacuum pack it all to hopefully carry me over to my next trip across the boarder. Born in the States, I went to High School and University in Canada; but remember my mother having back bacon during my youth which then was more readily available in US supermarkets. Its impossible to find today. It was enjoyable to read your complete explanation on the history and uniqueness of this delicious product.

    • cdarragh says:

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the article. We’re always very passionate about finding a flavorful and traditionally made product. Individuals, like yourself, are also often very excited when they find we sell something they’ve not had in years — your stories add value and meaning! Thanks for your response.

  10. Living in California now, getting peameal bacon is next to impossible. What do you do? I make it. I could give you the directions, but of course, someone has already made a web page. http://www.ehow.com/how_5555725_make-peameal-bacon.html

    I’ve had great sucess, just finished a couple of slices with my breakfast now. :)

  11. Judy Bailey says:

    Holiday Market in Canton makes their own also, but you need to call ahead to make sure they have some because it sells very quickly. There’s is excellent and comes in chunks that are shrink-wrapped so it keeps well. I buy it when I can and freeze it.

    My grandparents were Canadian and my father used to go into Windsor every few months and stock up. If you go across the bridge into Windsor and just go straight for a couple of miles, you’ll see supermarket on your left that carries it in very large chunks. Theirs is a bit saltier than the Holiday Market version, however.

  12. Jeanne says:

    I grew up in Buffalo and to me peameal bacon is just the best. I’m now curing my own at home and as I share this joy with friends and neighbors I’m not up to curing 30 lbs at a time.

    In fact I’m eating a peameal sandwich as I type and I am in heaven.

    Best thing that came out of the Niagara area….Wayne? nah. Chicken wings? nah. Beef on Weck? nah

    Real Canadian bacon!

  13. grant williams says:

    I have had both and the people that supply this in California is outstanding

  14. kimm says:

    Chris Anderson in CA- do you use the Ehow recipe or do you have a different one? If you make your peameal with a different recipe I would appreciate it. A relative sent me the curing mixture from canada but it is a bulk amount meant for curing 100 lbs at a time with no instructions included, so I am trying to break it down for hourhold use

  15. quentin kurtzhals says:

    I’m tired of not finding it so I’m going to try to make it myself. As a kid on fishing trips to canada my dad would fry peameal bacon for breakfest, the smell would suck the oxygen out of the cabin till you could not breath, then you knew it was done and could’nt get to the table fast enough. I still go to canada every year but I can’t find it like they use to make it 40 years ago !

  16. Chuck6651 says:

    First had Pea Meal Bacon 40 years ago in a little grocery store that served breakfast to duck hunters in Praire Siding Ontario. Got hooked instantly slong with Butter Tarts. The whold family has been enjoying pea meal bacon ever since. Hiller’s market does a great job or just a trip across the bridge to Windsor to a local grocery store. Always wondered who started to market that smoked ham lunch meat that American’s call Canadian Bacon.

  17. George says:

    First off, just have to say, my father’s from way up north (Edmonton) and then emigrated and naturalised to the USA for graduate school and work. Growing up, in the summers for a week we’d go up to stay in a cabin by a small town on the great lakes, and Sweet Merciful Baby Jesus, the high point of every morning was first getting the fire going, then cooking up some toast, peameal bacon, and eggs. As much as I love pork belly, peameal bacon kicks its ass all over the place on many grounds – it’s juicier, flavorful, less carcinogenic, less fatty…. I could go on but I won’t.

    In response to commenter “W. Aardsma”…. sacrilege! How dare you compare peameal bacon with… SCRAPPLE! /retch/. I hope you don’t mind if I point out the massive differences between the qualities of the two, because they cannot be overemphasized. First off, peameal bacon is made using the highest grade cut of pork – the loin, in a whole piece. It’s just /rolled/ in cornmeal. SCRAPPLE, on the other hand, is as W. Aardsma says, made from the unknown unknowns of the butchery floor. It may have cornmeal in it, but as a cheap bulking agent (such as is often also used in cheap meatballs), not as a utilitarian garnish.

    One is the best of the best; the other is the worst of the worst. Ne’er the twain shall they meet, my friend.

  18. Paula says:

    Salvaggio’s Market on Hall Road in Clinton Township also carries peameal bacon. It’s vacuum sealed and sold in a slab, but they will slice it for you at the meat counter. I’m a Canadian from Toronto area and thought I’d died and gone to heaven when I found “real” peameal bacon again. The price is right too……only about $7.00 per pound. Enjoy!!!

  19. I savour, cause I discovered just what I used to be having a look for.
    You’ve ended my four day lengthy hunt! God Bless you man.
    Have a nice day. Bye

  20. I need to to thank you for this wonderful read!! I definitely enjoyed every bit of it. I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post…

  21. Donna Maire says:

    On my second trip up to Ontario Ca I had Pea meal bacon I have to say Soory.it tasted off to me I have eaten canadian bacon in the US and it was different..I love Canada and the good people..but soorry Us Jersey folk can’t live without Tayor Ham or Pork roll !

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