Australian enquiry book of household and general information/Ham and Fish Curing



WHEN the pig is killed and dressed, let it hang in as cool a place as possible over night—in a draught if possible—and cut up as early as convenient next morning, so as to get the first salting done before the warmth of the day.

For every 100 lbs. of meat allow ½ lb. of good brown sugar (the browner the better), 1 lb. of coarse salt, and not quite a ½ lb. of saltpetre. Mix these together, taking care to pound the saltpetre to powder, and rub all the meat thoroughly. Go over it a second, and even a third time, to be sure of getting every part rubbed. Then pack it all, piece on piece, or side on side, on a board or table for the purpose. On some farms they use the floor, but it is not a good or cleanly plan, and, besides, the table is much better to work at in every way. Having packed the meat, place a board on top, and heavy weights on top of that—stones will do—and leave for three days, letting the brine run off as it will. Then unpack and rub over again with the sugar, salt and saltpetre as before, and repeat this operation every day for eight or nine days, turning the meat, and reversing from top to bottom. After the first nine days it will only require turning over twice a week for about six weeks—but it greatly depends on the climate—when it is ready to be smoked.


After treating as bacon up to the seventh or eighth day, rub in the following mixture, allowing for every 100 lbs.; sugar, 3 lbs.; allspice, 1 lb.; mustard, 1 lb.; saltpetre, 2 ozs. Get the darkest ration sugar you can. Pack the hams together, one on the other, and turn top for bottom twice a week for seven or eight weeks, then smoke. They will not require re-rubbing unless the weather sets in very hot, and then it is advisable to examine closely each ham.


That once there is an unpleasant smell it is too late to remedy by more rubbing. The bad part must be cut out completely.

Rub well to be sure of curing every portion, inside and out. Better too salt than going bad, for a little extra soaking before boiling will remedy the first, while for the last there is no remedy.

There is no excuse for ill-cured bacon or hams.


Ingredients: 12 lbs. coarse salt to 150 lbs. of meat; ½ lb. saltpetre; 2 quarts molasses.

Mode: Rub the salt into every part especially the joints. Then pour over the molasses and saltpetre (powdered) and rub it in. Repeat the operation every two days for a fortnight. Then hang up and smoke the meat for another fortnight. More molasses or brown sugar can be used if liked, but the salt is sufficient if well rubbed in at first.

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F  OR hams, the pig should not be killed in either damp or frosty weather, and if not over a year old the hams will be no good. When cut off, let them hang a day—or even two in cold weather—well sprinkled with salt, to dry and harden. Then rub over them thoroughly: ¼ lb. saltpetre, 2 lbs. salt, and 1 lb. of the darkest sugar to be got. Lay the ham rind down in a milk dish, or if you are curing more than one at a time they will need to be in something larger, as each must have every part covered. A wooden tub would do well. Let them lie as flat as possible, rind down, and put the salt, sugar, etc., over the fleshy part, basting frequently with the brine that runs from it, and turn every morning for a week, then every other day. Let it remain for a full month. At the end of that time, drain, and throw some dry bran over it, and it is then ready to be smoked or hung, if the latter, let it be in a cool place—the dairy or meat room. If hung in a hot place it will become hard and dry. A ham should be three months old before it is cut. Watch very closely, and directly any yellow or rancid spots appear, scrape or cut them off, and rub in pepper, salt and flour in equal parts. Directly it shows signs of not keeping, it must be put back into the pickle and kept there till wanted, and used as soon as convenient. If the pickle becomes strong and disagreeable, boil it again, or, better still, make fresh pickle. On a farm where pigs are bred for their hams, a proper curing tub should be made for the purpose. I have always found that an oblong-shaped tub is best, as four or even six hams can be cured in it at once. Round tubs are never convenient for the purpose, and they should not be more than eight or nine inches deep; one ham could be cured very well in an ordinaay milk dish.

To smoke the hams hang them in the chimney, if not too hot, or in the roof of the kitchen. I have done them very well in a cask, hung round the inside, the cask turned upside down, augur holes made in the top for the smoke to escape a little; or, better still, have a cask with both ends knocked out, hang the hams round inside, and throw a bag over the top. It requires a very slow smoulder to smoke. I have always used sawdust for the purpose, but I believe there is something better.


Ingredients: To every 100 lbs. of pork, 8 lbs. of salt; 2 lbs. brown sugar; 2 ozs. of saltpetre; ¼ oz. of potash; 4 gals. of water.

Mode: Salt the hams, thoroughly rubbing them (dry) for three or four days. Then put them into the cask or tub and pour the above pickle over them. Let them remain a week, then take out, hang up to drain for a day or two, and smoke in the chimney or with sawdust.


THIS is an industry of which I have some practical experience, and in case there are any of my readers living by the sea, I will give the whole process:—The mullet is one of the best fish to salt and smoke for sale, because it can be caught in large quantities, and very easily at certain seasons. Like the herrings in other parts of the world they run in huge shoals during the spawning season. On the Queensland coast the season varies from early in May to late in June, and one wants to be constantly on the watch for them. They are soon seen, as they have a very peculiar appearance in the water, all swimming together, often with just the tip of the nose or snout showing above water. After they are caught, the sooner they are cleaned and salted down the better. At some fishing stations they do not scale them, but it is better to do so, as they bring a better price when scaled (a difference of 1d. per lb. sometimes). Two or three strokes with the knife will take all the scales off, once you get used to doing it. Grasp the fish by the tail firmly (a bit of rough bagging to hold them by is a considerable help) and then scale off quickly, first one side then the other. Next open the fish right down the belly, splitting up through the throat and mouth, and with the right hand tear out the whole of the inside, being careful to save the roe (if there is any) unbroken; then tear away the gills, thus leaving the head perfectly clean and the whole body split open as far as the vent. Some people cut off the head, but it is best left on, as a means of stringing the fish up for one thing. Clean the fish by the water side, or, if possible, in a boat or dingy, so as to have plenty of water to wash them. Do not cut off any fins, or the tail either, just leave them as perfect as possible. When the fish are cleaned, proceed to salt them, using plenty of coarse salt and rubbing each fish well inside and out. I found it best to pack them one over another, either on a board or into a big wooden tub, till the next day, then give them another rub over and begin stringing them on to long thin sticks or withes, an equal number on each for the convenience of counting, and do not run them too close together, or they will not dry so well. Having strung them all, hang them up between two forked sticks out in the sun for three or four days, but be sure to take them in at night or the dew will spoil them. In this work everything has to be done quickly and promptly, because the season only lasts a few weeks, and unless you make at least one haul a day it will not pay. We used to reckon that from 500 to 700 per day was fairly good business. There is another way to salt the fish, viz., by dipping them in the sea water, but it is not so certain as rubbing them. The process is to string the fish and then dip them for a few minutes, hang in the sun all day, and dip again next day, do this three or four times. It is of course much quicker and less trouble and expense, and with care and watchfulness may be as successful. I have noticed that it is not safe to cure in this way unless the weather is fine and hot; a dull day may ruin all your fish cured in this way.

Another way they be done is by laying them on sheets of iron in the sun instead of stringing and hanging them; they dry quickly in this way, but taking them all round I am sure the other is the best. Directly they are dry remove them into the smoke house, which should be built ready to receive them. It can be made either of thatch or bark, anything in fact that can be made air tight or smoke tight. I prefer a low thatch house to any, and just wide enough to allow the withes to go across. The fire can be made of any sort of wood that will smoke well, and let them remain in the smoke house till they assume a lightish brown tint. The best way to test them is to cook one and try it. I believe there is always a market for fish done in this way. The Chinese in North Queensland will generally buy them in large quantities if good to ship to China. Two shillings per dozen is a very good price to get, even one shilling per dozen will pay well if you make your own salt, which is by no means a difficult matter. But it is not worth while shipping them North unless you have a quantity, on account of the freight to be paid. I have known of two shillings per dozen being given for large mullet and skipjacks mixed, but I never got more than one shilling myself wholesale, when I sold a little over 1200 dozen. Retail, I have got as much as four shillings per dozen for pickled fish.

Fish curing is an industry a woman can conduct entirely herself, once the fish are caught. It is not pleasant work by any means, but few women will mind that if it will pay, and there is no doubt it will if properly carried out. If she lives anywhere where there are aboriginals they may be pressed into service, at least to do the cleaning and scaling.

To preserve the roe, make a strong brine and cover the roe with it for a few days, then take them out carefully one by one on to tin plates, and dry in the hot sun. They sell at from one shilling to one shilling and sixpence per pound. There is a way of preserving the roe in oil I believe, but I have never done any quantity in that way.

Of course any kind of fish can be cured and smoked as I have described, according to the waters in which it is caught. The flap of the stingaree or stingray is excellent salted and smoked, and where one has to live mostly upon fish it is a pleasant change, as the flavour is different to any other fish. You must cut the flesh right off the bone or it will not keep. Each flap contains quite a rib work of long thin bones from which all the fish must be cut. With a sharp knife and a little care it is soon done, and then you will have quite a large piece of solid fish to salt. The young shovel-nosed shark makes a pleasant dish, also, for a change, but not after he is ten or twelve inches long, then he becomes too coarse.

To make salt from sea water you must have two pots or boilers—kerosene tins answer as well as anything; place both over the fire, filled with sea water, and as one boils down keep filling it up from the other. I boiled for three days and three nights, then when I let the water settle, I had at the bottom of the tin several pounds of good salt. The fire must be kept up all the time, night and day, if it goes out your salt will be spoiled. If you make a great quantity of salt, it is as well to have a tin especially made for the purpose, and it should be wide and shallow, a sort of tray about four inches in depth, supported on legs nearly a foot high. You can have a slow fire under this, or if stood in the sun the water will be evaporated and a layer of salt left. As the sun draws off the water you want to add a little, till you have as much salt as the tray will hold. The same if you use fire, you require to keep adding to the pot, or you will only have a very thin layer of salt. Also, if using a deep vessel like the kerosene tin, put some good sized pebbles in the bottom as a safe-guard against burning—they keep up an agitation while the water boils, and so prevent the salt settling too soon. Like soap, salt is very easily made when you know how.


Ingredients: 2 lbs. sugar, 12 lbs. salt, saltpetre.

Mode: To every 100 lbs. of meat allow: ½ lb. saltpetre (crushed and pounded), and 3 gallons of water. Boil, and as the skum rises skim it off carefully. When cold, put into the cask or tub, and put in the pork after it has been well rubbed with salt.


To each gallon of water allow: salt, 2 lbs.; brown sugar, 2 lbs.; saltpetre, ¼ lb. Boil very slowly and remove every particle of scum as it rises. This is as good a pickle as can be made. More saltpetre can be used if liked, but too much takes the flavour from the meat.

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