“EVERY PIG’S A CHALLENGE”
Born in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, he was one of 6 children. His father was a steelworker. Maynard was dyslexic.
His mother left home when he was just eight, leaving Dad to bring up the children.
Maynard left school at 15 with no qualifications. He could not read or write.
He was offered the possibility of an apprenticeship at a curing house in Stoke. When he turned up for the interview he said, “I’ve come about the job.” His prospective boss told him to clean the windows – and gave him nothing to do the job with. But he used his initiative.
He found some old newspaper in a corner and used the technique his father had taught him in the home. He had only been told to clean the outsides but he did the insides as well. The employer was so impressed he said to Maynard, “You start tomorrow 6a.m. If you’re a minute late you’re sacked.”
It made an impression on Maynard. He was never ever late for any appointment.
He learned the traded of proper bacon curing and absolutely loved it. He built up a strong bond with his boss, Theo Mountford. The company was called ‘Theo’s Bacon Curers’ and the shop was based in nearby Stafford. Theo taught Maynard everything.
But the day came when Theo decided to retire. His company was bought out by a large conglomerate. As a leaving present, Theo gave Maynard his secret recipe book, with hundreds of techniques for curing that he had built up over the years – on the condition it didn’t fall into the hands of the company who had bought him out.
Maynard married his childhood sweetheart, Tricia. They were to have four daughters.
Maynard worked for the new company for a while but was stunned when an American customer offered him a job in his Philadelphia based ham factory. He took his family to the USA. “Opportunity knocks very softly, so I accepted.”
And there he picked up many more ham and bacon curing recipes. His time as a serious collector began now. He borrowed ideas from the early settlers, the Quakers (smoked beef) and native Americans. He was so popular he was asked to be a weekly visitor to the Pennsylvania State Penitentiary, teaching the inmates how to make sausages.
Then he returned to the UK. He initially became a freelance knackerman, moving from farm to farm. But he was dismayed to find traditional pork butchers were being priced out by large supermarkets that used inferior techniques (in his opinion) such as pumping water into their meat products to ‘plump’ them out.
He decided to start his own business, curing bacon.
After much investigation he found a smallholding on the edge of the Peak District was up for sale. He went to look at it. It was very dilapidated. He asked the widow who was selling it if he could come back the following day for a second viewing. She said, “No! You’ve seen it once. That’s enough to make a decision.”
He said he would take it and his solicitor would contact her tomorrow. She told him she would only sell it the traditional Derbyshire way (the way she had bought the farm in the first place). He had to leave £15,000 on the garden wall. He duly did – and the farm was his.
He converted the farm into a successful business, doing all the work himself with the help of Tricia and the four girls. They kept their own pigs. His meat products were exceptionally popular.
There was no running water on the farm so he took up water divining to find a source.
But he fell out with local food inspectors when he put a sign up at the end of his (three quarter of a mile) track. They said he could only sell through licenced shops, not from his farm. The locals knew he sold from home so kept buying. The inspectors tried to catch him out.
Maynard had his daughters on a lookout rota. About half a mile away they could spot the distinctive green Land Rover of the inspectors. By the time the vehicle arrived at the farm, everything was shut up. “When I saw the officials coming down the track quarter of a mile away in their little green Land Rover, I used to lock the butchery up.”
He loved his pigs, calling them very intelligent animals. “If you show them something, they never forget – and if you show them a bit of affection, they remember it too.”
He said, “Every pig is different and every pig’s a challenge.”
Maynard loved every aspect of the job and took great pride in it. He wanted to provide the best quality. He became an expert in the wood you smoked ham/bacon with. He said oak or applewood was the best, but every type of oak was different and applewood was hard to get hold of. He was not keen on Welsh oak (“too bitter”) and refused to use Spanish oak.
He said, “English beech is good, sycamore is bad.”
He loved the history of curing and collected ancient recipes
. He said every area was different and claimed to have 29 separate British curing techniques, each dependent upon the area of origin. He loved trying out pre-war recipes.
He was once asked to do smoked mutton for a medieval banquet – part peat, part oak. He liked the result so much that he kept on producing it.
The family moved to Halfway House in Shropshire. By now his bacon and sausages were receiving national acclaim.
But then his wife Tricia died suddenly and unexpectedly. A while afterwards he met Ann, who became his partner both in business and life – for over 30 years.
It was Ann who persuaded Maynard to publish both his life story and the recipes he had collected. She wrote notes as he dictated, whilst working in his butchery. She sent the notes, ripped, torn and splattered with blood to Merlin Unwin books. Despite the mess they were in they decided to publish.
His first book ‘Adventures of a Traditional Bacon Curer’ came out in 2009 and was an unexpected commercial success. It was followed by two more books, ‘Secrets of a Bacon Curer’ and ‘Manual of a Traditional Bacon Curer’. In them he published many of the previously secret recipes. “I didn’t want to die and let the information die with me. I had to pass it on.”
In the books he stated it took between one and two months to hang a ham properly. He complained modern supermarkets allowed just two days. He said ham and bacon “need time, just like cheese and wine.”
He was interviewed for television by Sophie Grigson – and came over as a decent, jovial, optimistic and enthusiastic fellow (which he was) with a love for his job. He would never sell any meat he had not eaten himself first. Sophie asked him for a tip and he said, “Never put butter in a bacon sandwich.”
He became the supplier of ham to the Queen, had a stall on Ludlow Market (where he sold a Roman recipe for bacon) and appeared on Rick Stein’s ‘Food Heroes’.
He finally decided to retire in his mid – eighties. “It was the right time to go as I knew I was slowing up.”
Maynard died in Shrewsbury. He was the last Master Bacon Curer in the UK.
RIP – Rashers (from) Improved Pork