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Mrs Beeton's cured meat recipes - saltpetre conversion question

I'm interesting in trying some of Mrs Beeton's recipes for curing ham and bacon. Sure, there are lots of good modern recipes, but this is more an exercise in historical re-enactment as a learning exercise. I have some questions I was wondering if you guys might know the answer.

Can I use curing salt #1 (pink salt, &c) in place of saltpetre? If so, what is the equivalent of 1oz saltpetre?

What is the modern equivalent of Salt Prunella?

Can I use less curing salt than recommended (note, I'm not cutting the regular salt, just the nitr- whatever it is)? The recipe is written for people living in London in the 1850s so I assume quality of meat, temperature control, moisture control were an issue back then (Mrs. B. also mentions these issues elsewhere in her writing). Since I have a fridge and can order the meat fresh via the butcher, what percentage can I safely reduce the curing salt?

Answer »
Sam1148 added over 1 year ago

That's a pretty specialized question. This forum

Might have better answers for you.
Sometimes older historical recipes are very sketchy about ammounts etc. Such as one I encountered that began with "Have the Made Make A Roux".
(Which would be a great book title).

trampledbygeese added over 1 year ago

I love those recipes. Sadly, in this day and age, I must be both made and cook. ah well.

Thanks for the link, I'll ask there. I might try and find a local SCA group and ask them too, they usually have experience converting medieval recipes to the modern day kitchen so they shouldn't have trouble with a recipe only 170 odd years old.

trampledbygeese added over 1 year ago

ps, if you ever need help writing that book, think of me. Love the title choice.

Sam1148 added over 1 year ago

Here's a decent book for historical recipes..and food.
By Mark Kurlansky. Author of the excellent "Salt: a History"

"Choice Cuts: A Savory Selection of Food Writings from Around the the World Throughout History"

A nice audio book from audible..for sleepy bed time listening on your bedside pod/pad etc.

Jasper Aykroyd added 3 months ago


Saltpeter is avialable today but is very unreliable for curing: it depends on all kinds of conditions including how the saltpeter was kept.

It is however, interchangeable with Chile Saltpeter (a slightly later discovery) which is Sodium Nitrate, as opposed to Potassiumk Nitrate.

The good news is, that is already in Curing Salt #2 (Aka Prague Powder #2)

Sal Prunella was made by heating the saltpeter under certain conditions and pouring into moulds. They thought this was a purification method, but in fact it creates Sodium Nitrite (note the I in nitrite, rather than A in nitrate) and some by-products. We use this preservative in curing today. It is present in curing salts #1 and #2, both.

So what you really want is cure #2

Both cures contain some ordinary salt (to prevent accidents) and only 6.25% sodium nitrite (the prunella) with a smaller amount of the Chile Saltpeter (nitrate) also present in cure #2

We now know that the amounts used in Mrs Beaton are not good for you at all.

I would strongly advise following the recipe with the exception that you stick to the modern usage of these cures, which is 2.5g of cure to 1k of food you are adding it to.

Any recipe that calls for Cure #1 (nitrites only) can be substituted for cure #2, but not the other way round, since cure #2 has a stronger and longer-term preserving action.

Good luck!

lifeandlarder added 2 months ago

A hugely popular book, Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management (1861) sold nearly 2 million copies in only 7 years. I have read however, that she didn't test recipes, and a great majority didn't work. So with something as vital as curing, I'd definitely heed advice from contemporary experts. Go natural by all
means, safely.
I should add that while her recipes may not have been great, Mrs Beeton did use a modern recipe format, listing ingredients, directions and timing.

No need to email me as additional
answers are added to this question.