So what’s the deal with peameal anyways?!? This particular cut goes by many names… Canadian Bacon, Back Bacon or as we here in Ontario most commonly refer to it… PEAMEAL BACON! But did you know that this particular cut actually originated here in Ontario… More specifically Hogtown AKA Toronto!
Peameal bacon is a type of unsmoked back bacon. It is made from centre-cut pork loin, trimmed of fat, wet-cured in a salt-and-sugar brine and rolled in cornmeal. It can be sliced and cooked on a grill, griddled or fried; or roasted then sliced and served. The brining process makes it nearly impossible to overcook. The low fat content keeps it juicy, and the cornmeal gives it a crispy edge.
Cooked peameal bacon has a mild salty-sweet flavour and tastes more like fresh ham (when compared to smoked back bacon or side bacon). The cooked slices have been described as resembling small pork cutlets. It is eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner served in slices or as an ingredient in a pork dish.
The name peameal comes from the dried yellow peas that were ground into meal and packed around the meat to preserve it in the Victorian era. This has since been replaced by cornmeal, but the original name remains. Peameal bacon is rarely found outside of Southern Ontario, and is often simply referred to as “back bacon”. Similarly, a peameal bacon sandwich is often called “back bacon on a bun”
The origins of peameal bacon have not been firmly established. Curing pork with brine has been practiced for centuries, in many parts of the world. Peameal bacon has been linked to pork-packer William Davies and the Toronto-based William Davies Company, though it is uncertain if the process was invented by Davies, an employee, or if it was otherwise acquired by the company. Davies immigrated to Canada from Britain in 1854, and set up a shop in Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market.
According to Toronto’s oral history, Davies sent a side of brine-cured pork loins to relatives in England. To help preserve this shipment, he packed it in ground yellow peas. This was well received and Davies continued rolling cured loins in pea meal to extend shelf life. The William Davies Company expanded, forming Canada’s first major chain of food stores, and becoming the largest pork exporter in the British Empire. By the early 1900s, the company’s Front Street plant processed nearly half a million hogs per year. This contributed to Toronto’s longstanding nickname of “Hogtown”. Following World War I, cornmeal replaced the pea meal crust, due to the former’s availability and improved refrigeration practices.