It seems that writer George Orwell was a fan of the old traditional practice, most common in southern Scotland, of home-curing and smoking mutton bacon, or ‘macon’. In his private diary entry of 23rd January 1940, Orwell had copied a recipe for the delicacy from a newspaper cutting.
The book ‘Much Ado About Mutton’ has a large section on the traditional curing of mutton, including a number of recipes.
Orwell's diary entry for 23rd January 1940 starts with observations on the weather:
"Evidently a little more snow in the night. Milder, but no thaw.
6 eggs. Am not counting one that was laid on the floor of the pullets’ house & was broken. There were 3 there altogether, so at any rate 2 pullets are laying.
HOW TO MAKE MACON
Smoking mutton, to take the place of bacon, by the method suggested here, is an old and worth-while practice
SMOKING – and thus curing – mutton to take the place of bacon is not new. Country people not so many years ago were in the habit of regularly hanging legs of mutton, and shoulders, too, to cure in the wood or peat smoke of their kitchen chimneys. Here, for those who can, and care to try the method, is the procedure to follow.
Choose a large, fresh leg of mutton (or a shoulder) and have it trimmed to the shape of a ham. Let it hang for about three days and then ‘salt’ it with a preparation comprising 1lb. of common salt, 4 oz. of moist sugar and 1oz. saltpere, well mixed which warm before a fire. Rub this well into the flesh, taking care that no part escapes the salting. Place it in a deep dish and repeat the process every day for a fortnight. Then drain away any moisture and hang it up for a week.
Smoking, which follows, may be done in several ways. One is to obtain a high-sided cask out of which the top and bottom have been struck. Stand this on end and about half-fill it with sawdust (pine should not be used), and from a bar fixed across the top suspended by a wire a red-hot iron (an old flat iron will do very well), which must be buried deep in the sawdust.
This will cause a dense smoke to rise. The mutton must be hung over it and covered with a thick cloth so that none of the fumes escape. Occasionally damp the sawdust lightly and every day re-heat the iron.
Another, and better method where conditions admit, is to hang the mutton right in the chimney over a wood fire. Coal must not be used. Allow the smoke to find its way deeply into every part of the joint by frequent turning. If possible pinewood should be avoided, as it tends to “flavour” the meat, but almost any wood may be used – kept damp by an occasional sprinkle of water – and allowed to smoulder beneath the mutton day and night for a week.
Yet another method, for those who posses an outhouse or shed, is to hang the mutton from the roof and below it make a peat fire. Shut the doors and make as “smoke tight”. All that is then required is replenishment of the peat when necessary.
The meat, when prepared this way, will keep for a very long time if stored in a cool place."
Macon, like mutton generally, is making a comeback. Several UK producers now sell excellent macon. The Fruit Pig is one example (www.fruitpigcompany.com).