Maynard Davies, 1934-2022
Maynard Davies was one of the last traditional apprentice boy bacon curers. He was born in Hanley on 2 May 1934, and his steel worker father died when he was eight years old, leaving Maynard’s mother to raise six young children. Dyslexic, Maynard left school at the age of 15 unable to read or write but he soon found work as an apprentice at an old curing house in Stoke on Trent. It was a job Maynard relished from the start. Good food for good people was his life’s mantra and his enthusiasm for cured meat drove him onwards for the next 70 years.
Once trained, his first breakthrough came when the old curing house was taken over by a larger company and his retiring apprentice master decided to give Maynard his closely-guarded secret curing recipe book. At a new company, the 22-year-old Maynard one day had a surprise when an American customer offered him a job in his Philadelphia ham factory. As Maynard, who had never been further than Blackpool later put it, ‘Opportunity knocks very softly, so I accepted.’ In the US, he cured and picked up more traditional recipes such as an old Quaker cure for smoked beef, and the Settler’s Bacon, and his work also involved training the inmates at the Pennslyvania’s State Penitentiary how to cure their own bacon and make sausages.
On returning to England, he found the world of curing had been changed by cheaper supermarket products so he eventually decided to branch out on his own, buying a run-down remote smallholding in the Derbyshire Peak District. The elderly vendor said she would have no nonsense with solicitor’s contracts and if Maynard wanted the farm, she insisted he was to place £15,000 on the stone wall outside, in time-honoured fashion. This he did. From here he enjoyed a happy and adventurous life with his wife and four daughters, curing and farming. An early challenge arose when inspectors told him he could not place a sign at the bottom of his farm track indicating he had home-cured farm bacon for sale in the Peak District park. ‘They had confiscated my sign,’ he later wrote, ‘but I had a nucleus of customers and I kept serving those. And when I could see the officials coming down the track a quarter a of a mile away, in their little green landrover, I used to lock the butchery up!’ Over the years there, he bred and raised his own pigs, took them for slaughter and brought them back and cured them all himself. He delighted in learning new things, and prided himself in his natural, free-range products. ‘There is a saying in our business: the price is forgotten but the taste is remembered.’
He was very knowledgeable about pigs and said they were one of his favourite animals. “If you show them something, they never forget, and if you show them a bit of affection, they remember that too.’
Maynard loved all aspects of his trade. For example, when it came to sawdust for smoking, he believed that oak was one of the best (as well as apple wood) but that each oak had its own flavour: Welsh oak he found slightly bitter and made a bacon with too much bite – and he avoided Spanish oak too. English beech he approved of but not sycamore. He was fascinated by the history of curing and its developments, such as the fact that pre-1945, the majority of manual workers liked a saltier bacon or ham than is the taste today, presumably due to sweating. He was commissioned to make some smoked mutton hams (part peat, part oak) for a medieval banquet and was so pleased with the results that he continued to make them.
As his daughters grew older, the family moved their curing business to a Shropshire village where Maynard’s bacon and sausages became nationally-acclaimed products. Some time after being unexpectedly widowed from his wife Tricia, his subsequent partner of 30 years Ann recorded and transcribed his straight-talking, enthusiastic memoirs which gained a cult following when they were subsequently published as Maynard, Adventures of a Traditional Bacon Curer, followed by the roller-coaster second half of his life in Maynard, Secrets of a Bacon Curer, described by The Oldie magazine as ‘A hidden gem’. In his practical Manual of a Traditional Bacon Curer Maynard generously shared his lifetime’s recipes and techniques, in his efforts to maintain the traditions of curing. Maynard summed up his retirement from curing in his typically down-to-earth style: ‘It was the right time to go as I knew I was slowing up. The most difficult thing is life is to be honest with yourself; and you have to be honest with yourself.’ Maynard died on 24 February in Shrewsbury at the age of 87.