The Big Question: for the novelist Philip Pullman, no smell has ever been better than rashers spitting in a frying pan
From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, March/April 2013
Frying bacon: is there any smell that prompts the saliva glands to gush more freely? Roasting coffee is almost as good, perhaps, but bacon is the king. And it has to be fried. Grilling the stuff makes it self-conscious and prim. Grilled bacon is for people who are too polite for sensuousness, let alone sensuality. The rashers have to wallow in a blackened frying pan, curling up with delight, spitting with glee, letting the fat molecules, as they rise in excitement from the stove, carry the news of the ongoing savoury-umami-salty-Maillard orgy to every corner of the house. And what sort of fat? The bacon will generously supply some of its own, but if it needs supplementing, the best of all is lard. No olive oil here, thank you.
My grandmother used to cut the rind from each rasher with a pair of kitchen scissors, and fry it separately so it was even crisper. My grandfather would bundle the rinds together with the rashers between two slices of bread, unbuttered, because, he claimed, that was the way the cowboys liked it. I don’t know about the cowboys, but I agree about the butter: too soft. Wrong kind of fat. If enough fat has oozed out of the bacon, fry the bread in that, on one side only, and put that side inside the sandwich.
I loved many smells in my grandparents’ house, from the lavender water with which Granny used to bathe her temples when she had a headache, to the grainy mash my great-aunt made up every afternoon in a pair of wooden troughs to feed the chickens, to the soapy clothy steam that filled the scullery on Mondays when they did the washing, stirring the boiling sheets about with an old stick that had gone pale and feathery with years of use; but the best of all smells was, and still is, bacon frying in the kitchen.
Nothing I have smelt since—Chanel No.5, a clean baby, Christmas pudding, the west wind in spring, a secondhand bookshop, my first girlfriend’s hair—has ever been better than that.
What do you think is the best smell? Have your say by voting in our online poll. Read Ann Wroe on Wild roses, Edward Carr on Baking bread, Rose Tremain on New-mown hay, Robin Robertson on Rain and Ian Jack on an Indian railway platform.
Philip Pullman has written over 20 books including "His Dark Materials" trilogy and "Grimm Tales"