Round, brisket or other solid piece of beef
Coarse or kosher salt
Saltpeter (optional, and probably not available anyway)
Rub each piece of beef well with salt mixed with one tenth part of saltpetre, until the salt lies dry upon the surface. Put aside in a cold place for twenty-four hours, and repeat the process, rubbing in the mixture very thoroughly. Put away again until the next day, by which time the pickle should be ready.
5 gallons of water
1 gallon of salt
4 ounces saltpetre
1 and 1/2 lb. brown sugar
Boil this brine ten minutes; let it get perfectly cold; then pour over the beef, having wiped the latter entirely dry. Examine the pickle from time to time to see if it keeps well; if not, take out the meat without delay, wipe it, and rub in dry salt, covering it well until you can prepare new and stronger brine.
From Common Sense in the Household by Marion Harland, New York, 1871
Comment: Mrs. Harland is not too clear in the matter of the amount of salt called for here, but what matters is the proportion: ten parts salt to one of saltpeter. The latter has in recent decades been criticized as a possible carcinogen, and so has fallen out of favor and may be hard to obtain. Even more recent research suggests the previous research was flawed and the stuff may be harmless. The march of scientific progress is not always a smooth one. While the substance has been used for centuries as a meat preservative, suggesting that it certainly didn’t knock people over dead on the spot, it is worth remembering that most people managed to die of one thing or another by their forties in those times anyway. You decide.
The term “corning” in regards to meat is a frequent source of puzzlement since, clearly, no corn is used at any point in the process. Additionally, the term can be found in use in English sources long predating Columbus’ trip to the New World, which is where corn comes from. How did they come up with a term for a product they didn’t know existed yet? [Cue "Twilight Zone" music.]
The problem involves linguistics, not time travel. “Corn” was originally the word for any sort of grain used for food. If one wished to be more specific one said oats, or wheat, or barley or whatever. The “corning” process required coarse salt, but salt came in a great number of sizes, from the teeny crystals we know today to rocks of any mass desired. The size desired for meat preservation was a crystal about the size of a single grain of wheat, or barley, or oats, thus, “corn.”
When English-speaking people came to the Americas and found the inhabitants dining on a kind of grain which they had never seen before, they said “Whuzzat stuff?” Getting a variety of responses depending on what tribe was involved in the conversation, they fell back on one they knew–it was clearly a food grain, so it was “a corn.” English-speaking people who stayed home decided that was dumb and called the stuff “maize.” Thus do we remain two peoples divided by a common language.