April is a time of unsettled weather. In the fall we expect the cold to prevail and it does, but April has a warmer heart and we know it will prevail with warmer days. That is how spring is.
And in the spring, and often in April, comes Easter. And what is more traditional for Easter dinner than ham, whether you are on the road or at home.
A piece of pork, the hind thigh of a hog to be exact, becomes a piece of ham after it has been thoroughly processed. Tastes in ham are as varied as the methods of curing them. Years ago ham was cured, smoked and aged simply to preserve it, but today most hams sold in America are cured by the injection of a brine into the meat, and come from the Midwest where hogs have been fed nutritionally calculated diets. Today the greatest majority of hogs, nearly four-fifths, are corn-fed.
There are many kinds of ham to choose from. When making your selection, be sure the meat is not discolored and the liquid in the wrapping is clear. If it has been labeled “water added,” it will tend to be very moist. When purchasing a ham, some folks still ask for one from the left side of the hog—“they lie on the right side, and it makes the meat tough.”
The whole ham with the bone is the least wasteful and most distinctively flavored cut. The best selection here is a plump ham with a short, stubby shank end.
The butt end of ham is a convenient size for an average family. It is harder to carve, but is usually meatier. Make sure the label specifies “whole” butt half, or you may find that some choice center slices have been cut off.
The shank end of ham is as tasty as the butt half and is easier to carve. It has less meat, so is less expensive.
The whole boneless ham is when the bone has been removed and it has been custom-shaped. This will lack the flavor of a ham with the bone intact, but there is little waste and the meat is usually leaner.
The smoked shoulder of pork, also known as “picnic ham,” is priced much lower, but is somewhat wasteful as it contains more fat, bone and skin.
A smoked butt, also known as Boston butt, smoked tenderloin and daisy ham, is tender and delicious but can be extremely fatty.
And then there is the turkey-ham available for those watching their fat intake. It is usually fully cooked and made of ground dark turkey meat with natural smoked flavoring added. It really does taste like ham.
A fully cooked ham is ready to serve; however baking improves the flavor and texture. Bake a fully cooked ham according to the directions on the label.
Variety of Glazes
To make the ham more festive, add a tasty glaze. Ham can be glazed a number of ways:
To 1 cup of brown sugar, add juice and grated rind of 1 orange, or 1/2 cup of maraschino cherry juice or cider, or 1 tablespoon of mustard. Or use just 1 cup of honey for glaze, or mix 3/4 cup of honey with 3/4 cup of pineapple juice and 1/2 teaspoon of mustard and cook until thick. You can use just 1 glass of currant jelly, melted, or 1/2 cup of orange marmalade, or 1 cup of pureed apricots, rhubarb or applesauce. Or mix 1/2 cup of maple syrup, 1/2 cup of apple juice and 2 tablespoons of mustard together. One of my favorites is 1/2 cup of brown sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of dry mustard mixed with 1/2 cup of pineapple juice.
Score the ham fat in a diamond pattern—cuts should be only 1/4-inch deep. Spoon glaze evenly over ham during the last 30 minutes of baking. For a heavier coating, spoon glaze over several times.
10-oz. jar of currant jelly
1/4 cup of lemon juice
1/2 cup of light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon of grated lemon rind
1/4 teaspoon each of cloves, cinnamon and allspice
8 oz. of chopped mixed candied fruits and peels.
Combine currant jelly, lemon juice, corn syrup, lemon rind, cloves, cinnamon and allspice in a saucepan and bring to a boil over low heat; remove. Stir in mixed candied fruits and peels. Spoon the glaze over the ham during the last 30 minutes of baking time.
MAPLE PECAN GLAZE
1 cup of maple syrup
1 cup of orange marmalade
1 tablespoon of butter
1/2 cup of chopped toasted pecans
Combine syrup and marmalade in a saucepan; heat and stir until bubbly. Whisk in 1 tablespoon of butter until smooth. Stir in chopped pecans.
Easter time is full of traditions, and you might ask how did ham come to be the traditional favorite for Easter dinner? In pre-refrigeration days, hogs were slaughtered in the fall and cured for six to seven months—just in time for Easter dinner.
HINT OF THE MONTH:
Wrap ham slices very tightly in foil when storing, then the foil will act as a preservative and completely insulate one odor from another when stored in the refrigerator.
Wrap ham slices very loosely in foil, dull side on the inside, when reheating. If wrapped tightly for baking, food is successfully insulated against the heat.
Marian Platt's regional narrative cookbook of Washington’s Sequim Valley, From My Kitchen Window, can be ordered by sending cash, check or money order for $25 (includes tax and handling/mailing costs) to Marian Platt, 434 Chicken Coop Rd., Sequim, WA 98382. Phone (360) 683-4691