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Country Ham

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This is not a recipe, but is a "food story" that describes a first-time experience for me.

The custom of curing ham began in Virginia during the mid 1700s.

October marks "Eat Country Ham Month".

Country Ham
by Art Guyer

  Leek and Potato Soup with Country Ham

Fried Country Ham with Red-eye Gravy

On the eastern coast, a "country ham" is a pork ham, generally cured and smoked with a great deal of salt and pepper seasonings. It cures the pork in such a way that it stays good without refrigeration for a long time. You must fry or bake a country cured ham. It has not been cooked, but requires no refrigeration at room temperatures (75 degrees F.) until cut. They generally are wrapped in brown, waxed paper and inserted into a cloth bag. Many times stores only post the per pound price and not the weight, because they can loose weight as they age. So they are priced at time of sale.

Country ham packaging bag.

So here is my Country Ham story...........


This weekend one of our local markets held one of its "customer appreciation days." We live in a resort/beach community and in the off season, many local businesses offer this kind of enticement for the "locals" benefit.

In addition to stocking up on fresh salmon, oysters, tuna, scallops and flounder, I bought a whole country ham -- the first one we ever purchased. Some shoppers were putting two and three hams in their carts, so I figured I better get one. And at $1.29 (US) a pound, I figured I could not go too wrong. It weighed about 15 1/2 pounds.

As you can see from the photo of the bag, the ham was prepared by a company called R. M Felts in Virginia.

I did not pay any attention to the cooking directions until I got home with all my other treasures. In the past we have bought country ham slices and steamed and fried them and pieces of country ham and bone for seasoning bean soup and green beans. But this time I had the whole enchilada, so to speak.



Reading the back of the ham bag was very enlightening. I know I should have read it before I bought it, but they were going fast!




One baking method stated:

Wash ham, place in roaster with 5 to 7 cups of water (skin side up). Cover roaster tightly. Preheat oven to 500F -- place roaster in oven -- cook at 500F for 15 minutes ONLY. Turn oven off and leave for 3 hours. Turn oven to 500F again for 15 minutes ONLY. Leave ham in oven for 6 to 8 hours. Do NOT open oven door once ham has been placed in oven.

Another method read:

Wash ham, place in boiler fat side down. Cover ham with water. Let ham come to a boil, then simmer, 20 to 25 minutes per pound for cooking. Keep ham covered with water while cooking. When ham is done, remove skin, dot ham with cloves and sprinkle with brown sugar. Bake in oven at 450F until brown.

And a third method:

Wash ham, then soak for 6 to 8 hours in cold water. Place in roaster, fat side up. Add 1 cup water. Bake at 325F allowing 20 to 25 minutes per pound. That was the method I chose. More about that in a bit.

A country ham can be soaked in cold water for 24 to 72 hours to rid it of excess salt before serving. Change the water at least three times during the soaking period. However, many connoisseurs of country ham prefer to enjoy its natural salty flavor and smoky aroma. And remember, when slices are saltier, they're cut thinner, making them go a lot farther





A couple of other interesting things were written on the ham bag:


It warned: "If ham is covered with mold, do not be alarmed; aged hams will mold without damage or danger. You should, however, wash ham in hot water and scrub off mold and pepper with a stiff brush." Hmmmmmm!

Also: "All hams are guaranteed for quality ... Hams are not warranted against insect damage or excessive aging." Imagine that!

Then the really bad news: The Nutrition Facts!

The serving size is only 3 ounces (84g). Well I ate more then that just eating the scraps when I was cutting it after cooking!

Amount Per Serving:






Now if that won't kill a horse, I don't know what will.


As I mentioned earlier, I used the "soak and bake" method. I soaked the ham overnight in a hugh pot, starting about 11:00 PM and ending about 7:00 AM the next day. I put the big sauce pot in the sink, filled it and left it there. That way I could tilt the pot to get most of the water out before I had to lift the whole thing. I then scrubbed the ham with a brush, even though there was no mold on mine. (I felt kind of cheated, in a weird way!).

The night before, I got out one of our 18-quart Nesco Roasting Ovens and had it ready on the island counter. When I came down that morning I turned it on to 325F and covered it so it would warm up. I put the ham on a rack in the roaster as directed, added a cup of water, put the lid on and got a cup of coffee. Within 30 minutes the rich, salty-sweet smell of the ham wafted through the house.

When my PDA timer went off at 12:30 PM I was anxious and excited to see the results. But I had to turn the roaster off, uncover it, and let it sit for an hour to cool off.

Removing the ham from the roaster oven, I placed it on our large wooden carving board; it has a concave center and a trough around the edge to catch drippings. That was a really smart move because there was plenty of "drippings" while I was cleaning and cutting the ham. I removed the rind and cut or scrapped as much of the fat off of the ham as I could. Then I started cutting away, taking thin slices and as large as possible. It probably took me an hour to cut the meat away from the bones and clean up. To keep clean up to a minimum I set a 5-gallon bucket, lined with a plastic trash bag, on the table beside me so I could discard the rind and other trimmings.

"Official" Carving Instructions

To slice, cut parallel to the aitchbone on a diagonal. Determine whether you have a right or left leg by positioning the ham with the butt end up and the flatter side down. The bulbous rear portion is the back of the leg. Slice down on a 45 degree angle from the back of the leg. The butt is best for baking and the center of the ham for frying. Use the shank portion for cubing and biscuit portions of meat. Smaller portions from the hock can be used for beans and vegetables.

When finished, I had 9 bags of slices, just enough in each for a meal for Doris and me; two bags with bones and meat chunks for beans or soup [see soup recipe] and seasoning; and a small plate of ham for our dinner that evening. I fixed a salad and baked a package of Pillsbury's Grands Golden Corn Biscuits. Their sweet taste made wonderful sandwiches with the salty country ham slices and sliced sweet onions.

For more information visit the website of the National Country Ham Association


Leek and Potato Soup with Country Ham

Fried Country Ham with Red-eye Gravy

Cooking and Food Information Index







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  Leek and Potato Soup with Country Ham

Recipe By : Nathalie Dupree
Serving Size : 10

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method
------------ ----
---------- ----------------------------------------------------
  1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  1 teaspoon caraway seeds
  1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  3 tablespoons olive oil
  6 leeks -- thinly sliced (about 4 cups)
  10 potatoes -- peeled and cut into
  1 cup cooked country ham -- cut into 1/2-inch
  10 cups chicken stock
  3 cups red cabbage -- thinly sliced
  Salt and pepper, to taste

In a large stock pot heat cumin, caraway and fennel seeds over medium heat until lightly toasted and fragrant; do not burn. Remove to a small plate. Add oil and heat over medium-low heat. Add leeks and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add potatoes, ham and stock, bring to a boil, then add cabbage and reserved seeds. Reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.

Season to taste with salt and pepper.

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  Fried Country Ham with Red-eye Gravy

Recipe By :
Serving Size : 4

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method
------------ ----
---------- ----------------------------------------------------
4 Slices country ham, about 1/8th inch thick
1 Cup water

Wash ham slices and place in pan with a little water. Steam water out. Continue to fry slowly until done. For red-eye gravy add a little water to the drippings in the pan and simmer for about 3 minutes, stirring constantly.

Serve with biscuits.

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