by Sybil PrattNovember, 1999
Hamming it up Real, dry-salt-cured country ham is a quintessential American delicacy whether it be smoked or unsmoked; aged for three, six, or ten months; cooked or uncooked; whole; halved; or processed in Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, or Virginia. James Beard proclaimed it one of the most elegant of all American foods. For those who grew up with country ham or discovered it later in life even for those poor, deprived souls who have never sampled its savory smell andsublime texture there's now a practical paean to this precious portion of pork. It's The Country Ham Book (hardcover $24.95, 0807825190) by Jeanne Voltz and Elaine J. Harvell, who both come from families where festive dinners are centered around cured hams from the farm.
Their appreciation begins with some background on pigs in the New World (the first came with Columbus and de Soto), moves on to the ancient art of curing and its Americanization (Smithfield hams from Virginia were exported back to England as early as 1639), and then gets into the basics of buying and cooking (the time-honored scrubbing, soaking, and simmering and the newer oven-steaming and slow-cooker methods). The treats and the trimmings follow, with over 70 recipes from super-traditional Redeye Gravy, Raisin Sauce, Creamy Grits, and Beaten Biscuits to chef-enhanced, special-occasion extravaganzas such as Wild Mushroom Strudel with Virginia Ham and Smoked Ham Salad Szechuan. A source list for country hams makes purchase possible no matter where you live, and Jeanne and Elaine's expert advice makes it possible for you to prepare and serve this extraordinary, edible, all-American heirloom.
Sybil Pratt is an avid cook.