Know your ham!

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader is an avid reader of Patum Peperium. He regularly reads all of the comments on all of the posts. Patum Peperium is one of the few blogs where reading the comments improves the quality of your visit. It is a testament to both Mrs & Mr P and their ability to write in a way that attracts a high calibre commenter.

Anyhoo…

It is because of a comment that Mrs. P left for your Maximum Leader on this post that he feels he must write the post you are reading. Go and read the post - it can only help frame the context of this post.

Mrs P wondered if Smithfield Hams are fed peanuts. This is an excellent question. Let’s do a little field guide to hams shall we?

First off, if you read the PP post, you might wonder what makes a Serrano Ham a Serrano Ham? Well… A Serrano Ham is a particular breed of Spanish Pig that is “finished” on acorns. By “finishing” your Maximum Leader means that the pig is fattened for a period lasting between 30 and 90 days on some suppliment to its regular diet before slaughter. In the case of the pig that becomes Serrano Ham, the suppliment is acorns. The pig is finished, then slaughtered. The hams are air cured in the mountains of Spain. The ham has a mild flavor which is accented by a nutty aroma and taste.

Many people prfer Westphalian Ham to Serrano. As it turns out, the Westphalian ham comes from the same white pig as does Serrano Ham. Indeed, the pigs that will become Westphalian Ham are also finished on acorns. But, in the case of Westphalian Ham, the pigs are slaughtered and smoked using juniper wood in Germany. The Westphalian Ham, as a consequence, has a smoky and herbal flavor imbued in the meat.

Now, Mrs P specifically asked about Smithfield Hams and peanuts. Allow your Maximum Leader to address that question. A pig that is finished on peanuts and then is slaughtered and cured in any fashion is a Virginia Ham. You often find Virginia Ham (or Virginia Style Ham) in the deli section of your local supermarket. The curing is inconseqential to the appelation of “Virginia Ham.” So long as the pig is finished on peanuts, it is a Virginia Ham.

A Smithfield Ham, on the other hand, is a ham that is salt-cured and aged in or around Smithfield, Virginia. (Technically, a Smithfield Ham can come from the Town of Smithfield, Virginia or the surrounding county - Isle of Wright County, VA. Due to a peculiar historical circumstance, towns and cities in Virginia are not part of the counties in which they reside. So, Smithfield, VA is a completely separate jurisdiction from the surrounding Isle of Wright County.) Smithfield Hams are almost always smoked and salt-cured. Though your Maximum Leader is familiar with a brand that is salt-cured but not smoked.

Smithfield Hams are the premier type of “Country Ham.” They have been smoking and curing hams in Smithfield, VA since 1635. They have the method down pretty well. In other areas of the United States, when a ham is salt-cured it is a Country Ham. Although, many will use the appelations “Smithfield” and “Country” rather interchangably. Your Maximum Leader only buys and prepares Smithfield Hams. Indeed, he generally does the trek to Smithfield once a year to pick his ham out of the Joyner’s smokehouse… (But that is another story.)

Smithfield and Country Hams are known for their saltiness. Indeed, in order to be vaugely edible, the hams have to be soaked in water for hours (if not days) before they are boiled and cooked. Your Maximum Leader, when preparing a Smithfield Ham, generally soaks his ham in a cooler of fresh water for 5 days. He changes the water every 8 hours. (For your information, your Maximum Leader never gets Smithfield Hams under 15 pounds. For all the work involved one should just go whole hog… As it were.) After soaking for 5 or so days, he boils the ham in a large cauldron for about 20-25 mins per pound. And he should note that the poundage of the ham has increased as the moisture - which was removed from the meat in the salt-curing process - was replaced. So, his 15 pound ham from the smokehouse is likely closer to 20-25 pounds heavy when it goes into the cauldron.

Once the ham has been boiled, your Maximum Leader trims off the fat and likes to put on a glaze of mustard, honey, and brown sugar. Not much glaze. Just enough to flavor the quarter inch or so of fat he leaves on the ham. Then he bakes the ham at 350 for long enough to crystalize the glaze.

Once cooked, Smithfield ham must be cut very thin. Even with the soaking the meat is still salty. If cut too thick it can also be stringy and tough to chew. Shaved Smithfield Ham is the way to go.

Now one more note on the Smithfield Hams. As they are salt-cured, they do not require refridgeration. Just hang them in a cool dark place and they will last for years. And your Maximum Leader can vouch for that. You see, as he mentioned, your Maximum Leader goes down to Smithfield to purchase a ham annually. Round about 1991 he was asked by a friend to pick up an additional ham - for the friend. Your Maximum Leader did this. But the friend determined after the ham was purchased that it was too much work to prepare. So, your Maximum Leader took the ham down to the basement, hung it up in a closet, and forgot about it. Forgot about the ham for about 6 years. Yes… Six years… 
Upon remembering the ham, there was great discussion among the extended Villainous family as to whether or not the ham would be any good. Your Maximum Leader proclaimed that it would be fine. Over time the salty flavor of the cured ham intensifies - but the meat shouldn’t spoil. So, your Maximum Leader did prepare the ham. He soaked it for 8 days (instead of 5) and prepared it as normal. It was quite delicious, if he does say so himself.

Now, one more thing about the Smithfield Ham. When you buy a Smithfield Ham they come wrapped in butcher’s paper and then placed in a cotton sack. The cotton sack is shaped just like the ham. There is something you have to do with the sack after you’ve cooked the ham… You make the Ham Pillow. Yes, loyal readers, the Ham Pillow. Indeed, it is a great honor to be bestowed a Ham Pillow by your Maximum Leader. The cotton sack is laundered. Then filled with washable pillow filling. Then it is sewn up along the open end with bright red string. Your Maximum Leader has a few Ham Pillows himself. They make for great props while watching films on the sofa. And in some extreme cases he’s heard of people cuddling with them at night while their good lady wife was away… Always keep the bag and make a Ham Pillow.

Just in case you were wondering where your Maximum Leader came up with the idea of a Ham Pillow… It was actually the idea of one of President John Tyler’s grand-children. One of President Tyler’s grand-daughters thought it would be a funny thing to make a pillow out of the bag they kept the ham in. Many generations later, the Tyler women were still making Ham Pillows and distributing them to friends. This was how your Maximum Leader came upon the idea…

Now, your Maximum Leader has completely exhausted himself on his ham exposition. And he hasn’t even hit Parma, York, Mainz, Prauge, or Paris style hams… Well… They will just have to wait for another day.

Carry on.

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