Hubby and I hadn’t been married very long when UPS showed up on our doorstep with a large, heavy box from his parents. Inside the box was a very intimidating Country Ham. How can a ham be intimidating , you ask? Easy. All hams that I had ever met previoiusly came in a can with a key to ‘roll’ open the top. Out would plop this gelatinous pink triangle shaped ‘meat’. Diamonds would be scored into the top and then a clove poked into each diamond and then heated in the oven just until warmed thru.
The ham that arrived via UPS was not in a can. It was wrapped in paper and tucked into a cloth bag. A recipe booklet that came with it advised that mold was normal in a dry cured ham and should be scrubbed off. Then it should be cooked in 7 Up to help desalt the flavor. Since my cooking skills were limited at the time to spaghetti sauce from a jar and foods that could be cooked in cream of mushroom soup this entire country ham process was intimidating. Instead, we hung it in the closet where it stayed until the military packed it and us up and moved it across the country.
My favorite widowed aunt and her new husband spotted the ham as it was unpacked by the movers. Uncle Dutch was excited to see that ham. He cradled it like a baby and announced that we were to bring it with us to Thanksgiving dinner at their house. We did as ordered and brought the now year old ham with us to dinner.
Uncle Dutch was like a kid in a candystore. He directed hubby to scrub the mold off and then found the sharpest knife he could and they started shaving small pieces off to nibble on. Apparently this is not a recommended way to eat it, but that didn’t matter. They continued to nibble away as Uncle Dutch would tell us about his childhood in pre-WWII Holland and that ham was just like the ones they’d have there. He would also lean against the cabinet where a light switch (or, as he called it, a Peter switch) causing the lights to flicker on and off. The ham was noticbly smaller by the time it was cooked and brought to the table.
Shortly after that Thanksgiving dinner we were asked to contact hubby’s parents and request that they send another country ham. His parents lovingly and with a bit of amusement complied. They became his ‘ham connection’.
As the years passed they would send a country ham for our Thanksgiving. When we moved to Washington hubby was at sea for Thanksgiving. Undeterred, his folks mailed a ham and we wives sent all the holiday side dishes that would travel to him aboard the ship. Not to be bested by the ham our sailors cooked the ham in the autoclave. Sailors were drifting in and out of the medical department to find out what that wonderful aroma was and hoping to snag a bit for themselves. The medical department ate the best Thanksgiving dinner ever eaten on a ship at sea.
As the years passed they continued to send us country hams about once a year. We tried to locate them outside the south and talked to local grocers but the cost was just prohibitive for them to offer. After his dad passed away and his mother moved I went online to see if I could order one, but the cost of a full country ham was over $100 when shipping was added in. We could not justify the expense.
Last Friday I stopped into the local grocery store to pick up beans to go in a ham and bean soup that was on our menu. It was to be made with a smoked hock and would be a nice comfort dish during the nasty weather we were expecting. A miracle had happened, tho. There, in the meat section, right next to the foil wrapped, honey hams was a country ham. Sixteen pounds of memories. My mood went from crappy to happy in the blink of an eye. Memories slammed into me, one after the other. Now we need to sit down and plan out a dinner worthy of this beauty. Some will be carved off to become ham steaks for breakfasts. Ham and potato gratin. Ham sandwiches. The bone will eventually become gallons of bean soup that we will share with friends.
And I just know Uncle Dutch is smiling down on us.