What are you serving for Easter? Why not ham? Easter means spring. It is believed the word Easter is derived from Oestar, or Eostre, the goddess of spring and renewal. The goddess was totally into spring celebrations, so the annual tradition begins.
The roast lamb dinner that many eat on Easter Sunday goes back earlier than Easter to the first Passover of the Jewish people. The sacrificial lamb was roasted and eaten, together with unleavened bread and bitter herbs in hopes that the angel of God would "pass over" their homes and bring no harm. As people converted to Christianity, they naturally brought along their traditions. The Christians often refer to Jesus as The Lamb of God. Thus, the traditions merged.
But in the United States, ham is a traditional Easter food. It is a bit of a wonder because we celebrate Easter as a Christian holiday and it is doubtful that Jesus, being Jewish, ever ate ham. The tradition of using ham is probably more an economical or logistical tradition than religious. In the early days, meat was slaughtered in the fall. There was no refrigeration, and the fresh pork, that wasn't consumed during the winter months before Lent, was cured for spring. The curing process took a long time, and the first hams were ready around the time Easter rolled around. Thus, ham was a natural choice for the celebratory Easter dinner. The pig was an animal that ate anything so it was an economical choice for the family get together.
A ham is the rear leg of a hog, usually preserved by salting, smoking or drying, or a combination of these methods. Fresh, uncured hams also are available.
All hams begin as this roast from the hind leg; before preparation it is no different from any other pork roast until they are aged, cured, smoked or cooked. The ham you buy at the store is generally wet or brine cured. This process involves injecting the ham with a combination of salt, sugar, sodiums, potassium chloride, water, and flavorings then the ham is cooked to a temperature of 150 degrees.
A dry-cured ham has been rubbed in a mixture containing salt and a variety of other ingredients including sodium nitrate. Sugar is a common way to dry cure ham in the United States, which is followed by a period of drying and aging. To age, the hams are hung in a special room with exact temperature and humidity controls. They can spend as much as five years aging.
Pork production today has drastically changed to produce much leaner meat than what it did 25 years ago. The ham leg is one of the cuts that contain the least amount of fat.
Ham contains a high level of some of the essential B vitamins, such as B1, B12, and niacin. And it also is rich in phosphorous, zinc, potassium, iron and magnesium as well as protein. Ham is high in sodium due to the curing process. It can contain half the daily-recommended intake for sodium.
All hams in the United States must be treated to kill the trichinae bacteria found, rarely today, in pork. Hams are sold, ready to serve or in need of cooking. Be sure to check which one you purchase as they may look the same.
Country Ham is a dry-cured ham. The ham is hand rubbed with salt, sugar and nitrate; packed in the curing ingredients and usually smoked. A country ham is much drier than injected-cured hams and has a sharper flavored due to its high salt content.
Picnic Ham is a cut of pork from the upper part of the foreleg and includes a portion of the shoulder. By definition, it is not a true ham. However, the picnic ham is cured in the same manner as ham, giving it a ham-like flavor.
Some ham fanatics look for the ham made from the left leg of a pig, as it is tenderer than the right leg. Why, you ask? Well, a pig scratches himself with his right leg, which uses the muscles more often, so the meat will be tougher.
A serving of boneless ham is 1/4 - 1/3 lb. A serving of bone-in ham is 1/3 - 1/2 lb.
Ham is one of the oldest meats of civilized man, although the French say it's their invention, of course.
Hams are produced by almost every country in the world. Due to a Civil War surrender agreement, Virginia Baked Ham was given that name to insult the residents of Virginia.
FEMA keeps a reserve of 3.6 lbs of canned ham for ever American, so pass the mustard.
Don't miss: The Celebrity Chef Dinner on April 16 at the Holiday Inn in Johnstown. This event will be celebrating its 20th year with the attendance of more than 15 area restaurants. Come and taste the best dishes of the best chefs and support scholarships for local students. You won't be disappointed.
For reservations call Debora Kolsrud at 848-3552 or email me.