Down our way, they hang from store rafters, inside and out, wrapped and labeled, summer and winter—big, heavy country hams, right there along with fireworks and boiled peanuts. All the way back to the 17th century, salted, brined, smoked and dried, preserved meat kept body and soul together over the winter. Traditional Virginia and Smithfield hams, in addition to the special curing technique, have a distinctive flavor originally from peanuts as part of the diet—even today, some hogs are let loose in harvested peanut fields to forage for the leftovers.
But for country ham first-timers both prep and flavor take some getting used to. A new neighbor talked about “salt with some meat on it”—and watching the dogs hang around the kitchen for hours. Just like curing, traditional cooking takes some skill, some time, elbow length gloves and a very sharp knife. Instructions are beyond my pay grade– here’s the link: https://www.smithfieldmarketplace.com/about-country-hams
Once the ham is cooked, you’ll have it for awhile—a little bit goes a long way. A tiny sliver, with a dab of mustard, makes a sandwich. It’s how we season our beans and greens and black-eyed peas. Holiday feasts down here almost always include a ham—no matter what else is on the table. And it wouldn’t be a celebration–a wedding, a funeral, or anything in between–without a big platter of ham biscuits.
The Kitchen Hive