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Tom Chaney: Country Ham at Christmas

Of Writers And Their Books: Country Ham at Christmas. Tom shares his mother's recipe for cooking ham: Corinth's Country Ham. This column first appeared 21 December 2008.
The next earlier Tom Chaney column: Deconstructing Lincoln

By Tom Chaney

Country Ham at Christmas

Christmas at our house meant country ham.

Our father, Boots Chaney, bought hams from his friends and insurance customers all over the territory. The little closet at the back of the Withers Chaney and Green insurance agency [Before you Die, Buy, Burn or Blow Away, See Us] was storage for blank insurance policy forms and hanging hams. Every insurance policy smelled faintly of ham at no additional cost.

He also sold the hams. I recall that his selling price was exactly the same as his buying price. Those hams of my youth were not the piddling little ones available now from Clifty Farms, Coon Creek, or even Penn's which do well to top seventeen pounds or so. The hanging insurance hams tended to be in the thirty to forty pound size.

He also gave them away.

I have a letter to him from Governor Earle Clements thanking him for such a gift. Clements is the Kentucky governor who decreed that no state employee was to take a gift more valuable than a country ham. When questioned years later about how he stopped the practice of gifts to state employees, the former governor was puzzled. "I did no such thing," he told the reporter.

"But Governor," he replied, "how about your order that state employees could take no gift more valuable than a country ham?"

"Why, son," said the governor, "nothing is more valuable than a country ham."

Those big hams are not legal any more. Not because of size, but because, if they were cured on the farm, they would attract the attention of the ham police.

Come Christmas at least two of the hams would come down.

One would be taken to a local butcher to be sliced.

A few of the slices would be kept back for Christmas morning. The rest were wrapped in pairs and delivered to special friends around town. I went with him on some of these forays and noticed that, more likely than not, the recipient was someone whose circumstances did not allow the luxury of ham.

The other ham was destined for the oven.

Mother had a large, well used roasting pan. The ham was skinned and trimmed to fit the pan. It was never soaked. The only water used in the process was that used to scrub the exterior of the ham. The recipe Mother used is unique. She said that it helped remove the salt from an overly salty ham and imparted a special flavor to the cured meat.

Her formula has been widely shared amongst friend and foe. It was published some years back in the cooking book of a family friend. Some folks are eating ham cooked by Mother's recipe this very season.

As a Christmas gift to you, gentle reader, I share this recipe.

Procure by whatever means available a cured country ham. Usually it will weigh from 13-17 pounds.

Remove the hock and skin. Leave as much of the fat beneath the skin as possible. A butcher can help here.

Assemble the following ingredients:
4 Cups plain flour
1 Cup dark brown sugar
2 Tablespoons ground cinnamon
2 Tablespoons ground cloves
2 Tablespoons ground dry mustard
1 Tablespoon black pepper
Water to make soft dough. About 2 Cups
Fire up the oven to 350 degrees or so.

Sift to combine the dry ingredients.

Add water to make a soft spreadable dough -- like a soft biscuit dough.

Place the ham in the roaster on a rack -- skin side up.

Spread the dough over the skin side of the ham.

Bake for about three hours uncovered.

It is wise to disengage your smoke detector during this process.

When the time is up, remove the crust and discard.

After the ham cools a bit, remove to cutting board for deboning.
Baked ham is best served cold and thinly sliced. However, should one wish a warm entree, heated sherry is a wonderful medium.

Our traditional Christmas breakfast consists of fried country ham, scrambled eggs, buttermilk biscuits with butter and jam.

May your holiday be as delightful as the one we are anticipating.

By the way, we are not going to the wiles of Minnesota for Christmas this year. When the ham is done, call The Bookstore.

Editorial Note: Tom prefaced the 2008 publication with: This column was run last Christmas. Byron Crawford of the Louisville Courier-Journal picked it up. Lots of folks commented on it. So, lazy as I am, here it is again.)

Tom Chaney can be found telling stories, planning his next meal, and occasionally selling books at
Box 73 / 111 Water Street
Horse Cave, Kentucky 42749
Email: Tom Chaney

This story was posted on 2013-12-22 03:51:25
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