The dilemma facing pioneer cooks was how to keep freshly butchered meat
from spoiling without refrigeration. Hogs were butchered in the late fall when
the temperature was down around 33 degrees, and while the meat was fresh, it was
salt cured. The next spring any leftovers would be smoked under a fire of green
hickory, or peppered. Sausage was packed in the intestines of the hog, tied off
and also hung in the smokehouse for curing. Salting, peppering, and smoking
protected the meat from spoiling and from insects. Today it's that salt, pepper,
and smoky flavor that we love in country ham, bacon, and sausage.
Southeastern states were the the primary curers of country ham - the falls came late enough
for the hogs to mature, and smokehouses were a part of traditional southern colonial homesteading.
All of the territories used salt to cure, some areas added sugar or pepper.
Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Virginia, became to be known as the principal
country ham states. Virginia by state law declared a distinction for Smithfield cured hams.
Each cure master became known for his particular method for curing ham, and the length they hung up
their hams to cure, dependant on the original method of salt cure, became the determing factor
for its distinctive taste.
Country salt cured ham, whether broiled, boiled, or fried retains its natural salty taste.
Most people enjoy that in a fried piece between a biscuit, and some may temper it with
jelly, jam, or honey. When baking a country ham we recommend soaking the ham from 4 to
12 hours, prior to cooking, intermittently changing the water to take out some of the salt.
Your ham, its usage, and your ham taste, will determine whether a particular brand of ham needs to be soaked prior to cooking. For more information particular to the brand of ham you're preparing, please visit our recipes page.
You can bake, boil, or fry a country ham, but if you want that rich smoked taste of salt-cured country ham we advise you to bake it slow and low until it reaches an internal temperature of 160 degrees F. Then let it cool to room temperature and serve thinly sliced with dinner rolls.
Now if Uncle Ed insists on having his ham fried and on a flaky biscuit either cut off some slices before you bake it, then fry in a cast iron skillet. When scorched on both sides take the ham slices out of the pan and pour some black coffee right into the skillet and stir.
See our red eye gravy recipe on line at www.thecountryhamstore.com
You can also slice pieces (3/8ths of an inch) from your baked ham and lightly fry them up for breakfast. Some people will fry their slices in water, but we prefer frying them in their own fat or with a little Pam on the skillet.