As far back as I can remember, I have had ham for Easter. My mother would go to our small town grocery store, Red Owl, and bring home a ham. In the early days it was a fully cooked, ovoid shaped thing, packed in water. Being a small town kid, I really didn’t associate the shape of the ham as belonging to an animal part. It was quite often salty and bland tasting, but that was what you got in the early ’60s unless you lived on the farm and made your own.
My mother liked to cook and she upped her game in the 70’s with an actual ham shaped ham. Sometimes that was very salty and a little chewy, but it was still a favorite, for me at least.
I had a good buddy that lived on a farm and they raised pigs. My first real experience with pig husbandry, outside of petting them at the fair, was an
eye sinus opener. I was in 7th grade, and it was January in Minnesota. Deep snow and below zero temperatures, and I had a head cold that had stuffed up my nose to the point that I could not smell or even breathe out my nose. I had told my buddy I was interested in pigs and farming in general, so one bright and bitter cold Saturday morning, we waded through some pretty deep snow and tried to open the door to the farrowing barn. There was a 4 foot snow drift that was blocking the door, so we went in search of a shovel and eventually were able to open the door to the barn. It hit me like a sledge hammer, the smell that is. It was the first thing I had smelled in a week and wow, I was smelling this!
The farrowing barn was a small low building and held sows that were giving birth. It was warm and moist and after coming in from below zero temperatures, it was a different world. The sows were a little ticked off by the intrusion of cold drafts and everybody was grunting “hey stupid, close the door.” After a bit, they all settled down and we got busy adding bedding, and making sure everybody had water. I loved it. My buddy thought I was nuts. I do remember my mother making me take off all my clothes in the back hall. She had taken one whiff of me and all I heard was “You are not bringing a pig barn into my house!” The joys and sorrows of lovin’ pigs.
This fall, we bought a pig from one of our friends at work, and had it butchered. It’s been fun eating our way through this pig. The Mrs loves to try new things and she’s a damn fine cook. Since we are moving in August, we’ve been chowing our way down to the bottom of the freezer, where the hams live.
Making a ham is not a whole lot harder than, I don’t know, making anything home made. It helps to have a second refrigerator, and get yourself an injector. They are like a big hypodermic needle and should be in the meat aisle of your better grocery stores. You will also need some pink curing salt for the brine. It is a preservative, and keeps the ham’s color instead it turning all grey.
So lets make a ham for Easter. Get one of the big ones out of the bottom of the freezer and stick it in your second fridge for a day or two. Make sure the temperature of the refrigerator is set to 40 degrees. This is important, so don’t forget.
Here’s the recipe:
10 lb fresh ham
1/3 lb kosher salt
1/4 lb brown sugar
1 oz pink curing salt
Sprinkle of cayenne and paprika
8 – 10 fresh or dried juniper berries
1 gallon water or more
Mix brine, bring to boil and boil for 10 minutes. Cool to 38 degrees and pour over ham.
Inject brine around bone to insure cure gets everywhere.
Place in a covered non-reactive container and refrigerate 5 to 7 days.
(1 day for each 2 lb)
When it is cured, rinse with cold water. Place in clean water for one day.
Sprinkle with brown sugar, black pepper, cayenne, paprika, thyme and rosemary.
Smoke, at about 200 degrees, for 4 hours or more, until the center is about 150 degrees. Let cool to room temperature.
Refrigerate, or freeze for longer storage. Bake before serving.
See, easy, right?
The refrigerator temperature needs to be set to 40 degrees, because the brine won’t do its magic at a lower temperature. We smoke ours in a big-box-store BBQ. I modified it to be a smoker by putting a stove pipe in the bottom, attached to the firebox. I used foil as a gasket where the pipe meets the firebox. I also poked half inch holes in the pipe for the smoke to exit. And to complete the setup, I took an old wood stove lid and blocked the end of the pipe, held there with a brick. Very high tech.
We use pear wood, but you can use any hardwood, really. This whole deal is to use what you got, where you are. I’m sure, if you like ham, you will come up with something. As they say, incentive is everything. We smoke our ham at a fairly low temperature, between 200 and 250 degrees. And you don’t have to finish the ham in the smoker. There is no dishonor by putting it in the oven to get to the final 150 degrees. What happens by the smoker, stays by the smoker, as we like to say. This ham was in the smoke for around 6 hours and then had a final hour in the oven to finish it.
Of course, you have to taste it when it’s finished, otherwise, how are you going to know if it got done right?
We are catering the Easter meal for my wife’s sister and family. We do this quite often, for the holidays and other big events. We make the food and bring it to them. Our house is a bit too small for all the people that show up and they kinda like that the food magically ends up on the table at their house. It’s fun for everyone.
The ham and all its buddies are tucked in and ready for a road trip. Have a blessed Easter.