I recently had the task of cleaning out the attic at my parents’ farm as we prepared to turn the house over to someone else. The selling of the property was bad enough, but going through years of stored “treasures,” placed there at the hands of my mother, was very close to attending my own wake.
Located in the dark corners of the attic were boxes unopened from many years past, broken appliances that should have been discarded to begin with, a cedar chest, the wooden high chair painted yellow that had held all three of us siblings, plus our children, and the lard stand that had cooked numerous Christmas hams enjoyed by a farm family on some wonderful Christmas mornings.
Each item I found there in the dimly lit recesses of the old house brought back numerous memories of my family who are all gone now except myself and my mother who lives in her own world at a healthcare facility at the age of 93. There were milk check stubs from times of up and down prices, but most important, among those old check stubs were the memories of showing cattle with my brother at the state fair. Plus, seeing a large purple ribbon, lying in a basket in the dim light, from the day my sister’s cow won grand champion over in the Blackman community, brought a warm feeling down deep on that cold day.
Yes, that attic contained a lot of memories of a farm family now gone, but much in the thoughts of this one member who still holds on to those special times. That day I guess I felt somewhat like those who ventured into the Pyramids locating the treasures of the kings. I only found the treasures of Mama and Daddy, but to me containing the same great value in memory worth.
I’ve mentioned locating our family lard stand in that attic. I did retrieve that special container and now it has become a part of my collection. A very special feature of our holidays, which continues today, is the annual cooking of the country ham. I know the doctors say the salt is bad for us, but it just wouldn’t be the holidays without one ham and biscuit.
Over the years in my column, I’ve given our family recipe for cooking a country ham in a lard stand. I have had numerous requests to rerun it and this year I’m doing it again in honor of Mama and her lard stand. However, a major controversy developed a few years back over the correct name of the container used to cook a country ham.
So, once again let me explain to everyone what a lard stand is, at the very beginning, and the rest is up to you. In Middle and West Tennessee, a large metal can with a lid used to store lard after processing is called a lard stand. In East Tennessee, the same can is called a lard can. The lard stand term has been around for centuries in the area where I grew up, and since this is my column and my recipe, I will use the term lard stand to describe the vessel used to cook the ham.
My mother always cooked our ham in a lard stand on top of the stove. You are basically boiling the ham. First, you wash the whole ham thoroughly with a brush or rough cloth. Trim off any dark, dry edges and soak the ham in water overnight, then drain. This also removes a lot of the salt. After the ham is ready for cooking, place it on an old plate or rack in the bottom of the lard stand. Cover the ham with cold water. One tablespoon of brown sugar or molasses per quart of water may be added, but is not really needed.
Bring the water to a boil, and then reduce heat. Simmer until the meat thermometer registers 165 degrees F. Cooking time is about 15 to 20 minutes per pound for whole hams. Now here is the secret to cooking a ham this way: After cooking at the desired minutes per pound, take the lard stand off the stove and wrap it in several layers of newspaper and a quilt.
Let the ham slowly cool in the broth for approximately 20 hours. This is part of the cooking procedure and will bring the internal temperature to 170 degrees F. Later, take your ham out of the lard stand and put your favorite glaze on it and enjoy some real Tennessee eating.
Give it a try this Christmas. I know this is some repeated information for some of you, but for those who still call and ask me to repeat it, Merry Christmas. This method of cooking a ham is an old tradition that has been around Middle Tennessee prior to the War of Northern Aggression. It is truly a family tradition that I hope will be carried on for generations to come. At least when they go digging in my attic some day, maybe someone will understand why I had a lard stand up there.
Pettus L. Read writes for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org