Christmas is a special time of the year for most of us and especially those of us who have come from rural backgrounds one way or the other. It is the time of the year when most of the farm harvest is complete and the coldness of winter is settling in. A time when everything has decided to take a rest from a really tough long dry summer and a brisk fall.
In years past, it was also a great time to go to the smoke house and check out just how successful we had been during “hog killin” time. Modern day processing has pretty much taken that old tradition away and made home processing a thing of the past. In fact, the weather has also changed and it is really difficult to find weather cold enough anymore to do it right like we used to. But for many of us, those memories of cold days, wood fires, sharp knives and hard work will always linger.
For those of you who are not of those generations who did their own processing and get your pork products from a grocery store, a “hog killin” may sound somewhat crude. However, it was a necessity back many years ago that often would turn into a social event as much as a necessary job on the farm.
I will never forget the taste of fresh pork tenderloin and sausage, as well as the sight of fresh meat lying out in the smoke house to chill before it was salted down. Hog killings were also a time for families to get together and work side by side to put up the meat supply for the months ahead.
At my grandfather’s, I have seen 20 or 30 people working together in cold temperatures to prepare the meat. Men usually took care of the killing and scalding box, as well as the cleaning of the hog. The women would prepare the lard, help with cutting up the meat and skim off the cracklins. There is nothing like good cracklin bread on a winter’s day. In fact, everything was harvested except the squeal.
One of the most important procedures in hog killings was the preparing of the hams. These valuable delicacies would become the feature at next year’s Thanksgiving meal, or even more importantly, they would be the family’s official Christmas ham.
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 run it again. 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 at our house that I hope will be carried on for generations to come.
– Pettus L. Read is editor of the Tennessee Farm Bureau News and Director of Communications for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at email@example.com