We received the Robinson’s country ham from Jimmy Robinson, there in East Bernstadt, just after Thanksgiving last year. Loretta had planned to fix it for Christmas dinner but that was before our son, Christopher, announced that he had come into a pre-cooked Virginia ham, ready to slice, and offered to contribute it to the cause.
Now, as far as I am concerned, a smoked Virginia ham is slightly better than no ham at all and not in the same league as a properly cured country ham, but I’m also the first to concede that the pre-cooked ones require several days and several hours less labor than their properly prepared country cousins.
I emailed Jimmy to inquire about how long we could wait to cook the one we’d gotten from him and told him we had Easter in mind. He advised that we keep in the cheesecloth it came in and hang it somewhere that bugs couldn’t get to it and it might be even better than it already was.
Loretta decided that the only bug free place in our house in which she had any confidence was the spare refrigerator we keep going in the utility room. Believe me when I tell you that if you have two refrigerators you will soon discover that they are both crammed full and that you will rapidly acquire more leftovers than a single family can possibly put to use. On the other hand, if you have a spare ham lying around, you will discover that the spare fridge makes way more sense than it used to.
However, when Easter rolled around, there was high demand for turkey among kids and grandkids and nobody seemed in the mood for country ham. We checked on it. Took it out of the box, unwrapped the cheese cloth and decided that it looked as good as it ever had, if not better. That’s when my wife announced that we never prepared a big meal for Memorial Day and that several of our offspring had birthdays coming up in June if Memorial Day didn’t work out for cooking ham.
So, Memorial Day came and went, as did numerous birthdays, all devoid of country ham and before we knew what was going on, the Fourth of July was upon us. At which point I declared that I couldn’t think of anything that sounded more patriotic than the hind leg of a long-dead hog.
We actually let the holiday get past before Loretta tackled the ham after being inspired by the invitation to a post-Fourth party/potluck dinner that was being thrown by some close friends.
Fixing the ham, for Loretta, is a three-day effort that involves much soaking, scrubbing, trimming and sawing before the ham even gets close to the big blue-speckled enamel canner where it simmers in her special brew for several hours before hitting the oven for a spell. Such things as baking soda, vinegar, brown sugar and soda pop are involved as well as numerous knives and a reciprocating saw designed for use in the home construction business.
The end result is stuff of which gastronomic dreams are made and our Christmas-in-July ham did not disappoint.
I’m not sure whether it has to do with Jimmy Robinson getting better and better at selecting the hams he puts on the market, whether it was the extra seven months of aging or whether my wife just keeps improving her preparation techniques. I suspect it was a combination of all three, but I can tell you, for sure, that this was, hands-down, the best country ham I’ve ever tasted.
“Oh, you say that about every ham I fix,” Loretta admonished.
“I can’t help it if you keep on getting better at it,” I told her. “And this ham is absolute proof that some things do get better with age. You’re one of them too.”
Reach longtime Enterprise columnist Ike Adams at [email protected] or on Facebook or 249 Charlie Brown Road, Paint Lick, KY 40461.