By Marcia Pilgeram
Recently, while pawing through a box of books at an estate sale, I found a little gem of a cookbook to add to my collection: “Cooking Round the World and At Home,” compiled by the Sandpoint American Legion Auxiliary in 1947. Two-thirds of the book’s recipes are “from the north, east, west and south,” and the last third is dedicated to the “many better cooks of the Sandpoint community.” I imagine it was a real privilege to have a recipe included, and though I was yet to be born when this book appeared, many of these recipes took me right back to my childhood, especially the Spiced Baked Ham presented by Nell Reece.
I grew up on spiced ham, often provided for Sunday parish potlucks by The Knights of Columbus and cooked up by the Ladies of the Altar Society (occasionally, when we’d had our fill of parish ham, my best friend Irene and I would steal away with the loose change we’d “forgotten” to drop in the collection basket for a quick trip to the U & I Cafe, where we’d indulge in a shared order of hot salty fries, coated in grease and guilt).
At home, my mother would boil a ham for hours, then stud the rind with whole cloves, place it in the oven and baste it with a thick coat of sticky glaze until it glistened. I’d never tasted anything quite as delicious. After we’d had our Sunday fill, the ham could be found, disguised throughout the week as potted lunchmeat and ham loaf, until finally the big-boned carcass was boiled one last time, along with beans or split peas and served with homemade bread.
Ham reminds me of Easter too, and along with a giant bowl of potato salad (my mother’s recipe), takes a place of honor on my plentiful buffet. My mother had her own Easter ham memories and often told me about growing up in downtown Billings above my grandfather’s pawn shop. For special occasions, her mother would send her, armed with a ham and a quarter, to the local Chinese bakery, where they’d wrap the ham in pastry and bake the crust to a golden brown. Mom said it was nearly impossible to get home without snitching an undetected bite of the crust from the bottom of the ham.
In my collection of vintage cookbooks, the ham is nearly always adorned with fruit or awash in glaze, and I suspect it was to dress up this inexpensive cut of meat that graced the holiday table. Not today!
The spring catalog from Heritage Farms of Brooklyn, New York, features Berkshire and Red Wattle hams for $15 a pound, along with tasting notes touting the Berkshire as balanced umami, with hints of mushrooms and fig, while the Red Wattle is robust with notes of cinnamon, spice and butter cream.
For the really serious pork connoisseur, you might also consider an aged, naturally cured Kentucky ham by “the Ham Lady,” Nancy Newsom. Newsom’s was established January 1, 1917, by H.C. Newsom, Nancy’s grandfather. The business has been producing country hams for a hundred years, and for a limited period of time, they are offering the Newsom Highlands Long Leg. The pasture-raised aged ham is cured and shipped with a long leg and the hoof. These hams run about $12 a pound and weigh in at about twenty pounds.
Locally, you’ll find hams, bone-in or out, unadorned or pre-glazed, in all our local markets. You can choose the shank end or the butt end (my preference) or a spiral cut. Most hams have added water, which dilutes the ham taste, so keep that in mind when shopping for yours. Yokes offers a spiral cut ham produced exclusively for them by Long Barbeque for $2.49 a pound. Whatever ham you buy, plan on about a half-pound per person. Spiral hams are easy to serve, but keep in mind that they dry out more quickly than a whole ham, so don’t overbake.
Not unlike her grandmother, my daughter Ryanne likes pastry wrapped ham too, and I’ve been making Ham and Cheese Feuillete since I first discovered the recipe more than 30 years ago. From the ranch to the restaurant, it was the most requested item on my catering hors d’oeuvre list. However, you choose to ham it up, I wish you and yours a most Happy Easter.
1 box Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry Sheets (freezer case)
1 lb Ham, thinly sliced
1/2 lb Baby Swiss cheese, thinly sliced
1/4 cup good quality French Dijon Mustard
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoon cream
Thaw puff pastry in refrigerator. Sheets are 9”x 9”
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Line sheet pan with parchment paper.
Lay first piece of pastry on baking sheet and gently stretch or roll to approx 9”x 12” size.
Spread mustard on puff pastry leaving 1” un-covered border around all sides.
Alternate layer with first ham, then cheese, ham, cheese. Fold edges over to encase juices.
Whisk egg and cream, (egg wash) and brush onto folded up edges.
Take second piece of puff pastry, stretch or roll to 9” x 14” size and lay on top of first piece (extra 2” is to cut out decorative designs for top.
Crimp edges with fork, brush top with remaining egg wash, add cutouts, brush with egg wash and chill for one hour.
Remove from refrigerator, and vent in corners and center (venting is important for steam to escape)
Bake at 425 degrees on middle shelf for approx. 24 minutes, or until top is caramel brown and pastry is cooked through. If needed in last 3-4 minutes, move to bottom or top shelf for even color of pastry.
Let rest about 5 minutes before cutting into large pieces as an entrée or small pieces as an appetizer, using serrated knife. Serve immediately (or wait to cut until serving).