By Pettus Read
Christmas is a special time of the year for most of us, especially those of us who have come from rural backgrounds.
It is when most of the farm harvest is complete and the coldness of winter is settling in. In years past, it was also a great time to go to the smoke house and check out how successful we had been during hog killin’ time.
For those of you who 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.
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 cracklings. 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 important, they would be the family’s official Christmas ham.
Over the years, I’ve given our family recipe for cooking a country ham in a lard stand and have had numerous requests to run it again. However, a major controversy developed a few years back over the correct name of the cooking container. In Middle and West Tennessee, a large lidded metal can is used to store lard after processing and is called a lard stand. In East Tennessee, it is called a lard can. The lard stand term has been around for centuries where I grew up.
How to Cook a Country Ham
My mother always cooked our ham in a lard stand on top of the stove. First, you wash the whole ham thoroughly with a brush or rough cloth. Trim off any dark, dry edges, soak the ham in water overnight, and then drain. This also removes a lot of the salt. Place the ham on an old plate or rack in the bottom of the lard stand, and 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, glaze it, and enjoy some real Tennessee eating.
This method is an old tradition that has been around Middle Tennessee since before 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. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.