Monday, October 25, 2010

Southern Maryland Stuffed Ham

The first time I tasted stuffed ham, I thought there was something wrong with the meat! It didn't taste at all like the ham and curried fruit my Mom prepared for Easter, rather, it had a spicy and a unique taste, not like country ham or corned beef, something different. In St. Mary's County, a corned ham must be used... with or without the bone (folks have their own decided preference about the bone)....

Yesterday, a friend and I went on our yearly outing into St. Mary's County, south east of Washington, DC, to enjoy a Stuffed Ham and Oyster Dinner. During the fall and spring, various churches and organizations run them as fundraisers. At each location, the hams vary in spiciness and what is in the stuffing. One of my favorite dinners is at the Sacred Heart Church in Bushwood, Md.

Some years ago, the group at Bushwood allowed me to spend a day helping them prepare the stuffing for the ham, and latter that day, actually stuffing the 50 corned hams. The two ladies in charge, who had made stuffed hams in their homes all their 70+ years, led a cadre of ladies that morning, cleaning and chopping the greens.

Kale, lots of kale, celery, cabbage, and onions. Curiously, although a small county, there are three distinct stuffing recipe regions... one area doesn't even use kale. Then the spices: cayenne pepper, black pepper, whole yellow mustard, whole celery seeds, and salt. The huge tubs of greens were topped completely with the red of the pepper before stirring, since the spices would permeate the meat during cooking, and become weaker.

At 6:00, more volunteers arrived after work, including men to cut through the hams with a long knife and to carry them around the large kitchen. The greens and spices, which had wilted down over the afternoon, were stuffed into the incisions and piled on top.

The hams were wrapped in cheesecloth and placed in the large refrigerators until the next day when they were boiled. After cooling, the hams were sliced thin and served cold.

For centuries recipes for stuffing hams with a mixture including bread crumbs appeared, as did recipes for "Stuffed Chines" with parsley. Mary Randolph included a recipe "To Stuff a Ham" in her Virginia Housewife.

"TAKE a well smoked ham, wash it very clean, make incisions all over the top two inches deep, stuff them quite full with parsley chopped small and some pepper, boil the ham sufficiently; do not take off the skin. It must be eaten cold."
Mary Randolph. The Virginia Housewife. Baltimore: 1838

Frederick Philip Stieff in his book Eat, Drink & Be Merry in Maryland (1932) gave several recipes for stuffed hams. One recipe began: "This method of cooking hams originated with the early settlers of Maryland. After the fast of Lent it was considered imprudent to eat too greatly of fat meats and this method came into usage and it is yet used by many families at Eastertide." Another recipe:

Stuffed Ham
Hams of twelve pounds or more are best to use for "stuffed ham," a popular dish with Southern Marylanders, particularly at Easter. The ham to be used is best when less than a year old.
For a sixteen-pound ham use one peck of greens: cabbage sprouts, turnip greens or kale, two dozen bunches of spring onions or their equivalent in chives, red and black pepper and celery seed.

Allow fifteen minutes per pound after the ham starts boiling and cook steadily until three-fourths done. Then put aside partly cool while the greens scald in the ham liquor. When well wilted, take greens up and chop well. Season greens with celery seed and pepper to taste.

Then with a sharp knife cut crescent-shaped openings in the ham, top and bottom, as deep as the knife will go. Stuff the mixture of greens in the incisions, as much as they will hold. Make as many incisions as the ham will conveniently take.

Fold in a stout cloth and sew fast. Replace ham in the boiling liquor for the remaining quarter of the time allowed for cooking. Cool in the liquor, and when thoroughly cold, it is ready for use. Keep cloth on the ham to preserve the moisture and keep in a cool place. It is truly a dish for the gods. - Mr. I.F. Coad, M.M., Cherryfields Manor, St. Mary's County

Southern Maryland Stuffed Ham and Oyster dinners in St. Mary's County, MD blog post HERE

©2010 Patricia Bixler Reber

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