This perfect Southern weekend meal also works for Thanksgiving
Ham is an American tradition that's become distinctly Southern. The history of ham in my family, plus two recipes to guide you
- Learn how to glaze ham with this classic recipe
- Plus, a recipe for proper greens made with bacon
Though Thanksgiving is mostly known as a time for turkey, ham is a dish as old as the United States itself. Ham might not be exactly eternal, but cured pork is remarkably shelf-stable under the right conditions. According to NPR, Virginia ham was so popular that someone even wrote a song about it in the 19th century: "Who stole the ham?"
How ham became an enduring symbol of the South has plenty to do with tradition, and also something to do with the region's long history of preservation through any means necessary, whether that be by drying, canning, salting or other methods of "putting stuff up."
Among both sides of my Southern Appalachian family, ham also preserved us during and between meals. My paternal grandmother served it with biscuits, soft butter and sliced tomatoes at breakfast. What wasn't eaten then would go in the fridge, available for snacking between meals out of a yellowed Tupperware container.
At lunch, it might make an appearance, set out on the Formica countertop in that same Tupperware next to a plastic bowl of potato salad studded with yellow onions. I can still recall the aroma of it easily, and it makes my mouth water. We loved and still love onions in our family. My grandaddy plucked them from the garden soil, sliced them with a paring knife worn thin from sharpening, and layered them on sandwiches with thick tomato slices and, yes, ham.
What wasn't eaten was often cubed and fed into simmering pots of butter beans or thick tangles of long, slow-cooked Southern greens. That was much to my consternation when I became a vegetarian for several years. During that time, I could not eat many of the vegetables my grandparents prepared, something I feel guilty about now. But for those years, I brought my own protein and ate lots and lots of salad with the vinaigrette my grandmother made.
My grandfather was always protective of the greens. He grew them, cleaned them and stripped them, then sliced them carefully into ribbons and stirred them with plenty of pork and pepper, as described in the recipe below.
Anthony Bourdain famously wrote about his hatred for vegetarians in Kitchen Confidential, though he later softened his stance. Still, he told me in a 2011 interview, "It’s awkward and hurtful to go to grandma’s house and turn down the turkey. I just see it as rude and incurious."
Fortunately, by then I was back to eating the turkey.
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The ham tradition continues apace at my parents' house now that both sets of grandparents are gone. Ham is in the quiche, it's available sliced to be eaten with fruit and sliced tomatoes at breakfast, and you can layer it on sandwiches for lunch. My daughter, now six, eats her weight in ham every time we visit. She too loves its saltiness, especially with a fistful of grapes on the side and, for whatever reason, a few olives for good measure. She's too young yet to worry about her sodium intake, but we're keeping an eye on it.
And yes, there will be ham in the fridge when we visit Roanoke for Thanksgiving this year, though I'll have to save some from my ravenous teenage nephews. It will show up on the counter next to the turkey and mashed potatoes and some sort of slow-cooked greens. I'm still working on getting my daughter to eat those, even when they're spiked with smoky bacon pieces.
For your purposes, ham and stewed greens make a perfect weekend meal, especially when served with a bowl of brothy beans and crusty bread. The ham's cider glaze is sweet and spiced, and makes an ideal foil for slightly bitter, peppery greens.
RT Lodge Cider Glazed Kurobuta Ham
This recipe comes courtesy of Trevor Stockton, executive chef of RT Lodge in Maryville, Tennessee. Note that the cider glaze can be made several days ahead of time.
For the cider glaze:
1 gallon apple cider
1 cup Dijon mustard
1 cup pineapple juice
1 cup fresh-squeezed or high-quality orange juice
4 whole cloves
1 half bone-in ham
For the glaze:
Combine cider, pineapple juice, orange juice and cloves in a stock pot and simmer over medium-high heat, skimming any foam that rises, until reduced by 75%. This should yield about 5 cups
Remove cloves. Whisk Dijon mustard into the cider reduction. This can be stored for up to one week.
For the ham:
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place the ham in a dutch oven and pour the glaze over the top, cover with the lid and bake for 1-1½ hours. Every 15 minutes, ladle the glaze on top of the ham.
Remove the lid for the last 30 minutes of baking. Serve the ham with the glaze on the side for your guests to add as much as they’d like.
RT Lodge Collard Greens
This method for making slow-cooked collard greens involves smoky Benton's bacon. If you can't find that, any thick-cut super smoky bacon will do. This recipe comes from RT Lodge chef Stockton.
4 bunches fresh collards (thick rib removed, rinsed, cut in 1” by 2-3”pieces, doesn’t need to be exact, just make sure the pieces aren’t too big)
½ pound bacon, preferably Benton’s (cut in small lardons approximately ¼-inch x ¼-inch x 1 inch
2 yellow onions (peeled, julienned)
1 head fresh garlic (peeled, sliced thin)
1 1-pound can diced tomatoes or 1 pound of fresh tomatoes, diced
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon black pepper
2 cups white vinegar
Heat a heavy bottom stock pot or dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add bacon and cook until almost crispy. Add onion, salt, pepper and crushed red pepper and cook until onion just starts to brown. Add sliced garlic, and cook another 2-3 minutes.
Add tomato, stirring often, until tomato starts to stick to the bottom of the pot. Add collard greens, vinegar and enough water to cover everything. Cook another 2 hours on low to medium heat. Final product should still be moist but not swimming in liquid.