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Ham problems, who's got 'em? I've got 'em too

Kat Kinsman
March 30, 2018

If you are a person who cooks or serves ham, you will at some point possess an excess of ham, and it will fall upon you to dispatch it without wasting the leftovers or losing your mind. If you are the designated ham steward for a celebratory meal (if a ham is present, a gathering is automatically transmuted into a party), it is almost inevitable that you will acquire too much ham, because the last thing on this precious earth that you would want to be known as is The Host Who Ran Out Of Ham. The shame!

You may think you should estimate the per-person entree-sized portion of ham in the same way that you would pounds of steak or discrete units of chicken parts, but this ignores the core truth and beauty of ham. Any ham worth its salt is salty, and though it's initially glorious, past a certain point of consumption, there are just diminishing returns. The ham in no way becomes less delicious, but the turning point is abrupt and violent. You are at the table, gleefully enjoying slices and shards of perfectly cured pork and suddenly ouch. Ham fingers. They're so stiff and swollen that any rings that you may have been wearing are now a direct threat to your circulation, and the rest of you is just angry at your mouth. The correct amount of ham is far less than you might think.

New York Times dining critic and ham devotee Pete Wells disagrees with this premise, saying, "If you are serving buffet style then you need at least half a ham and maybe a whole damn ham. Because if you let people help themselves eventually all the ham will be eaten. It's like opening a loaf of bread at a duck pond."

Wells goes on to note, "After a couple of parties the bone has been picked clean. But then I still have the bone." I'm happy for both Wells and his bone, which he says he favors in a bean soup, but this has not been my experience. Ever. And I serve some slammin' ham.

Hams are large because pigs are big. Sure, you could get some ham in the form of sliced ham or ham steaks, but a ham is a different matter. Unless you serve ham and only ham (which is a great time, and that's actually what we did for the Extra Crispy holiday party, along with a magnum of Champagne), you will quite likely end up with more ham than feels decent. You are entirely within your rights to force guests to take a quantity of ham off the premises (feel free to slip a baggie into their bag or coat pocket so they may joyfully discover its presence once they are safely away from your home—a text is fine), but there will be ham left for you to contend with.

Sure, you can make sandwiches, biscuits, and whatnot, but there's also the opportunity to explore the boundaries of ham's abilities. For that, I turned to the leftovers section of Meat in the Meal for Health Defense, a guide issued in 1942 by the National Live Stock and Meat Board to help homemakers make the most of inexpensive cuts. Suggested ham-centric entrees include Family Reunion Ham Loaf ("will serve thirty thriftily'), Broiled Ham Slice ("good news at any meal"), Butterfly Ham Slices with Broiled Oranges ("easy on the budget"), and Festive Ham Slice ("sugar and spice and everything nice"), and for the leftovers:

Ham Fritters

Mix ½ cup ground ham, 1 cup cooked corn, 1 tablespoon minced onion, ⅔ cup flour, and 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder. Fry in deep lard.

Ham Salad

Combine diced ham, shredded lettuce, diced sweet pickles, celery. And sweet red pepper, mayonnaise, and mustard. Chill. Serve on crisp lettuce.

Ham Scramble

Mix chopped cooked with finely minced chives. Pour on well-beaten eggs, enough for number to be served. Heat and stir.

Creamed Ham

Heat diced ham with diced green pepper and pimento. Combine with rich cheese sauce. Serve in noodle ring.

Wells also cautions, "Do not underestimate the pleasures of ham scraps and trimmings!" But at a certain point the ham must scram.  

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