- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 9, 2003

Mostpeople think a ham is an oblong or circular cut of pork, covered in a decadent brown-sugar glaze slowly seeping into deep crevices created by a spiral slicer. Or they see a browned mound of pork dressed with pineapple slices and cherries.

That is for most people, but for folks in Southern Maryland, “ham” conjures images of a hunk of pork with a colorful blend of greens and spices wedged deep into its core. This is the Southern Maryland stuffed ham.

The history of this stuffed ham dates to early 17th-century Maryland, where, it is believed, the recipe was created by slaves working on the plantations. After butchering the hogs, the plantation owner would keep the finer cuts of pork — ham and bacon, and also sausages — for himself and then give the lesser parts to the slaves.

To make the best of what they had, the slaves added fresh vegetables from the garden to their meat rations and boiled everything together in a cloth bag. Once the plantation owner tasted the delicious blend of pork and greens made from lesser cuts and realized that the recipe worked well with the more desirable ham portion, the stuffed ham found its place on the master’s dining table.

Stuffed hams don’t have the commercial appeal of the spiral-sliced or honey-baked hams, and they take time to prepare. In many cases, the Southern Maryland stuffed ham is an acquired taste.

“We have found that for most people, stuffed ham is something that you are going to love or you are going to hate,” says Mike Baldea, owner of Brandy Farms in Gambrills, Md., one of the few suppliers of Southern Maryland stuffed hams.

One of the first things you have to do when you eat a stuffed ham for the first time is rid yourself of preconceived notions of what you think ham should taste like and experience it for all its flavors. Instead of the sweet, smooth taste of the regular smoked or baked hams, the stuffed ham is spicy and has texture.

Brandy Farms began making Southern Maryland stuffed hams in 1988, and with each year since then, the appeal of the traditional holiday meal has grown, and so has this supplier’s process of making them. From a small rented kitchen to their new facilities in Gambrills, the folks at Brandy Farms plan to make several hundred of the hams for this holiday season.

The labor-intensive process of making these hams involves an extended cooking time and the right equipment. From the very beginning, prep work to the end results, almost everything about these hams is different from the hams regularly available in grocery stores.

Beginning with the cut of pork: Brandy Farms uses the whole-ham portion, which is made up of three primary cuts — the shank, the rump or butt half and the center cuts. Usually, at grocery stores, these cuts are all sold separately. For the curing process, stuffed hams are corned, meaning they soak in a liquid brine that seals in all of the flavors and virtually guarantees a moist ham. Other processes, such as smoking, which actually cooks the ham during the curing process, tend to produce a drier ham.

After curing, each ham is deboned by hand, and the fat is trimmed away to let the flavor of the stuffing soak into the meat. Horizontal pockets are then sliced over the length of the ham and filled with the stuffing.

Although Brandy Farms’ recipe for its stuffing remains a secret, the main ingredients are kale, cabbage, celery, spinach, onions and hot red peppers, along with mustard seeds, salt, red pepper flakes and a secret blend of spices.

The vegetables are blanched to ensure that they stay moist throughout the cooking process and that their true flavors will be absorbed into the meat.

The hams are stuffed with, on average, 10 pounds of stuffing, which is pressed into the pockets; any excess stuffing is placed around the ham. All hams are placed in cheesecloth and a mesh sock that holds the ham and stuffing together during cooking. The hams are then boiled, not baked, in a salt brine solution for six hours, after which they are cooled. The result is an extremely moist, succulent ham full of stuffing with almost every bite.

The season for the Southern Maryland stuffed hams lasts from mid-October through December. Some Southern Marylanders serve stuffed hams at Easter dinner.

The stuffed hams are available by the pound and are mainly sold in halves, usually weighing 10 to 12 pounds. Whole hams, along with smaller cuts, are available through Brandy Farms.

Prices varyfrom $7.99 to $9.99 per pound, dependingn onn the size of the ham. Brandy Farms delivers to anywhere in Maryland, Washington and parts of Virginia, with each ham packaged in a temperature-controlled box.

A limited quantity of stuffed hams is available, so it is best to an order as soon as possible to ensure having one for the holidays. To order, call 410/721-6368.If you are interested in making your own, several recipes are available on the Internet, but the preparation and cooking instructions are not clear in many of them. Some call for cabbage, others for the combination of kale and watercress, so the selection of greens often depends on taste and tradition.

Southern Maryland stuffed ham

This recipe is adapted from a recipe from the St. Mary’s County office of the Maryland Cooperative Extension. The stuffed ham may be boiled or baked.

1 cured ham, 10 to 14 pounds

STUFFING (ALL FINELY CHOPPED):

3 pounds kale

3 pounds cabbage

6 to 8 medium onions

6 to 8 stalks celery

(Options: add more cabbage and less kale; add watercress, turnip greens or spring onions)

SEASONINGS:

1 to 3 tablespoons salt

1 tablespoon ground red pepper

1 tablespoon crushed red pepper

1 tablespoon black pepper

2 tablespoons celery seed

3 tablespoons mustard seed

(Options: no celery seed or mustard seed; use dry or prepared mustard; more or less black or red pepper)

Finely chop vegetables. (Vegetables may be blanched and cooled ahead of time.) Wrap vegetables in cheesecloth and drop in boiling water for several minutes. Remove from boiling water, unwrap cheesecloth and spread vegetables on a sheet pan for rapid cooling.

To make stuffing, mix vegetables (raw or cooked) with seasoning. Place stuffing in refrigerator until the ham is ready to be stuffed.

Remove ham from refrigerator, unwrap and place onto a non-slip, clean cutting surface. Cut several rows of deep, vertical slits, about 2 inches apart, down into the ham. Turn ham over and cut perpendicular slits on the other side. Be careful not to let the slits meet. These slits are where the vegetable mixture will be stuffed into the ham.

Place ham in a large container. Stuff each slit on both sides with the vegetable mixture. Extra mix can be placed on top of ham. Wrap ham in a double layer of cheesecloth and tie one end in a large knot.

To boil the ham: Place ham on a rack in a large 30- to 40-quart pot and fill with water. Cover and bring to boil. Cook approximately 25 minutes per pound (weight of stuffing and ham combined). Cook to an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Remove ham from pot and place on rack to drain (put pan under rack to catch the water draining) and cool only long enough so the ham can be handled.

Place ice cubes and cold water in a large roasting pan or clean sink. Place ham in a plastic bag (leave partly open to breathe) and put it in the ice water to cool quickly. Add additional ice to keep the water cold. Ham should reach 45 degrees within 6 hours.

When cooled, place ham in refrigerator until ready to slice and serve.

To bake a stuffed ham: Heat oven to 325 degrees and bake at 15 minutes per pound for hams weighing more than 12 pounds; bake at 18 minutes per pound for hams weighing less than 12 pounds; or at 22 minutes per pound for half of a ham. Remove and cool or serve warm.

Here are some recipes for using leftover stuffed ham.

Ham dip or spread

Chop leftover greens stuffing and ham into small pieces and then mix with mayonnaise until it reaches consistency desired.

Oyster delight

On top of each freshly shucked oyster — separated from the shell but remaining in it — add 1 teaspoon of ham stuffing. Top with grated Parmesan and mozzarella cheese and precooked bacon bits. Place in warm oven until cheese melts and serve warm.

Mustard aspic

1 envelope gelatin

½ cup cold water

½ cup country-style course ground mustard

½ cup prepared mustard

Soak gelatin in ½ cup cold water in saucepan for 1 minute; then, over medium heat, stir until gelatin is completely dissolved. Add ½ cup country-style course-ground mustard and ½ cup prepared mustard. Stir together over medium heat until mixture is completely blended.

Pour contents into a mold and refrigerate overnight. To release aspic from mold, place mold in warm water for about 30 seconds and invert onto plate or platter.


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