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Cooking Corner - Ham

Written By: Ellen Kleven  |  Posted: Friday, April 15th, 2011

            With Easter fast approaching I considered the foods of Easter and how I could incorporate one of them into my article. My first thoughts regarding Easter dinner turned toward ham. Other obvious choices like eggs, lamb, and hot cross buns just didn't hold the same appeal for me. Probably because I didn't grow up hunting eggs, Mom never made any special Easter breads, and we didn't celebrate with the more orthodox Passover lamb. My first question regarding "Easter ham" was, why Easter? After some research I learned that its roots are sadly pagan. Although disappointed, I decided to continue research but focused in on the processing, purchasing, and preparation of ham.

            Today's typical ham would have been unrecognizable as such even 50 years ago. The process for mass-producing meat is an interesting one. Pigs are now bred per manufacturer's specifications. Most are extremely lean with small ears and no tail due to amputation (in order to avoid damage in the cramped quarters they live in.) After its short life of about 5 months, it is butchered and the ham portion or rear leg is separated from the rest of the hog, the ham is then injected with water and phosphates to achieve a moist, juicy product. This is based on the concept of brine curing, which is traditionally done by submerging the ham in a salt-water solution for a length of time. The injection is much more time effective, allowing more hams to move through the facility. Some argue that the downside of this method is that it doesn't allow the process of osmosis to occur naturally, therefore producing an inferior product that is flabby and spongy. The ham is usually fully cooked at the factory as well, and, if it is smoked, it is usually done with a liquid version of smoke. We find this ham on display in regular supermarkets in different forms. Some are whole or half hams, some are sold as ham steaks, some are reprocessed and converted into deli ham, and some are canned (either shelf stable or requiring refrigeration).

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