Shortly after our non-Styrofoam meat tray meat market experience, I gathered with some friends to make ham from our newly purchased pork.
Only when your newly purchased meat is bought in four pound chunks and there is no power for 24 hours, even fresh, newly purchased ham doesn’t fare so well.
But on we carried with our hamming adventure. Our friend Ali was pioneering our ham making expedition, and she provided the curing salts, a large table that we all gathered around amidst laughter, storytelling and gagging over the smell of the meat (It was like a quilting bee but far more odoriferous, really), and the knowledge about how to do it.
I started with my large chunk of meat for the ham. For weeks I had been envisioning deli-thin sliced pieces of ham, and I couldn’t wait to get started on this process. Under normal circumstances (“Normal” being the ability to walk into a grocery store, walk up to the deli counter and order sliced meat of my choosing.), I would not opt for ham but rather turkey or chicken; however, in a country where deli meat is a foreign concept, bring on “the other white meat!” (My best friend used to tease me because for years I honestly believed those commercials, by the way, and really thought pork was white meat. It’s a good thing we moved to Nigeria, otherwise our house might be filled with ceiling vacuums, special shoelace detergent and other made-for-tv products whose usefulness I was convinced of by late night infomercials hosted by Hollywood has-beens.)
The reality, though, was a bit disturbing. I wish there were words to describe the horrid smell that permeated the house (and apparently permeated it for days after – sorry, Tim and Ali! I must say, though, that I find myself selfishly glad that I didn’t offer our house for the meat making as I had originally contemplated.), but there are none. I suppose it will suffice to remind you that there was no power while those poor little pig parts sat in large chunks not quite able to get cool.
But we carried on, either desperately convinced that it would all turn out fine or just naïve. We washed the meat, and the smell improved, giving me a sense of hope that I would soon have my grilled ham and cheese after all. As I washed the meat, I was torn between picking out the hair still remaining in the meat or leaving it there so I didn’t have to look too closely, since the sight of the follicles from whence it came was rather stomach turning for a weenie such as myself. I opted to pluck, despite the growing nausea inside of me, envisioning those lovely little pre-packaged meat trays again as a distraction (despite my friends’ comments that perhaps this pioneer way is better because at least we know what is going into the meat. (And right though they may be, maybe not knowing what goes into it is better than knowing what comes out of it! A question of scruples, for sure.))
We cured the ham with a yummy smelling salt-maple-sugar cure and stuck it in a Ziploc bag, where it would have to sit for about two weeks to cure. Halfway through the curing time we would add more cure to it and then, the ham, like the other meat we were prepping, would be flipped once a day so that the juices would have a chance to cover all the meat.
Next up was “Canadian bacon” and “streaky bacon” (aka “American bacon” or “regular bacon” to Americans). Each of these only had to cure for about a week, so I was pretty excited about this fast track to pork products.
The “regular bacon” was probably the hardest one to do – we had to cut away the skin of the pig (which some people saved to fry up for pork rinds. More power to them. I personally donated my pile of skin to the “This will make my husband so happy!” club, knowing full well that fried anything, much less fried-skin-of-pig-that-I-just-plucked-hair-out-of was NOT the way to the heart of my salad eating, fruit loving, cholesterol watching husband.) while still leaving a thin layer of fat – the “streaks” of the bacon. It looked so easy but was actually quite difficult – the skin was much tougher than I thought, and cutting away was a bit laborious. Even picturing a nice BLT didn’t make it any less so.
But eventually the job was finished, and my bags of meat and I went home, where they were stashed in the fridge to continue the process.
Each day I tenderly flipped the meat, lovingly talking to it as a gardener does his prize plants – and each day I noticed that the smell of the ham seemed to be getting stronger, while the color was getting greener (Funny, but I have the opposite effect on plants, which seem to turn browner with my TLC.). Hmm. I was pretty sure Dr. Seuss had advertised green EGGS and ham, not the other way around, and I began to get suspicious. Others had the same problem with their ham and cut off the green portions. Eventually, though, as the color began to resemble varying shades of Judah’s green crayons, I finally sadly looked at Chris and said, “I can’t do it. You do it.”
Alas, after much debate and inner turmoil over wasting food, we decided that we didn’t want to risk getting sick, and Chris threw out the ham, Ziploc bag and all. (Yes, those of you who have sent us bags will be happy to know that all the bags you have sent gave me the freedom to not feel I had to wash this one and save it for lettuce or something.) Not even the neighbor’s dogs wanted it.
We finally got to enjoy the fruits meats of our labor, though, when the Canadian bacon and American bacon were ready. One morning we made Canadian bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches on English muffins, and they were so yummy! What a treat!
And the taste? Well, the Canadian bacon tasted like… ham. The American bacon tasted like… ham. (And the ham that we snuck at our friend’s house tasted like… green eggs.)
So was it worth it? Would I do it again? Hmm. The experience definitely gave me a new appreciation for the foods I can so easily buy in the States (as many experiences here do!) and for the hard work that butchers do, but…. The “streaky bacon” is definitely a treat I will just save for the States (or the bacon bits that people send in packages – now THOSE are yum! And more importantly, not a lot of work.). Far too much work for something whose taste was barely distinguishable from the less laborious process of the Canadian bacon – which I would probably make again. The ham? Now that the cheapskate in me has recovered, I would try that again as well (unless someone decided to come visit us here and bring along some turkey slices).
…And the fact that the process was shared with an amazing group of women definitely made it a worthwhile experience. In fact, the only thing that would have made our time better is Charlotte’s Web or Babe playing melancholically in the background. Well, that and if I had actually gotten to eat our ham. L