Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Hank the Ham, not the cow dog

At every holiday I try to cook something special. At Easter I make a roast leg of lamb. On Thanksgiving I cook a turkey. And on Christmas I normally cook duck. But this year we decided that duck was a little too pricy. So, I thought we’d do something regional. After all, we’ve lived in many places, and I’ve tried to learn regional cooking. When we lived near San Diego, Cal and I learned to love swordfish tacos (though it’s only recently that I found a “killer” recipe). When we lived in Little Saigon, Cal and I fell in love with lemon grass and mint. In Santa Cruz…well, vegetarian food isn’t quite our thing. Then in New England I learned how to make real New England clam chowder and Italian spaghetti (even if I learned by way of a Polish friend).

Now we’re in the South and I’ve seen all these “country hams.” So, I thought, “Hey, they’re cheaper than duck and they’re regional. Sounds like a great opportunity.” So, after researching it in the Joy of Cooking, we bought our first country ham, aka Tennessee ham or Kentucky ham. The first sign there might be a problem at home was when the children realized that it was sitting in the pantry. Ariel asked me why it didn’t need to be refrigerated. I explained that the ham had been smoked, brined, and salted. Unfortunately, that made her curious, and she found the recipes I was considering.

Her first question was: “What does this mean ‘Scrape off any mold’?!! Are you going to cook and feed us something that grows mold on the outside!?!” I explained that mold itself wasn’t the issue; she ate mold all the time when she ate cheese. In no uncertain terms, she explained that cheese was completely different and irrelevant to the discussion. I told her to trust me—I got a raised eyebrow in return.

So, for the last two days we’ve been soaking and scraping our country ham, which releases the excess salt from the meat. And every 12 hours I change the water that “Hank” is soaking in. When Ariel heard me call the ham “Hank,” she was very disturbed. I can’t imagine why—it’s not like I called him “Wilbur” or some porcine name with literary implications. But she said, “How can you name our food?” I countered, “I always call the turkey, ‘Tomas.’” Apparently, that’s different.
At any rate, Hank is now 12 hours away from his date with my cooking pot. Cal and I are salivating at every whiff of smoked pork, and Ariel walks around the house muttering imprecations and murmuring words that sound like “food poisoning.”

p.s. If you've never read Hank the Cow Dog, you absolutely must. The audio books are great, even better than the books because the author sings the most hilarious songs (my personal favorite is "When Sally Mae comes with her Broom."). I know HCD are supposed to be "little kid stories," but these audio books are listened to surreptitiously by all the teens in our home, not to mention the pre-teen. Bunnicula is also fantastic.

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