With so many choices for a festive meal centerpiece, eating ham for Christmas seems a little blasé. Featured as the centerpiece of the prototypical Dickensian Christmas, it’s said to have its roots in ancient pagan ritual. Supposedly, the tradition started with the Germans, who wanted to appease the god, Freyr. He was the god of fertility, harvest, and boars. Paganism also offered many traditions for Christianity, including Christmas trees. And so, the tradition of the Christmas ham was born. When pagans were converted to Christianity, the porcine meal became linked to St. Stephen, whose feast day is December 26th.
Americans purchase an estimated 318 million pounds of ham around the holidays. Ham is a specific cut of meat from the pig – the thigh. Ham is technically pork, but a specific cut of pork, whereas pork is just pig meat in general. My family always had ham at Christmas time. It’s one of our traditions
Growing up in a farm family, my Dad and uncles butchered our hogs just after Thanksgiving. Butchering was done in the colder months so they could work the meat outside in what amounted to a big freezer. Slabs were cut from the belly to be cured as bacon and the hams were cut out whole, hung on hooks in the smoke house, and set with salts and spices to “cure” for several weeks. These cuts were ready to eat just before Christmas. The cured meat also was preserved for the winter. When someone wanted to cook a slice of ham, they went to the smoke house with a large knife and cut the slices right off the hanging ham.
Ham, bacon, pork chops are some of the comfort foods we grew up eating. We raise Berkshire hogs at Evermore Farm, in part, for the quality of their hams. Tasty pork was never the “other white meat”. Great pork flavor wells up from the marbling, particularly in the hams, and has a smooth almost buttery mouth feel and taste. We hope all your holiday meats have this same satisfying flavor and quality. If in doubt, try serving a Berkshire ham this Christmas.