The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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Heart of the Blue Ridge

Meats – Curing and Cooking

By Susan M. Thigpen © 1999

Online: January, 1999

Curing Country Hams

In the fall of the year, after the weather has turned cold enough that you know it's going to stay cold, it's time to kill hogs. The work starts early and often continues on into the night. There is so much to do! Most adult hogs average from 250 to 300 pounds. The meat has to be cut up and packaged to be put in the freezer, sausage has to be ground and packed, liver-mush has to be made, and so on. Before the days of modern freezers, people canned the best parts of the meat such as the tenderloin. Home canned tenderloin is one of the best taste treats in the world! Sausage was also partially cooked and canned. The grease that cooked out of the pork was poured in the jars to help it seal. During World War II, my father was sent to Italy. My grandmother cooked country ham, packed it into a glass jar, poured the grease in around it and mailed it to him. He said he had never tasted anything so good in his life and that he took his fingers and wiped the grease out of the jar and ate it too.

The scraps of fat meat are usually set aside for the next day to render lard. The lard can be used for cooking grease or made into lye soap.

Preparing the cured meat is a part of the process. People used to have smoke houses to cure their meat in, but today, most people just cure their meat without smoking it.

The parts of the meat cured are hams, shoulders, side meat and belly (or fatback). The side meat (bacon) and belly are usually cured without removing the skin. Meat is usually cured in a wooden box or on a wooden table. First you rub salt into the meat and pack as much salt as you can on the meat. This meat is kept in a cool place like an outdoor shed. Some people only cure meat with salt, but most people season the meat by adding brown sugar and/or pepper. You keep checking on the meat and adding more salt if needed. The meat will absorb the salt as it dries. The meat can then be put in a clean cloth sack to keep insects away from it and it will keep indefinitely. It needs no refrigeration. A good country ham is dark red in color.

Ham Bone and Dumplings

When all the meat has been cut off the ham bone, you can boil the bone in a pot of water and add homemade dumplings. If you don't want to use the ham bone stock for dumplings, you can use it for the base of bean soup.

Red-Eye Gravy

After you have fried country ham, there is grease and drippings in the frying pan. Pour coffee into the drippings and stir. You have red eye gravy to serve with the ham.

Country Style Stew Beef

Cut beef into bite size pieces. Brown beef in a small amount of oil in the bottom of a four quart heavy pot. When beef is browned on all sides, add two quarts of water and a pinch of salt. Reduce heat, cover pot, and let simmer for hours, until the meat is so tender it falls to pieces. Serve meat and broth (without thickening the broth) by spooning it over bread. Traditionally, the bread used is pone bread broken into chunks.