You might think that it is difficult to cure a country ham while living in the city. Not So. When I became interested in curing a country ham, I read everything I could find including a Department of agriculture pamphlet on the subject. This last was a mistake. True to form, the pamphlet only served to confuse. By this time, though, I realized that hams had been cured for hundreds of years, often by illiterate people, as a method of preserving pork. If illiterate people can do it, I thought, why can’t I? armed with all of my new-found knowledge, I then sought out my good and great friend,
By this time it was the middle of November, the traditional time to cure meat in this part of the country. First I built a plywood salt box. Size doesn’t make too much difference, but mine is roughly 4 feet by 5 feet and is 1½ feet deep. I also drilled 8 or 10½-inch holes in the bottom and built a rather snug-fitting plywood top.
You must use non-iodized salt in the curing process, and this may require a trip out in the country. Any store that caters to the farm trade will have it, and at a very reasonable price. It comes in
Now you are about to get into business. Go to a packing house or your friendly butcher and buy
Put your salt box on the 4 concrete blocks in your garage or carport and cover the bottom of the box with
In about 4 weeks the hams are ready to be removed from the salt. If the weather has been extremely cold, 15 degrees or below, cover the box with a blanket or an old rug to keep from freezing. If the weather remains extremely cold, leave the hams in the salt for 5 to 6 weeks, instead of the recommended 4. Remove the hams, brush the salt off, and paint with liquid smoke. Do this 3 nights in a row, returning the hams to the salt box for safe keeping but no longer covering them with salt.
Now they are ready to hang. Wrap each ham with about 3 layers of cotton cloth, old bed sheets, old undershirts, or anything that you think will keep insects from getting to the ham. I hang mine in my debugged basement. It’s not a bad idea to hang a Shell No-Pest Strip close by.
Now we play the waiting game. The hams will be ready to eat in 6 months, but I believe that they really reach their peak when they have been hanging for 2 years. In the meantime, pinch, feel, fondle, and smell at regular intervals. Like other things I know of, anticipation is sometimes as good as realization.
At last comes the great day. When the hams have been hanging for 6 months, cook one using my recipe. After you have tasted it, invite your neighbors in for a drink. Put the whole ham out, with a very sharp knife for their enjoyment. Now comes the difficult part. You must be modest. As they rave about this culinary delight extraordinary, don’t tell them that you both cooked and cured it. Let your wife tell them. When they stare at you in amazed disbelief that a mere mortal can do this, and start a barrage of questions, shyly admit that you have more aging in the basement, claiming all the while that it really wasn’t so much.