As I hope has been made clear, there is far too much conflicting information about cured hams. One authority might advise you to use ascorbic acid instead of sodium nitrite or sodium nitrate, and another will tell you not to substitute. Others will say that neither ingredient is necessary for curing hams. One authority says to age the hams before smoking; another, after smoking. Some writers will say that country hams are best when they are aged for a year or longer; others say that they get too hard after 6 months. One authority says to sprinkle pepper over your hams after curing to prevent mold; another says that pepper causes mold. In short, writers and practitioners, along with booklets written in Federal Prose, have confounded the issue, and trade books on the subject have tried to treat cold-smoking and hot-smoking (i.e., cooking) in the same work, thereby causing even more confusion—and more margin for errors of serious consequence.
Guidance is needed, but not in the form of magic cures and gadgets. Those people who think that the problems can be solved with Prague Powder and brine injection pumps are wrong. For one thing, hams are more exacting to cure because they are large. Yet, owing to complicated enzymatic chemistry, they can be the most rewarding of the cured meats. Anyone who has sat down to eat a properly cured and expertly cooked country ham needs no further reason to proceed.
The process is really not difficult. Yet things can go wrong. My older brother, for example, once had a small farm on the Choctawhatchee River, where he let his hogs forage on acorns and rootables. Starting in late summer, he fattened some prime pigs on corn and peanuts; then, on first frost, he butchered a few for home use. One fall, he butchered four prime pigs and salt-cured the hams and shoulders, stacking them on a wooden shelf in his smokehouse. The shoulders worked out just right, but the larger hams soured and had to be thrown out. Why? he didn’t know. He thought he had followed the exact procedure that he had always used, and the one that my father and grandfather had used before him.
In any case, I consider the following steps to a country ham to be more important than brine pumps and secret formulas.