Disguised Ham, c. 1857

disguised ham

Here is the fascinating history of the making of ham, with the differences between traditional and modern day industrial processing, as well as an early American receipt for holiday leftovers of this meat.

The Beginnings of American Cook Books in 19th Century

Eliza Leslie devised the perfect solution for the remains of our Easter dinners, in Miss Leslie’s New Cookery Book (c. 1857), with her disguised ham recipe.  There she recommended baking, on toasted bread, seasoned ground ham-mixed with mustard and egg yolk-and crowning it with a golden meringue.  1

Leslie started her prolific career in 1828, with her humble Seventy-five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes, and Sweetmeats.  Her writing had developed greatly by the time she published the above cook book, with her disguised ham; now the New Cookery Book included a thousand recipes.  Her cook books evidenced that Leslie was following the lead of the influential Amelia Simmons in her writing of American recipes for an American audience.  2

American Culinary Heritage Originated with African American Cooks

Prior to the influence of Simmons, the heritage of our national cuisine can be attributed greatly to African American cooks on colonial plantations.  Here, due to great rivalry, the colonial dames jealously guarded their well-provisioned tables; thus, the great recipes of their Native African American cooks were strictly handed down by mouth from generation to generation.  All the cook books published this side of the Atlantic-there were only a few-were really English cook books, which were merely printed in the States.  3

Amelia Simmons Initiated the Writing of American Cook Books

Simmons changed all this, when she ushered in our nation’s writings on American cuisine, with American Cookery in 1796.  She introduced the publication of receipts using New World foods, such as cranberries, clams, shad, and terrapin, as well as cornmeal in puddings, corn cakes, etc.  She included Indian pudding, Indian slapjack (pancakes), and johnnycake or journey cake-called thus because these flat corn cakes were frequently carried on journeys.  4

Meanwhile, a number of American ladies followed Simmons’ lead with the writing of American recipes for an American audience; the most prolific of these writers was Eliza Leslie, from whom we have this inspiration for using leftover ham.

Traditional Curing of Meats

Back then, cured meats were made by either dry-salting (dry-curing) or brining (wet-curing) large cuts for several days, giving them about 60% moisture and 5-7% salt by weight.  This process preserved them and they could be kept uncooked for long periods without refrigeration.  5

Modern Industrial Processing of Cured Meats

Today salted meats-ham, bacon, corned beef-are still popular, because of their great taste, even though salting is no longer essential for preservation.  The curing process has gone from several days for traditional, wet-cured meats to just hours for their modern, industrial counterparts-in the case of some bacon-processing, the pork is cut into slices, immersed in brine for 10-15 minutes, and packed the same day.  With their milder cures, industrial meats generally must be refrigerated and/or cooked.  6

Now wet-cured hams are injected with brine.  The pork pieces are then “tumbled” in large rotating drums for a day to massage the brine evenly throughout the meat, making it supple.  Finally they are pressed into shape, partly or fully cooked, and are sold chilled, with no maturing period.  7

No Salt in Modern-day Corned Beef

Modern corned beef is also injected with brine, and actually doesn’t touch any salt grains, as its name indicates-corn comes from the English word for grains, which includes salt grains.  (For the detailed beginnings of corned beef, see The Best Corned Beef .)  8

Dry Curing Then and Now

With dry-curing, salt is used to transform pig into sublime hams, a process that goes back at least to classical times.  Among our modern versions of dry-cured ham are: Italian prosciutto di Parma, Spanish serrano, French Bayonne, and American country hams.  Though it is possible to cook these delicacies, which are comparable to long-aged cheese, they are best when eaten raw in paper-thin slices.  With a vivid, translucent rose color, their texture is silken and their flavor at once meaty and fruity.  9

In the process of dry-curing, the raw meat is cleaned, and then covered with salt, while being gradually pressed to draw out the blood.  (Specific herbs and spices may be added for flavor at this point.)  Next the hams are washed and hung to dry in a temperature-controlled atmosphere; finally, they are hung to air for a period of time.  This period may greatly vary: in the case of Serrano hams the time may be as little as 9 months, while 12 months are required for the Parma; the Iberian ham may take up to 2 years.  10

Though comparatively rare, dry-cured hams may use salt only in curing, such as with the Parma.  Most modern dry-cured ham, however, employs both salt and nitrites (either sodium nitrite or potassium nitrate), which prevents bacterial growth and gives the meat a desirable dark red color.  11

History of Nitrates and Nitrites in Curing

Potassium nitrate was first discovered in the Middle Ages; then, it was named saltpeter because it was found as a salt-like crystalline outgrowth on rocks.  Later in the 16th or 17th century, it was being used to brighten meat color and improve its safety and storage life, as well as enhance its flavor.  Around 1900, nitrite (a derivative of nitrate, due to chemical reactions during the curing process), began to replace saltpeter in the cure, except in traditional dry cured hams and bacons, where potassium nitrate has remained preferable.  Both nitrate and nitrite can react with other food components to form nitrosamines, which can be carcinogenic; thus, today we tend to read labels carefully to avoid both.  12

If you are celebrating this holiday with ham, utilize the historical Eliza Leslie’s disguised ham receipt for any leftovers.  Happy Resurrection Sunday!

References:

  1. Esther B. Aresty, The Delectable Past (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1964) pp. 190, 192.
  2. Ibid., pp. 183, 187.
  3. Ibid., p. 183.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), p. 173.
  6. Ibid., p. 175.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid., pp. 173, 175.
  9. Ibid., p. 174.
  10. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ham
  11. Ibid.
  12. Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), p173, 174.

finished sandwich

Disguised Ham (c. 1857)  Adapted from Esther B. Aresty’s The Delectable Past (New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc., 1964) p. 192.  Yields: 4-5 servings.  Total prep time: 35 minutes/  active prep time: 18 min/  baking time: 17 min.

1/3 lb or 1 c ham, chopped to a coarse grind  (May use leftover baked ham or 8 slices of Trader Joe’s Uncured Black Forest Ham, which is nitrite-free.)

2 tsp of mustard, or to taste  (Trader’s Aioli Garlic Mustard Sauce is ideal.)

Salt and pepper to taste

4 lg eggs, 3 of them separated

4-5 slices of bread  (I use homemade Struan bread, see 2018/12/17.)

Spray oil, preferably coconut spray oil

  1. grinding of ham in food processor

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

  2. With a food processor or Vita Mix, chop ham to a coarse grind, see photo.  Measure and place 1 c ground meat in a bowl.
  3. Season ham with mustard, salt, and pepper to taste (may not need salt, if ham is salty).  May refrigerate at this point and finish just before serving.
  4. ham/egg mixture

    Separate 3 eggs.  (If you are anticipating leftovers: when separating eggs, save 1 or 2 whites in a small container in the refrigerator to be used later.)  With a fork, beat yokes and 1 whole egg in a small bowl; mix beaten yokes/egg into ham.  See photo.

  5. Toast bread in toaster; spread ham mixture on top; place in a baking dish lightly sprayed with oil; bake in preheated oven for 12 minutes, or until brown on top (see photo below).
  6. after baking ham mixture on toast for 12 minutes

    With an electric mixer, beat egg whites until stiff.

  7. Cover browned ham with 3/4” beaten egg white.  Return to oven and bake about 5 minutes more, or until whites are just beginning to turn golden brown (see photo at top of recipe).
  8. Serve immediately.  Great way to use leftover ham!

Ropa Vieja (Omelette)

ropa vieja (omelette)

Here we examine the historical and botanical make-up of tomatoes, the importance of Africans in the forming of southern cuisine, and details about the publication of cook books in the American south.

America’s Food Heritage

Our typical American cuisine was inspired by the familiar recipes brought over by English, French, Spanish, and Dutch settlers, as well as those of Scotch-Irish and German colonists, who followed these early immigrants; all of this European influence merged with the available foods of the Native Americans present on this continent.  1

Southern Cuisine Developed by Africans

African slaves played a broad part in fashioning our distinctive southern cookery.  The mistresses of these slaves initially taught them-our people-receipts recalled from these mistresses’ individual heritages, as listed above; then, prized dishes were developed, with the Africans’ natural appreciation of and aptitude for cooking.  These foods were used in the strong social competition among the plantations.  Such delicacies, which in large part formed this region’s cuisine, were not initially compiled in books for the public, but rather closely safeguarded within each family, due to the rivalry among these established settlements.  Thus, there were no Southern cook books until the first quarter of the 19th century; a few recipes from this geographic area were preserved, however, in some American cook books, mostly those published in and around Philadelphia.  2

Mrs. Mary Randolph’s The Virginia Housewife, printed in 1824, in Washington D.C., is part of the advent of cook books specializing in foods from the South.  It also includes some Northern recipes, as well as a few Spanish dishes, of which our Ropa Vieja omelette is one.  This promising recipe boasts of only five ingredients, one of which is the garden tomato, and just a few succinct instructions; its simplicity makes it exceptional.  3

Botanical Make-up of Tomatoes Produces a Powerful Food

In On Food and Cooking, Harold McGee explains why this sweet-tart, botanical fruit tomato, which is used as a vegetable, has such great appeal.  He attributes this attractiveness to the unique flavor brought about by its low sugar content-3%; other great features are its large amount of savory glutamic acid-as much as 0.3% of its weight-and its ample quantities of aromatic sulfur compounds.  These two latter ingredients, present in ripe tomatoes, predispose them to complement the flavor of meats.  This is because these two substances exist more commonly in animal flesh than fruits; thus, their rich presence in tomatoes allows for added taste to meat dishes.  Savory glutamic acid and sulfur aromas likewise bring out great depth and complexity in sauces and other food combinations; therefore, this particular produce can even replace meat in flavoring vegan dishes.  4

American Origins of Tomatoes and their Slow Acceptance in Europe

Tomatoes originated in the west coast deserts of South America.  Extensive varieties existed in Mexico, by the time Hernando Cortez and his 400 Spaniards discovered this land in 1519.  The tomato was incorporated in American (and later European) cookery in various ways.  At the time of Cortez’ arrival, Mexicans used thin shavings of this green, unripe fruit in many dishes; they also mixed ripe tomatoes with chillis in a sauce to top cooked beans.  Subsequently, the Spaniards in Europe readily adopted this fruit in their cuisine.  5

When Francisco Pizarro began his bloody attacks in Peru in 1532, this South American land, with all its royal Incan wealth, was eating mostly a vegetarian diet of maize, potatoes (including sweet and manioc potatoes), squash, beans, peanuts, avocados, chillis, and our beloved tomato.  6

Some time later, the Italians were adding it to broths and soups, as noted by the Quaker merchant Peter Collinson in 1742.  Tomato sauce for pasta followed several decades hence.  7

Britain lagged behind Italy, in accepting this item, due to their long-held mistaken viewpoint, which had originated on the Continent, connecting it with a deadly nightingshade, being it was of this same family.   Not until the 20th century did the English acquired a taste for tomatoes, particularly canned tomato soup.  8

Popularity of Tomatoes Grew Slowly in the United States

North America was almost equally slow in receiving this fruit, probably due in part to these same European misconceptions; they considered it to be lacking in nourishment and substance, as well as a cause for gout.  9

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the U.S began what was to become a wide acceptance of tomatoes, primarily due to the strong influence from the great Italian immigration then.   Nevertheless, their first appearance here was when Thomas President Thomas Jefferson brought back seedlings from a diplomatic trip to Paris.  There the Parisians had just accepted this “love apple”, believed to be an aphrodisiac; their acceptance directly resulted from the effect Italian cooking had on French troops during the French Revolution at the end of the 18th century (see Spicy Sausages with Tomatoes & Turnips).

It is interesting to note that our third president had an extensive garden of 170 varieties of fruits and 330 varieties of vegetables and herbs; his grand kitchen utilized most of this produce, even producing ketchup for our epicurean leader, who primarily chose a vegetarian diet.  Ketchup at this time, however, was a vinegar-based condiment made from such ingredients as walnuts and mushrooms, not tomatoes.  10

Be sure to access my other tomato recipes: Parmesan Dover Sole and Rosemary Eggs.

References:

  1. Esther B. Aresty, The Delectable Past (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1964), p. 181.
  2. Ibid., pp. 182, 183, 193.
  3. Ibid., p. 193.
  4. Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), pp. 329, 330.
  5. On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), Reay Tannahill, Food in History (New York: The Three Rivers Press, 1988, 1973), p. 206.
  6. Ibid., p. 214.
  7. Ibid., p. 207.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.
  10. www.monticello.org/site/house-and-gardens/historic-gardens

ingredients for ropa vieja

Ropa Vieja (Omelette)  Yields: 2 servings.  Total prep time: 25 min.  Adapted from an 1824 southern recipe found in Esther B. Aresty’s The Delectable Past (New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc., 1964).

2 lg firm ripe tomatoes, cut in eighths, seeds and juice removed

2/3 c shredded leftover chicken, ham, or beef

4 lg eggs, beaten lightly  (May use 3 duck eggs, which are bigger than chicken eggs; for info on duck and chicken eggs, see Rosemary Eggs.)

2 tbsp butter

1 tbsp chopped parsley, optional

Salt, to taste  (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is critical for optimum health; an inexpensive fine grind Himalayan salt is available at Costco.)

Fresh ground pepper, to taste

  1. cooked tomatoes

    Spray the optional parsley with a safe, inexpensive, effective produce spray (mix 97% distilled white vinegar and 3% hydrogen peroxide); let sit 3 minutes: then, rinse well and chop fine.

  2. Cut the tomatoes in eighths, gently scoop out liquid and seeds with a spoon (it not necessary to peel the tomatoes), place in a bowl.
  3. Shred and measure the meat, set aside.
  4. Beat the eggs, only until whites and yolks are lightly blended.
  5. Over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter in a non-stick skillet; mix in meat, heating for one minute.  Add tomatoes and cook for six minutes, or until mixture is hot and tomatoes are somewhat softened, stirring occasionally (see above photo).
  6. Reduce heat to med/low; sprinkle parsley over cooked tomatoes and meat; pour beaten eggs over this mixture, quickly distributing the meat and tomatoes evenly in eggs.
  7. finished product

    Salt and pepper generously before covering; cover and cook slowly, until eggs are set on top (see photo).

  8. When done, you may remove any loose pieces of skin from tomatoes that appear on top of omelette; fold it over; cut in half to serve two people.