Food for Thought
Pig is divine, but sliced ham not so fine — especially with marshmallows on top
I do not like green eggs and ham.
I do not like them in a box. I do not like them with a fox.
Okay, you get the idea.
Actually, dear Dr. Seuss, I don’t know if I like green eggs or not because I’ve never had them, although probably the simplest recipe in my go-to rep is scrambled eggs with fresh herbs; dill, rosemary, whatever I can sneak from the herb garden across the street. A little butter, a pinch of sea salt and it’s perfection on the plate. But…once again I digress.
Back to ham.
I hate ham. I mean those spiral-cut HoneyBaked (who has a whole store for just ham?) or Paula Deen-endorsed Smithfield hams. Tasteless, mushy, boring pig. I think this dates back to a family cross-country trip when the Air Force was moving us to Germany and we drove from relative to relative until we reached New York City and an overseas flight.
Pardon me while I digress yet again, but I must say my love of food probably dates back to the four years we spent in Germany. Four years of no white bread, ice cream or fast food. Back in those days if you wanted bread in Europe you went to the local baker and bought rich, fragrant pumpernickel or rye loaves. Dessert was gelato, French fries were fresh pommes frites and meat was a served up as a rump roast oozing juices and still wrapped in string served at a real table where a dog was sitting with his owner at the next table. Ah, good times.
Okay, back to the family road trip. For some reason, at every place we stopped our relatives served us a spiral-cut ham. Maybe it was cheap for a family feast, maybe they thought it was a special Easter-celebration-worthy meal. I have no idea. My Dad likes ham, my late Mother liked ham. But at the end of that trip even she said “enough with the ham!” And I’ve never eaten it since.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. I love the noble pig. When Branch Water Tavern’s David Grossman roasted whole sucking pigs I was first in line. I love chef Ryan Pera and Morgan Weber at Revival Market who turn out Mangalitsa porchetta and hot dogs. Yes, fill my basket up with some of that. And when pig man Chris Shepherd opens his Underbelly with its own butcher shop in back, I am so there.
And I adore making a succulent pork loin roasted served up with garlic mashed potatoes and sautéed green beans. A Prosciutto sandwich with homemade mayonnaise, a touch of arugula and some sliced summer tomatoes is divine. Bring it on.
And don’t even get me started on bacon. Bacon is the food of the gods. I could put bacon on anything, anything, and eat it. I’ve eaten chocolate bars with bacon and enjoyed them and I don’t even like sweets. I bet I could put bacon on ice cream and enjoy it. Who in their right mind doesn’t like delicious thick-sliced apple-smoked bacon? On anything.
But back to the ham.
When I was struggling with an idea for this week’s column I talked to my Dad about this whole ham thing. You know, my octogenarian father who’s recently moved to Houston after my stepmother’s passing and who hates his retirement home and is now moving into my high-rise, two doors down from me. Which I am so excited about, by the way, since we eat lunch out everyday anyway.
Okay, so he’s been cleaning out a lot of his stuff before the move and brought me a cookbook that his sister, my adorable late aunt, gave to his second wife in 1993 for Christmas. There are some recipes in here that I may get to in future columns, like the one for gator tail and barbecue sauce or the one for raccoon with red wine. I kid you not. But where can you get a good raccoon these days, I ask you?
Anyway, my Aunt Fig (Frances Irene Gustin, get it? F. I G.) was not known for her cooking skills and this was a source of amusement among the family for ages. When she gave my stepmother this cookbook, she tucked a little something extra into it. It was a clipping from the Decatur, Ill., newspaper dated April 26, 1955 titled “Secretary Gets Quick Meal.”
It gets better: “After a busy day at the office, Mrs. Clyde Dial (my Aunt Fig) can drive out to her new home on Rural Route 8, west of Decatur, put together a ham casserole dish, and relax while it bakes in the oven. With it she serves creamed peas with a mushroom soup and a tossed salad.”
Man, journalists had it easy back then.
Okay, here’s the recipe for my Aunt Fig’s ham casserole from 1955:
1 thick ham slice (yuck)
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon mustard
1 small can sweet potatoes
2 slices of pineapple
Place ham in casserole, mix brown sugar and mustard in a paste, spread over ham and top with pineapple slices. Arrange sweet potatoes around ham and bake for 30 to 45 minutes in a 350-degreee oven. If desired add marshmallows over the top of sweet potatoes just before removing casserole from the oven.”
Let me be honest, this is not one of my kitchen-tested recipes so you are on your own here. Seriously, I don’t want to try this recipe. I wish I had seen this news article before my Aunt Fig had passed; I would have loved to have asked her about it. Where she got the recipe from, if she actually made it, was it really any good? But if you do make it, please let me know how it turns out. I am not a ham fan, but I’d love to know if Fig’s ham casserole is edible. Although I’d definitely leave off those dang marshmallows.