A Word On Food: Easter Ham

Historically lamb was the main course for Easter dinner and it still is in many parts of the world. It’s a tradition that’s about 3,000 years old and stems from the Jewish holiday Passover, which celebrates Israelites being liberated and their exodus from Egypt.

The tradition held up in the United States because wool was a popular fabric during World War II, … but as soon as the demand for wool began to wane, fewer legs of lamb became available for Easter.

Ham became a great alternative to lamb because farmers could preserve the meat during winter months by curing it and, by the time spring arrived, it was ready to eat.

To celebrate around the table with ham is an age-old custom, handed down from pre-Christian times, on festive occasions, feast days, and weddings. The pig is an ancient symbol of good luck and prosperity. In some German popular expressions, the word “pig” is synonymous with “good luck” (Schwein haben, in other words … “to have a pig”). In Hungary, the highest card (ace) in card games is called “disznó, their word for pig. 

And let’s face it. Cooking a ham is almost like not having to cook most of the time. Our hams in the U.S. come from the store cured and fully cooked. It can still take several hours to warm in the oven. At 325 degrees Fahrenheit, a 6-pound bone-in cooked smoked ham takes about 2 1/2 hours to heat to an internal temperature of 140 degrees. What other meats can arrive to the table looking so grand and capable of feeding a household with so little fuss? 

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Now it’s time to hit the ‘Listen on WLRN’ button at the top to hear the remainder of my show. ‘A Word On Food’ airs on WLRN every Saturday around 8:30 a.m. at 91.3 and also 91.5 on the radio. I want to thank so many of you who tell me in person how much you are enjoying the show! Please check out my Instagram photos and my new IG TV cooking videos @normanvanaken 

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