For the last few years the Carrboro Farmers’ Market has been open year round. It’s much smaller of course, but still worth visiting. This winter for a change we have had a real drawn-out cold spell. This will have set back some of the things that ordinarily do well here at this time of year. One crop that won’t be bothered is collards. My great grandmother always said that you shouldn’t even eat them until after the first frost. If she got any before this, she would put them in the freezer for a while before they were cooked.
Meats and cheeses are not affected by the season and we now have lots of both there. In fact, I always wait until after the holidays to bring back corned hams, a favorite recipe from Eastern North Carolina. Every Wednesday between now and Easter, I have Eliza MacLean bring one fresh ham from her Cane Creek Farm. I salt it the way Gwen at the Pak’a’Sak in New Bern showed me years ago and put it in the back of the fridge to cure for eleven days. I used to cook it plain, but a few years ago, I was doing a fundraiser with the Kitchen Sisters for our local NPR affiliate. In their book Hidden Kitchens, they make reference to a Maryland-style corned ham that is stuffed with winter greens. I had never seen a reference to corned hams anywhere so I decided to try this version. I had always viewed my recipe as beyond improvement, but this new version is unbelievably good. It has now become part of our repertoire at Crook’s Corner.
Eastern North Carolina Corned Ham
(The plain version and the fancy version)
Serves a crowd
15-20 pound fresh ham
2 green cabbages, finely chopped
4 pounds fresh kale, finely chopped
6 bunches scallions, finely chopped
1 bunch of celery, finely chopped
And if you are stuffing it:
2 pounds other greens (collards, turnip or spinach etc.), finely chopped
2 Tablespoons celery seed
3 Tablespoons whole mustard seed
3 Tablespoons ground red pepper flakes
1 Tablespoon black pepper
1 Tablespoon salt
Rinse and dry the ham. Use a sharp boning knife to make a three or four inch incision at each place that the bone protrudes from the meat. This is usually in three places: one at each end and one place on the side. Pack as much salt as possible into each of these incisions, and then cover the outside of the ham with a thin layer of salt. Place in a non-reactive pan and cover. Keep in the refrigerator for 11 days. Turn the ham and resalt the outside if you think about it. One the night of the 11th day wash the ham and flush the salt out of the pockets that you cut. Soak overnight in cool water.
The ham is ready to cook at this point, and in fact this is the ham that I grew up eating. Just cook covered at 325 degrees for 20 minutes a pound. Put a little water in the roasting pan. Uncover for the last hour of cooking so the ham will brown. Ham should be beginning to fall off of the bone. Let rest a little before serving.
To stuff the ham:
This next part comes from Phyllis Richman (formerly of the Washington Post) by way of The Kitchen Sisters:
Wilt all the vegetables in a little water or oil, then stir in the seasonings. Allow to cool enough to be handled. With the boning knife, cut 2 to 3 inch slits all over the ham, wherever there is room. Stuff as much of the vegetable mixture into these slashes as possible. Pack any leftover stuffing on top of the ham, then cook the same as explained above.
Bill Smith, the author of Seasoned in the South: Recipes from Crook’s Corner and from Home, has served as chef at Crook’s Corner for more than a decade. His essays have been featured in newspapers and on radio and television, and his recipes have been selected for 150 Best American Recipes and Food & Wine Magazine’s Best of the Best.