Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Country Ham Thank-you

After church on Sunday, the preacher's wife, a dear friend, like a mother actually, asked me to walk over to her house. She asked her granddaughter to open the garage and get the same thing for me that another lady had received. Sounded a little cryptic, but Sam knew what she meant. She returned a few minutes later, with a country ham. "Here's a little something to thank you for the good time New Years Eve". She handed me a boneless trimmed uncooked country ham. Penn's brand, yum. She explained how to cook it, actually bake it. Simply put the whole ham in a pan, add a little orange juice and bake at 350 until the internal temperature is 160 degrees. Slice and fry up in a skillet. How easy. She went on to explain that all the work had been done on this ham, about a 6 pounder, if I had to guess. Work would have been cutting off the skin, trimming back the excess fat layer, and working around the bone. I had read that there are other steps like soaking, and scrubbing the outer skin which sounded tiresome. All was eliminated with this trimmed boneless country ham. My previous lunch idea vanished as I held the ham. I thanked her and walked to my car dreaming of buttermilk biscuits, applesauce which I had made the day before, and slices of country ham.
When I got home I promptly got out my tattered Martha White cookbook and turned to my favorite buttermilk biscuit recipe while contemplating the country ham. I didn't really want to cook the whole thing. My husband suggested slicing it on my electric slicer and portioning the slices then vacuum sealing the portions and freezing. Sounded like a plan. A plan I would tackle after I had my biscuits and country ham for lunch.
I sliced off 6 1/4" thick slices; my husband hovering over my left shoulder like a hungry hound.
A skillet went on the stove and some apple cider was poured in. I turned the stove to medium heat and added the slices. I gently cooked them (fancy cooks would call it braising) with the lid on for about 20 minutes. I should tell you right here I've never cooked an uncooked country ham before so I was following instinct on this one. The apple cider was just something I thought would be tasty after hearing Sharon's recipe with orange juice. After the slices had turned the pale pink of cooked country ham, I removed them to a plate, turned the heat to medium high and reduced the cider to a syrupy consistency. Then, I turned each slice in the salty sweet glaze and topped the hot biscuits with a couple slices. David topped his ham with cheese. I topped mine with applesauce. A heavenly lunch indeed.
We both decided that a country ham thank-you was mighty fine.
I think the above description should get you through the ham recipe with no problems.
The applesauce was made from Arkansas Black apples which I had purchased from a nearby orchard. Funny, when I bit into an apple the first of November, it nearly took out a tooth. The apples were so hard I couldn't even push one onto my apple peeler. I let the two pecks-worth sit in the bottom of my double door refrigerator for a couple months and something wonderful happened, they softened up. The applesauce from those Arkansas Blacks is almost mousse-like, fabulous to eat. I might also add, Arkansas Blacks are beautiful to behold. The skin is burgundy to blackish red. In my dream orchard that I wrote about yesterday, Arkansas Black apples would have a place of prominence in my large orchard.
For the applesauce I simply peeled one peck of apples, then quartered them. I put the unseeded quarters into a 7 quart pot, added about 2 cups of water, turned them to medium heat, covered with a lid and let them simmer away for about 30 minutes. Surprisingly, that is all the time they needed to cook down. I then ran them through my food mill using the coarse plate which held back all the seeds. I poured the sauce back into the pot. Brown sugar, about 2 cups, 2 tsp of ground cinnamon, and 2 tsp of ground coriander was also added. I reheated the applesauce to incorporate the sugar and spices, and then put in freezer-safe containers and tucked them in among the other goodies such as peaches and cherries.
The biscuit recipe is from the Martha White Southern Sampler cookbook. I used butter-flavored shortening for the first time and the biscuits were golden brown and buttery tasting. In the south we don't turn up our noses to shortening. It's indispensible for many classics of southern cuisine. Paula has her butter, I now have my butter-flavored shortening. I used a 3" cookie cutter to cut out the biscuits; the biscuits were sandwich-size and they were more conducive to holding the long slices of cider-glazed country ham.

Buttermilk Sandwich Biscuits
Makes: 8 sandwich biscuits with a few little baby biscuits from the scraps
3/4 cup butter-flavored shortening
4 cups sifted self-rising flour (I use White Lily brand)
1-2/3 cups buttermilk
melted butter
Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Grease a large baking sheet with low sides (I use a silpat and then I don't have to grease) Blend the shortening into the flour using two dinner knives or a pastry blender, leaving large pea-sized pieces of shortening. Add buttermilk and stir with a serving fork only until the dough leaves the sides of the bowl.
Turn out dough onto a lightly floured board. Lightly flour the top of the dough and pat out (use your fingertips) into a square; fold in half; pat out again to a 1/2" thickness. A light hand makes a light biscuit.
Cut into 3" rounds with a floured cutter. Use a metal spatula to help transfer the biscuits to the prepared sheet.
Bake for 15-18 minutes or until golden brown. Brush the tops with melted butter.

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