For at least the last 12 years, Loretta and I have learned to stay on red alert around the middle of December because we know that any day the UPS truck is going to roll in with hefty package post marked Pittsburg. Please note that this particular town is not spelled with an “h” on the end.
I speak here of Pittsburg, Kentucky, the home of Robinson Sausage and Meat Company. Said package consistently contains a huge country ham aged to perfection and awaiting the attention of a master chef.
This year was no exception.
Typically we rush the ham over to Adella Stevenson in Lancaster where, in a secret location purportedly under heavy guard, she spends several days working her magic on many hams this time of year. The end result will, in fact, melt in your mouth.
But Loretta and Adella worked together for over 20 years before Mrs. Stevenson retired a year or so ago. Over time Lo has picked up a tidbit here and a smidgen there of information and they are still the best of friends. Some weeks back Loretta told Adella that this year she’d like to try preparing the ham herself and Adella rolled her eyes, shook her head and asked if my wife had any earthly idea what she was getting herself into.
On the other hand, Adella allowed that she was getting too old to be tossing around 20-pound hams so she divulged much additional information. Let’s just say that all the details would fill a cookbook and that preparing a country ham would be the only recipe.
Said ham occupied one half of our double kitchen sink for four days where it soaked in a concoction that was, if my nose is adequate, very, very heavy on vinegar.
I sawed off the hock, before the ham was immersed, with a jigsaw after trying several other tools, and then I was instructed to stay away from the ham and that my opinions and advice were not needed.
After much trimming, brushing and scrubbing, the ham was finally immersed in a five-gallon stock pot in yet another concoction that included numerous cans of soda, several cups of brown sugar and other stuff Loretta had pre mixed. It boiled for several hours last Sunday, and if you were out and about in central Kentucky, you probably smelled it cooking.
Now deboned and carefully wrapped in aluminum foil, I’m told that it will go into the oven Christmas morning but I just sneaked a sample for breakfast before Lo got out of bed this morning, and I can report that my wife has learned a thing or two about fixing ham. It does, in fact, melt in my mouth.
So thank you, Jimmy Robinson, for this magnificent present and thank you, Adella Stevenson, for sharing trade secrets with my wife. You’ve taught her well!
In other gift news, our good friend Robert Kennedy, who lives in Annapolis, Md., has spent a great deal of time through the holiday season baking fruitcakes which he has mailed to several friends around the country. Robert and his wife, Nancy, are empty nesters now and decided to forego decorating but, to stay in the spirit, Bob has spent much time and effort baking the best fruitcake I have ever tasted.
Loretta and I consider ourselves fruitcake connoisseurs and we have been known to shell out big dollars for fruitcakes prepared by major pastry chefs. To make a long story short, we have never had anything as good as the one Bob Kennedy baked for us this year. We were supposed to save it for Christmas dinner but I insisted on sampling it last week and now, alas, it is gone — every crumb and morsel — and we won’t be able to share it with our friends and family.
But I’m not grieving too much, because most of them claim they don’t like fruitcake anyway and we hope that Bob will forgive us. Rest assured that not a bit of it went to waste. I even licked the wrapper clean.