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Various methods of keeping cured hams: research of 50 years ago helps homesteaders today.

Many homesteaders and organic farmers complain that government research passes them by. Of course, this wasn't the case back when virtually all farmers were homesteaders and organic ... and some of that old research is still pertinent today.

For example, the following report, headed "Hams stored in tight cloth bags will keep well for use in farm home" was published in 1935.

Wrapping smoked hams in parchment paper and then storing them in fly-proof muslin bags proved to be the most desirable method when hams are to be kept for several months at ordinary air temperatures, according to the results of a three-year test just completed at the Animal Husbandry Experiment in station, Beltsville, Maryland. The method prevented infestation from skippers and excluded part of the air and light that hasten development of rancidity in the fat.

Most farmers who butcher hogs during cold weather for their year's supply of meat are faced with the problem of keeping the meat sound and palatable though the summer without the use of refrigeration. As a result, farm-stored hams often deteriorate in quality or are lost entirely through infestation of insects.

The general quality of these wrapped and bagged hams was not consistently different from those that had been hung up un-wrapped and unbagged nor from those that had been shaded with black cloth, or bagged and painted with various protecting preparations such as lime or yellow wash. There was some difference in shrinkage in storage and in the results form the cooking tests conducted with some of the hams, but the differences were not material except for the damage caused by skippers in the unwrapped hams. (Ed note: "skipper" refers to any of various erratically active insects.)

Skippers got into the storeroom in spite of all precautions and infested the hams, a fact which demonstrates the advantage of protecting the individual hams even though the storeroom was supposedly fly-proof.

Results of various methods of storing

Some of the 210 hams used in the investigations were coated with a mixture of pepper and molasses. These coated hams possessed a flavor after aging that was considered to be sweeter and slightly more pungent than others. There was, however, some loss caused by skippers; except for that fact, this method would be a highly satisfactory one for those who like the flavor of pepper.

Other hams were buried in crushed rock salt, in wood ashes, and in oats. The meat buried in crushed rock salt absorbed too much salt during storage and the lean portion became undesirably dry and tough. Storing smoked meat in wood ashes, salt or oats apparently is not satisfactory in a climate as humid as Washington, D.C. and vicinity.

Hams hung unwrapped in a dark, imperfectly ventilated homemade meat-curing box, such as commonly used for curing meat in the South, aged as satisfactorily as those hung in the open storeroom. No skippers gained entrance to this box, although that danger was always presented when the lid was raised for examination of the meat.

Hams made airtight by the use of heavy coatings of paraffin or stored in rubber bags all spoiled. Most of this spoilage was on the surface, but the meat was considered unfit for use.

Mold developed on all the hams regardless of the method of storage. During damp weather the growth was extensive and during dry periods much of it disappeared. The least mold was found on the unprotected hams hung in an open window where the air circulation was greatest. Mold did not damage the flavor of any of the hams except those that were buried in ashes, salt or oats. In those cases a musty, moldy flavor permeated the entire cut.

All hams used in these tests were from carcasses that had been chilled promptly after slaughter. The cold, trimmed, fresh hams were dry cured with a curing mixture of eight pounds of salt, two pounds of brown sugar and four ounces of saltpeter for each 100 pounds of meat. The meat was cured at a temperature of about 38[degrees]F and three days' curing time was allowed for each pound of weight of the average ham. The cured hams were washed and smoked for three days at a temperature that did not exceed 110[degrees]F. No smoked meat was wrapped or packed until it had cooled to air temperature after removal from the smoke house.

The mean monthly temperature of the storeroom in which the smoked meat was kept ranged between 46[degrees]F in February and 78[degrees]F in July and August; the mean humidity ranged between 36 and 95 percent.--R.L. Hiner

Some curing directions--including one in my book Raising the Homestead Hog--call for curing the meat in an insect- and rodent-proof box, alternating layers of wheat bran or oats. The 1935 reference to storing hams in such boxes being peculiar to the South is interesting, because the recipe came from Ann Kanable (our former rabbit editor and author of Raising Rabbits), who got it from her father, and who lives in Arkansas. I mentioned in the book that I had used the bran, but had had a hard time getting it off the meat. I hadn't used oats at that time (1977), but when I did, spoilage was encountered during the curing process.--Jd Belanger

Reprinted from October, 1983
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Title Annotation:The butcher block
Author:Hiner, R.L.; Belanger, Jd
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Article Type:Reprint
Date:Sep 1, 2008
Previous Article:Butchering tips--plan ahead.
Next Article:Poultry should be brined before smoking.

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