Every Now and Then
The extended Buchanan clan has begun its preparations for the Easter gathering, and while the patriarch and matriarch of the family, Mother and Daddy, won’t be around, it will still be a sizeable gathering, and lists of who’s bringing what are flying around on social media.
For Christmas and Easter, I usually provide ham. It’s a long-standing tradition started in part by my late father-in-law, who’d send my family a Christmas ham, and in part by an old editor friend of mine.
This fellow had a family that would be a bit contentious when it came to arguing over politics and whatnot, but he discovered that hard feelings wouldn’t last long if he brought a ham to the proceedings.
He called it the Ham of Atonement.
Ham at Easter is a pretty big tradition in these parts thanks to the venerable country ham. Growing up, pretty much every farm home had a smokehouse attached or standing free nearby.
Although Daddy’s smokehouse never saw smoke by the time I came along, it was still used for storage. Smoke went out of style when salt became cheap around the late 1800s, and salt went out of style when freezers became affordable.
Still, a few people held on to the smoking art, and a smoked ham was a prized commodity. It could get a family through a winter and would serve as a prized gift for someone atop the giver’s list.
There weren’t many stories I heard coming along about the smoking process, but it seems everyone had a story about sending a country ham to a greenhorn in the city only to hear it had been destroyed.
See, a well-aged ham will have white flecks in it formed by the aging process, but someone unfamiliar with country ham will mistake that for spoilage. In the garbage she goes.
Similarly, I gather you must soak a country ham or you may as well try eating a salt lick.
Again, instructions to do so rarely went with a ham delivery. I don’t know what the batting average was for a country ham delivery to a person in the big city regarding successful enjoyment, but it’s probably around that of a utility infielder for the Atlanta Braves.
In other words, not all that impressive.
At any rate, “store” hams have largely replaced country hams. They’re different, but fine in their own regard.
While ham is dandy, what spring means to mountain folk is a whole ’nother victual: ramps.
Ramps have been described as a sort of onion, sort of leek, sort of garlic, but they stand apart from all of those. They’re stinky, life-reviving bulbs that grow wild in local coves and hollows, and it just isn’t spring without them.
I guess they have an affinity for Easter in that their chemical compound is said to help restore the body after a winter without greens.
On the death side of the resurrection equation, they kinda smell like sulfur. So strongly, in fact, that there’s still a law on the books in West Virginia that children can’t attend school after having eaten ramps.
I’ve heard a lot of kids took advantage of that in local schools back in the day. Kids know the score.
As with so many foodstuffs, Mother could cook some ramps ’n taters, and I still miss her fussing over the cast iron skillet every spring.
Still, my sisters picked up her skills well, and can turn out a mess of ramps.
However, perusing the lists of who’s bringing what on text messages, I didn’t see that anyone is bringing them to family Easter feed.
I have yet to reply as to what I’m bringing.
I’ve thought about replying, “ramps ’n taters or the ham gets it.”
Atonement comes with a price, you know.
Jim Buchanan is editor of The Sylva Herald.