This Thanksgiving, Give Thanks for Ham

 

Thanksgiving HamWhen thinking ahead to Thanksgiving dinner, the meat that comes to most people’s mind is – I won’t even say the word. Here at Broadbent’s, we’re all about ham, not those large birds that make for the centerpieces of so many American Thanksgiving dinners. Sure, it’s true that turkey (fine, I said it) played an important role in early American settlement, with Native Americans introducing the game bird to arriving settlers for the first time. But ham, and pork in general, was a big part of the legendary cultural exchange as well.

 

The first pigs arrived to the New World with none other than Christopher Columbus, on his second voyage to the Caribbean. Released onto the island of Hispaniola (now Haiti and the Dominican Republic), eight pigs multiplied rapidly. They were distributed to nearby islands for meat over time. It took almost 50 years after Columbus for Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto to finally deliver pigs to the present-day United States, arriving from Cuba to explore the Southeast. De Soto seems to have been quite the pig enthusiast. He presented them to the natives as gifts and died with hundreds of them in his possession.

 

The iconic settlement at Jamestown in 1607 seems to have been when pigs really began to take hold as an American staple. The John Smith-led English settlers introduced pigs to the Virginia forests, where the climate made it an ideal feeding and breeding ground for the animal. It soon became an autumn tradition to round up the fattened pigs for slaughter. Native Americans, having long used salt to preserve the wild game they hunted, worked with settlers to preserve the pork. As other Native American and European influences made their way into the process, the country ham emerged. Salt pork became a major food staple for American settlers, playing a critical role in their survival and expansion.

 

About seven miles from Jamestown, just down the James River towards the Atlantic, settlers garrisoned a lookout point on an island to warn of approaching threats. To protect wandering pigs from being stolen, the settlers transferred them to this garrison. It came to be known as Hog Island, serving as a fertile breeding ground and storage point for the pigs. Today, Hog Island is a Virginia state waterfowl refuge.

 

See what I mean? Pork and ham played as important a role in the early American story as anything else, including the more popular Thanksgiving staple. The country ham might not exist without the blending of American cultures. And who knows if the United States as we know it would exist without ham. Give ham the historical credit it deserves by serving one at your Thanksgiving table.

 

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The History of Bacon

 

History of BaconIf you asked a group of Americans to talk about their favorite foods, bacon would surely come up often in the conversation. Most people love bacon so much that they don’t even bother to stop and think about where the idea for such a delicious food came from. It turns out that bacon has a history as rich as its flavor.

 

While it’s believed that pigs were domesticated from wild boars more than 10,000 years ago, the first noticeable mention of anything in history resembling bacon comes from China around the time when the Shang dynasty was in control. The Chinese were ahead of their time, salt-curing pork bellies as far back as 1500 B.C. Ancient Romans enjoyed a rough, early form of boiled bacon, which was cut from the shoulder of a pig and made with dried figs.

 

Of course, neither ancient culture actually referred to their creations as “bacon” (the Roman dish was called “petaso”). It wasn’t until the Middle Ages that “bacoun” became common nomenclature, at that time referring to all varieties of pork. The word was derived from prior Germanic and French words meaning “back”, presumably implying meat being cut from that area of the pig. Finally, by the 17th century, the term “bacon” settled into its modern use, describing specifically, salted and smoked pork belly.

 

By this time, bacon had become a popular food with European peasants, who would show off the more desirable smoked variety as a symbol of their wealth. In 1770, a man named John Harris became the father of industrial bacon, producing it in large quantities for the masses. The town he hailed from, Wiltshire, England, continues to be known as the bacon capital of the world.

 

Bacon became an American staple as well, with bacon fat widely used as the dominant cooking oil until World War II. Psychologist and marketer Edward Bernays, a nephew of Sigmund Freud and original American “spinmaster”, worked with the Beech-Nut Packing Company to establish bacon as a breakfast staple in the newly minted “most important meal of the day”. In 1924, Oscar Mayer delivered pre-packaged, pre-sliced bacon to the American people for the first time.

 

There’s an interesting story behind the phrase “bring home the bacon”, which has been in use for as long as “bacoun” has been. The common saying hasn’t always been synonymous with providing for one’s family, as it is today.  In the 12th century, married men in the town of Dunmow, Essex were invited to pledge that they hadn’t fought with their wives for a full year. In return, they’d receive a salted side of pork, and the town’s respect for their kindness and patience along with it. Dunmow continues a form of the “bringing home the bacon” ceremony to this day.

 

At Broadbent’s we dry-cure and slow-smoke bacon the way it used to be made, before highly processed, manufactured food became the norm. Experience the time-tested succulent taste of bacon the old-fashioned way by ordering one of our delicious varieties today.

 

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