To many descendants of America’s servant class, who at hog killing time helped smoke the very best parts of the pig or prepared those cuts for the planter’s table, a succulent, golden-brown ham is more than sustenance; it is the centerpiece whenever special occasions are celebrated.
We see this over and over throughout the history of black foodways. A succulent ham, studded with cloves and roasted with a brown sugar-mustard glaze, is part of the food tradition at The Big Quarterly, a religious celebration of the Africa Union Church, begun in 1814 in Wilmington, Delaware. Cooking school teacher Sarah Helen Mahammitt taught students to boil ham the old-fashioned way and offered a modern approach—baking ham with wine—in her 1939 cookbook. A decade later, Ebony food editor Freda DeKnight invited readers to bake ham with sherry or port, and to place tiny pieces of garlic in the fat covering the ham for a zesty, pungent taste. Leonard Roberts learned the craft of French cooking from his father, a railway and hotel chef, and wrote of his Frenchified soul cooking in The Negro Chef Cookbook in 1969; he glazed his ham with Champagne to make it elegant, and I adapt his recipe here.
1 (9- to 10-pound) bone-in smoked ham
2 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
2 (750 ml) bottles extra-dry Champagne or other sparkling wine
3 tablespoons honey or maple syrup
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
Pineapple slices, for serving (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line a roasting pan with foil and place a rack on top of the foil.
2. Place the ham on the rack, fat side up. Using a sharp knife, score the fat across the top in a crisscross pattern, cutting just through the fat to the meat. Spoon 1 cup of the brown sugar over the top of the ham, pressing with your fingers or the back of a spoon. Carefully pour 1 bottle of Champagne over the ham and the brown sugar. Cover the ham with foil and bake for 2 hours.
3. Meanwhile, in a saucepan, combine the remaining bottle of Champagne, 1 1/2 cups brown sugar, the honey, mustard, and ginger. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, until the glaze thickens, about 15 minutes.
4. Remove the ham from the oven and spoon half of the glaze on top. Keep the remaining glaze warm over low heat. Return the ham to the oven and bake, basting with the remaining glaze every 15 minutes, until a meat thermometer inserted in the ham registers 145°F, 1 hour longer or more. Tent with foil and let stand for 15 minutes before serving. Garnish with pineapple slices, if you’d like.
Reprinted with permission from Jubilee: Recipes from Two Centuries of African American Cooking by Toni Tipton-Martin, copyright © 2019. Photographs by Jerrelle Guy. Published by Clarkson Potter, a division of Penguin Random House, Inc.
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