August 20, 2017 – Country ham has been popular in the south for generations. As a boy, I remember it from the annual reunions in my family’s rural parish in northwest Louisiana. They were often held on the grounds of a country church, many of which had covered pavilions with long lines of picnic tables for just that purpose. Hence, they came to be called “dinner on the grounds.” I remember them as real, down-home community events with some of the best food, not to mention music, you could ever experience.
Country ham is most often identified with Tennessee and Kentucky, the two states sometimes referred to as the “Spain and Italy” of the U.S. ham belt. It’s that stretch of the mid south in which weather conditions are most conducive to raising pigs.
Country hams are dry cured. They are usually rubbed down with salt, smoked with hardwood, and cured for a minimum of four months and sometimes up to three years. The meat is dry and the taste is very salty.
The hams we generally buy from our local grocer are most often cured by injecting them with salt, sugar, and a variety of spices before they’re smoked. They are moist and far less salty than their country cousins.
I’m not a great fan of country hams. They’re too salty for my taste. They also demand a lot of time and attention. To me a good, bone-in picnic ham is tastier, more flexible, and a lot easier to work with.
A few nights ago we decided we didn’t want a big dinner. I had been reading about appetizers and dips and such. One that intrigued me was a hot country ham dip. Interesting. I did a little research. What I found was a long list of recipes from various sources, all of them exactly the same.
I decided to see what I could come up with. In keeping with my preference, I dropped the country ham in favor of a slice from a bone-in picnic ham, eliminated a couple of items from the recipe, added a few others, and changed the process a bit.
My additions included Herbes de Provence, a blend of seasonings associated with the Provence region of France. The seasonings might include savory, marjoram, rosemary, thyme, oregano and lavender.
Serve it with hearty crackers, raw vegetables, or even a crusty bread. Hot is best but cold works, too. It’s a winner!
Hot Ham Dip
16 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 cup sour cream
1 cup chopped ham
1/2 cup onion, minced
1/4 cup roasted red pepper, minced
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon ginger powder
1 tablespoon Herbes de Provence
1 teaspoon Worcestershire
1 tablespoon butter broken into small pieces
Freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 350.
Combine the cream cheese, sour cream, ham, onion, roasted red pepper, garlic, ginger, Herbes de Provence, and Worcestershire.
When thoroughly mixed, place the dip in an oven-proof dish. Dot the top with the bits of butter. Top with a generous grinding of black pepper.
Bake for 20 minutes.