By Guy Leonard, County Times
Aggie Tinsley, of McKays Fine Food and Pharmacy stuffs one of a planned 400 stuffed hams to be available in McKays food stores for Thanksgiving. (Photo by Guy Leonard, County Times)
HOLLYWOOD, Md. (November 15, 2007)—As Thanksgiving fast approaches, and people whet their appetites for a traditional turkey feast, an old favorite is rapidly becoming more popular as holiday fare.
Southern Maryland stuffed ham, also known as St. Marys County stuffed ham, has been a traditional local favorite dating back centuries in the region and independent grocers say that more and more people not originally from here are coming to love the dish.
We have customers, some of them military, who said Someone told me about stuffed ham. What is it? said Mary White, store manager for McKays Fine Food and Pharmacy in Great Mills. They try it and they love it. They come back all the time.
The main ingredients of the dish include a corned ham, one that has been soaked or injected with brine, removed from its bone and stuffed with a mixture of cabbage, kale and spices that include a variety of peppers.
McKays grocery stores prepared 400 individual hams for sale during the Thanksgiving holiday, showing just how popular the dish has become.
Every day were getting calls to see if were still doing stuffed ham, White told The County Times, adding that many calls are from outside the county or even the region. You give them a sample and you get them hooked; theyve got to have it.
Donnie Tennyson, owner of Raleys Town and Country in Ridge, said the phenomenon of stuffed ham has reached far across the nation.
Its amazing all the calls we get from all over the country asking about it, Tennyson said. Either they know about us or find us on the Internet.
Residents in Hawaii have called up Raleys and asked for stuffed ham to be shipped to them, but so far international sales have eluded him.
Im not world famous, but thats my goal, Tennyson said with a laugh.
Stuffed ham is popular in just about any form its cooked in, independent grocers say, and there are plenty of variations and methods for preparing it.
In places like Ridge, Tennyson said, cabbage is the predominant stuffing ingredient.
Thats what he was raised on, but at Raleys they use just enough kale for a little flavor and color.
The farther north you go, Tennyson said, the more kale is used in the stuffing mixture.
Theres so many different variations, he said. Weve mused about putting a patent on our recipes.
The Raleys owner said he plans to bake 200 hams for the Thanksgiving holiday and will sell it by the pound.
He said that the stuffed ham business for independent grocers has grown because the knowledge has not been passed on in families where the older generations have traditionally done it for themselves.
What were seeing here is that the process is not being passed on to the next generation, Tennyson said. They dont know how to stuff it or because of time they dont want to.
Its becoming a lost art.
The stuffing part is where the most work usually happens, grocers say, and there are plenty of ways to do it.
At Raleys, they remove the large bone from the ham and simply stuff the cavity. At McKays they sometimes cut open the ham, stuff the interior as its laid out and them roll it back up and tie it off.
At Murphys Town and Country in Avenue, which has been open since 1949, they take a more artistic bent with stuffing the ham, according to owner Gilbert Murphy.
We cut slits through our ham from the inside, stuff it, tie it back up, wrap it in cheesecloth, steam it
and when you slice it, it looks like a star on the inside.
At Murphys, the steaming process is used to keep all the juices and the seasoning in the ham, Murphy said.
At Raleys, they measure all the ingredients to ensure a consistency in their products, especially with the stuffing and seasoning. At Murphys, they uses a more instinctive approach.
I go just by how it looks, Murphy said. Ive been doing it so long I know exactly what Im looking for.
Virginia Tennyson, co-owner of Chaptico Market in Chaptico, said they blanch their vegetables before making their stuffing.
They also cut half-moon shaped slits in the meat to accommodate as much spicy stuffing as possible.
You stuff it until it comes back out at you, Virginia Tennyson said. Thats how you know.
Murphy also lamented the apparent loss of knowledge about preparing stuffed ham.
It was like a big party, Murphy said. It was like a fellowship; people would stuff the hams together. Today its just not out there.
Stuffed ham is also important as a signature product among independent grocers who are competing with larger chains for customer dollars.
During the holidays its a big part of your business, Murphy, who plans to steam about 200 hams for the season, said. But people like it so much we do it year round.
Items like stuffed ham, and other delicatessen goodies that are homemade, ensure that customers will keep coming back to the smaller stores, he said.
Virginia Tennyson said that stuffed ham and other delicacies help them make it through the lean times.
Thats what gets our livelihood through the holidays, she said. Because if you get the ham customer, then theyll come back and get the cakes and the pies.
But the precious porcine delicacy doesnt come cheap. Most of the independent grocers are selling ham for close to or over $10 a pound.
The labor needed to stuff a ham plus all the ingredients and cooking time that go into it necessitate the high price, Donnie Tennyson said.
One of his hams can cost up to $150; with shipping costs of $4.49 a pound it could cost about $225 just to have one delivered, he said.
And people buy it, he said. And they dont bat an eye. They say OK, I want it.
Lennys Seafood Restaurant owner Daniel Rebarchick said he once shipped one-half of a ham to someone in Colorado that cost $70 alone; but it cost $78 just to ship it.
They said it was worth every penny, Rebarchick said.
Stuffed Ham Recipes by Southern Marylanders