I’m a country boy. I grew up in the country. I lived most of my life in the country. I hope to die and be buried out in the country.
In my time, I was in on numerous hog killings. I have eaten fresh cracklings until my belly hurt. I have helped work up country sausage on the kitchen table. And I have enjoyed fresh pork tenderloin when it, still warm from the kill, was battered and laid in hot grease.
Ah, but the days of scalding boxes, smokehouses and saltboxes are all but gone. Still, ham is right up there among my favorites. I like ham about any way you serve it. Country ham, city ham, smoked ham, canned ham, old ham, honey ham, picnic ham and boneless ham – you name it. I like ham.
They may come up with a veggie burger, but let them try to come up with a veggie ham. In my opinion, ham will always be whole hog.
All of which brings me to the subject of a ham bone.
After a big holiday meal a few years ago, my late mother cautioned me with these words, “Don’t throw away that ham bone.” She then proceeded to tell me what to do with it.
Of course, she was of that generation of women who, for the most part, knew how to cook. She used to observe, “Great cooks know how to cook because they cook.”
Now, most women who know how to cook know what to do with a ham bone. What follows is for those women – and men maybe – who have never cooked a ham bone.
I well remember when the ham slicer was the member of the family who was most skilled with a butcher’s knife. Today, we have spiral sliced hams, which make serving much easier. But I have noticed those spiral slicing machines become less efficient as they approach the end of the ham. That is good news for us ham bone cooks. The more meat left on the bone, the better the next course.
Any ham bone will work in my recipe. And each type of ham bone will yield a different flavor. Country ham works great. A smoked picnic ham shoulder is one of my favorites. But my very favorite is a honey-baked ham bone.
Here goes. After your big Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, take what is left of your ham and trim off the excess meat. Did I mention pinto beans? If you like lots of ham in your pinto beans, don’t trim the ham bone too close. Next, wash a pound or two of pinto beans. We are not going to soak the beans, just wash them. In a big bowl filled with water you can easily spot the ugly beans, rusty beans and occasion gravel. After you wash the beans drain off the water.
Place the ham bone in a big Crock Pot. Cover the ham bone with boiling water. This will accelerate the cooking process. Turn the Crock Pot heat setting to “high.” Add the pinto beans – 1-2 pounds, depending on the size of the Crock Pot. Then, add two dried cayenne peppers, crumbled. A half-teaspoon of crushed red pepper will substitute. Add salt. You will need to salt to taste as the beans cook. Place the lid on the Crock Pot.
After two hours, most of the meat will have turned loose of the ham bone. Don’t remove the bone until all meat has fallen away. Continue cooking beans until desired tenderness is reached. I have found total cooking time runs about four hours. You may need to add water along the way, depending on how soupy you like your beans. Be sure to watch the pot occasionally during the last two hours of cooking.
I found I had to cook about a half-dozen ham bones before I really got the hang of it. Today, I am a self-proclaimed ham bone-cooking expert.
Women, if you have a man in your life – remember, the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach – and you cook that ham bone as I have suggested, along with a big skillet of cornbread, he will love you until the day he dies.
Jack McCall is a motivational humorist, southern storyteller and author. A native Middle Tennessean, he is recognized on the national stage as a certified speaking professional.