I think my stomach went into Easter drive last weekend after Palm Sunday, when I picked up some ham steaks at Hy-Vee. I’ve been cooking them up for lunch each day in anticipation of the main event Sunday at my in-laws.
I know I’m not the only one looking forward to the holiday ham. According to the National Pork Board, last year consumers bought 8.5 million pounds of whole hams in the two weeks leading up to Easter, spending $20.6 million.
Ham goes along with American Easter festivities as much as baskets, bonnets and Easter egg hunts. But it begs the question, how did ham become the go-to for our U.S. Easter celebrations?
As many food choices throughout the year, the season was the reason. The tradition dates to sixth century Germany but carried over with the early American settlers. Historically, pigs were usually slaughtered in the fall. There was no refrigeration and the fresh pork that wasn’t consumed during the winter months before Lent was cured for spring. The first hams were ready to eat by the time spring rolled around.
Today ham’s inclusion in the Easter feast often comes down to size. A single ham is usually enough to feed a large group of people, so it’s ideal for a big family gathering. I’m sure that’s why my mother often chose this protein as a celebration staple for my 10 siblings and I growing up. We not only had ham at Easter, it was also part of Christmas and Fourth of July celebrations, and made the Sunday dinner rotation once in a while.
Even if the host is not having a large gathering, the Easter ham offers so many possibilities after the main event. From omelets and egg bakes to grilled ham and cheese sandwiches and scalloped potatoes and ham, the ham can take center stage for several days after the holiday. I’m sure Pinterest has already been flooded with leftover ham recipe searches in anticipation of the mouth-watering leftovers.
This Easter Sunday as the rest of our American consumers sit down to a nice ham dinner, I hope they are grateful — grateful our U.S. pork industry puts out such a quality, delicious and nutritious protein, and grateful that the product can feed so many mouths at Easter as well as other large gatherings. And finally, grateful our industry, along with the NPB, National Pork Producers Council, Swine Health Information Center, USDA and U.S. Customs and Border Protection are doing everything in their power to keep foreign animal diseases away, so we can continue to supply so many hams this season and all year long.