When we lived in Dothan, Alabama, I was a reporter for the newspaper, but I also wrote obituaries. That, along with being a pastor's wife, gave me an opportunity to develop relationships with the local funeral homes.
There was one that use to send home a ham with every family they served. What a great idea right? Most people have out-of-town guests in their home and are too busy to really cook a real meal. And ham can be used in so many ways.
But their ham was really well known. It had a special glaze to it that made it so tasty. It was a family recipe that they used. And I convinced them to let me write about it for a holiday story - recipe and all. So here it is, both the recipe and the story.
Since Easter is right around the corner, I know a lot of you are starting to shop for your holiday ham now. If you are at the store and want to use this recipe, be sure to pick up a big brown paper bag while you are there (it's part of the process). I've made it before and got rave reviews. I hope you like it too.
p.s. This story is pre-edit version. I didn't have any ham pictures, so I just put up Easter ones instead.
A traditional ham
Christy Shelley opened an oven door to check on the ham she had place in a couple of hours earlier. The sweet aroma of brown sugar and the juices of the ham mingling together floated through the air.
As a funeral director at Byrd Funeral Home, Shelley bakes between one to six hams a day for the families they serve. Each ham is made with extra tender loving care. To carry on the 20-year tradition, each staff person learns how to make the ham within their first week at the funeral home. The hams are so well known, that when Shelley is invited to a party, she is often asked to bring a ham along with her.
The recipe has been in Robert Byrd’s family for centuries. His great-grandmother, Flowers Espy, came up with it. Byrd describes his grandmother as a tiny woman who would put a lot of love into the food she made for her family.
“She was the old-fashioned kind of grandma. My mom said they would serve a meal on Saturday afternoon and they’d be around the table eating - there was nothing instant back then. She would take a bite and say, ‘I just wish everybody I loved had some of this,’ She was sweet to the core,” Byrd said.
When the funeral home opened in 1983, Byrd wanted to do something to make the business stand out from the others. He heard about how a funeral home up north would give families turkeys. Then it hit him that he could do the same, but with his great-grandmother’s cherished ham recipe.
“I can tell you that when we receive our acknowledgment cards that it is rare that the ham isn’t mentioned,” Shelley said. “Hopefully we have gotten each family a ham.”
When the funeral home gets a death call they immediately put the ham in the oven to bake. The ham recipe is one of the most requested items. Shelley explained that people need to read the recipe in full before they begin, because there are a few places where mistakes can happen and the ham won’t turn out as well.
Three things are especially important to keep in mind when making the ham. First, the ham needs to be turned fat side up. Second, always bake it in a brown paper bag. She said that she tried foil once and it took on the taste of the foil. And last, the sauce goes on after the ham has baked for three hours. Right after the ham is out of the oven and is still hot, that is the time to drizzle the sauce over the meat.
Shelley says one of the keys to making their hams so good is because they start with quality meats. She noted that the hams from Kelley Foods of Elba is unlike the hams from a grocery store. Kelley Foods is not open to regular consumers. However, some stores such as Johnson’s Meats in Malvern stocks the special ham.
At one time, the folks at Byrd Funeral Home tried to stop doing the hams, but the people just kept asking for the flavorful meat. Byrd laughed and said it was fine with him because he loves doing it for the people they serve.
“I don’t think anyone gets tired of the ham,” Shelley said, “I have eaten at many places and have traveled all over and had other ham. I have not personally found a ham that would outdo the Byrd ham.”
Corrina Sisk-Casson is a freelance writer. She can be reached at email@example.com.
To make the ham Start with a 10-12 pound smoked
and cured ham Pre-heat oven to 425-450 degrees Unwrap and remove any tough hide, if present Turn the ham fat side up and score like a checkerboard Place the ham in a regular brown paper grocery bag, fold over and tuck Place in a foil-lined 9 x 14 baking pan Make sure the bag is not touching any part of your oven Bake for approximately three hours. You may also bake at a lower heat 350-375 degrees for about four hours, if desired When done, cut the bag with scissors and put your ham on a platter You may punch holes in the top and pour several cups of the sauce over the ham If you plan to serve the ham later, immediately wrap and seal the ham with several layers of plastic wrap
and then, over the plastic wrap, a layer of tin foil to hold the heat in. You may let the ham sit out at room temperature for about an hour to absorb the sauce as the sauce will seemand steam through the warm meat. If you fix the ham later, simply cut the meat and then drizzle the sauce over each piece. Serving size 20.
Sauce recipe Take a plastic or glass quart container and fill it half full of plain yellow mustard Next, fill the container with light and dark brown sugar You will have the same amount of mustard as you do sugar Add a teaspoon or two of ground cloves to your taste Stir well or mix with a mixer until it is creamy smooth and has a caramel color consistency Store unrefrigerated Makes 1 quart