Holiday Foods: Easter Ham

Holiday Foods: Easter Ham

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Most often, the Christmas ham is slow-cooked and glazed in brown sugar. There are many ways to prepare a Christmas ham, but this is common and the most traditional. Some people add pineapples to add to the sweetness of the meat, and others tend to add ginger beer to the marinade. It all depends on personal preference and family tradition. Regardless of what the recipe is, however, families across the world find this dish to be a treat.

The Christmas ham is also known as the Yule Ham. This comes from an English tradition–you are probably familiar with the image of a boar with an apple in its mouth, laid out on the table. Well, the Yule Ham is similar. It is said that the tradition started with the Germans, who wanted to appease the god, Freyr. Freyr was the god of fertility, harvest, and boars. This was a pagan tradition, and paganism also offered many traditions for Christianity, including Christmas trees. And so, the tradition of the Christmas ham was born! This Christmas, keep in mind the history of your ham–there’s far more than meats the eye!

In Greece, the traditional Easter meal is mageiritsa, a hearty stew of chopped lamb liver and wild greens seasoned with egg-and-lemon sauce. Traditionally, Easter eggs, hard-boiled eggs dyed bright red to symbolize the spilt Blood of Christ and the promise of eternal life, are cracked together to celebrate the opening of the Tomb of Christ.

In Neapolitan cuisine, the main Easter dishes are the casatiello or tortano, a savoury pie made with bread dough stuffed with various types of salami and cheese, also used the day after Easter for outdoor lunches. Typical of Easter lunches and dinners is the fellata, a banquet of salami and capocollo and salty ricotta. Typical dishes are also lamb or goat baked with potatoes and peas. Easter cake is the pastiera.

In Russia, red eggs, kulich and paskha are Easter traditions.

In Serbia, paretak are traditional Easter pastries.

In Ukraine, there are several traditional Easter foods including paska (bread) and cheesecake desserts. [1]

20 Festive Easter Facts That You Probably Haven't Heard Before

Including how it got its name and why eggs are so important.

Easter &mdash and its decorative eggs, delicious hams, and cheerful baskets &mdash are coming up sooner than you think. The Christian holiday will fall on April 4 this year. While the central story may sound familiar, there's a lot left to learn about the unique traditions surrounding this special Sunday. Between the cute bunny rabbits and copious amounts of chocolate, the celebration has evolved over the years with a whole host of customs both new and old.

Before you sit down for a delicious brunch or entertain the kids with some Easter crafts, take a moment to learn about this holiday's rich background, including its special foods, superstitions, and symbols. Then impress your family and friends with a little Easter trivia that explains the little-known origins behind your favorite traditions.

The woven containers represent nests and new life, especially when filled to the brim with eggs. Plus, they're a pretty utilitarian way to c0llect goodies on your Easter egg hunt.

Historically, most early Easter celebrants would have eaten lamb for this special occasion as the holiday has its roots in Jewish Passover. Most American Easter dinners now feature ham, however, because of the timing of the holiday. Years ago, hams cured over the winter months would have been ready to serve in the early spring.

These beautiful blooms first originated in Japan and later arrived in England in the late 18th century. The U.S. only caught onto the trend after World War I. The transition from dormant bulbs to delicate flowers brings to mind hope and rebirth, two important themes of the day.

Think Easter egg hunts are odd? Listen to this medieval game children's game: The priest would give one of the choir boys a hard boiled egg, and the boys would pass it amongst themselves until the clock struck midnight, when whoever was holding it then got to eat it. Sounds . fun?

Old superstition held that if you wore new clothes on Easter, you would have good luck for the rest of the year. In fact, it was so widely believed that upper-class New Yorkers would quite literally strut their stuff coming out of mass in beautiful and well-to-do Fifth Avenue churches. This tradition become the basis of the modern, and decidedly less elitist, Easter Parade and Easter Bonnet Festival in New York.

There's evidence showing that Easter eggs originated from Medieval Europe and Christians may not have actually been the ones to start the tradition of giving eggs &mdash a symbol of fertility and rebirth in many cultures.

Scholars believe that Easter was named after a festival celebrating Eostre and the coming of spring. Her sacred symbols are thought to have been the hare and the egg.

Well, at least that might be one of the reasons, which stems from early Christians in Mesopotamia. There isn't a concrete reason behind the tradition, but there are several theories.

Occurring two days before Easter Sunday, Good Friday commemorates Jesus Christ's crucifixion, but it isn't a federal holiday. Residents in certain states experience closures, including: New Jersey, North Carolina, and Tennessee.

About half of those chose to mark the occasion with holiday meal, and a third decided to visit family and friends virtually, according to the National Retail Federation.

The idea of the Easter bunny giving candies and eggs is said to have originated in Germany during the Middle Ages, with the first written mention of this tradition dating back to the 16th century. Dutch settlers in Pennsylvania brought the bunny to the United States in the 1700s.

The two holidays are always going head-to-head to have the most candy sales, usually coming close to each other. In fact, some years people buy more candy the week before Easter than the week before Halloween, but that's because Halloween purchases are more spread out over the month leading up to the spooky night.

That makes these colorful marshmallows the most popular non-chocolate Easter candy. The Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, factory makes an impressive 5.5 million a day.

That's back when they were still new to the world and were handmade with a pastry tube. But don't worry, it was sped up to six minutes thanks to a unique machine called The Depositor.

Even more impressive is that the Bournville factory in Birmingham, England, makes 500 million every year. If you piled those eggs on top of each other, they'd be taller than Everest.

That's enough jelly beans to circle the globe not once, not twice, but three times &mdash or to fill a plastic egg the size of a nine-story building. First introduced as an Easter treat in the 1930s, we can't imagine this day without them.

Considering $2.6 billion is spent on candy alone during this religious celebration, it makes sense. Oh, and that's only in the United States.

Only a handful start with the feet or tail, and the rest apparently don't have a plan of action.

It's said that President Rutherford B. Hayes was taking a walk when children approached him asking about a possible Easter egg roll. He loved the idea and it's been a yearly event since then.

Why? Because the twists of this salty treat resemble arms crossing in prayer. We say it's time to bring back this savory snack to the sweets-filled holiday.

The History of Spiral Ham

Lots of us will have a glazed spiral ham on the table this Easter (certainly more of us than will have rabbit). And as thin slices of pink meat lift easily off the bone with just the touch of a meat fork, lots of us will be wondering about the history of spiral-sliced ham—specifically, how, oh how, did this most magical of holiday meats come to be?

The secret of the spiral-sliced ham’s seductiveness is twofold. First, the ingenious manner in which it’s cut. And second, its glaze, usually sweet and sticky (we’ll get back to that in a second).

Who invented spiral ham?

To start, we give you the spiral-slicing machine, patented in 1952 by Harry J. Hoenselaar. Hoenselaar found a clever way to mechanically navigate the ham bone, the bane of meat carvers through the centuries.

The spiral-slicing machine works by skewering a ham (or any other meat) vertically on spikes at top and bottom. A spring-loaded slicing blade cuts through the meat, stopping when it meets resistance from the bone. As the ham rotates, it gradually lowers on the spikes, creating the spiral. Hard to visualize? Watch this video:

The same Harry J. Hoenselaar who invented the machine, by the way, also founded HoneyBaked Ham in Michigan in 1957, which grew into a national chain over the years. Originally, HoneyBaked stores were the only places where you could get a spiral-sliced ham. In 1981, Hoenselaar’s patent expired, and now you can buy spiral-cut hams in grocery stores everywhere. Considering how expensive the branded HoneyBaked hams are, many will.

HoneyBaked Ham, $59.95 and up at The Honey Baked Ham Co.

The original, and still a classic.

What are spiral hams? (And how should you cook them?)

Spiral hams are cut from a pig’s leg and are cooked, brined, and sliced as per the above-outlined helix technique before being shipped to stores. You never actually need to cook a spiral ham, just bake them enough to warm them up and get the “natural juices” often touted on the label flowing too long in the oven and spiral hams will turn dry and chewy, no matter how much water has been added or brine injected.

They’re often high in sodium, thanks to the aforementioned brine, and either hickory smoked or have smoke flavor added—as well as nitrites, nitrates, and phosphates, though you can find all-natural specimens at a higher price point.

Berkshire Pork Bone-In Smoked Ham, $97.74 at D'Artagnan

This nitrate- and nitrite-free ham is made from Kurobuta pork and naturally flavored with sea salt and raw cane sugar—and spiral-sliced for convenience.

Depending on the size of your family/crowd, you can opt for either half hams or whole hams, and select either shank ends, which taper to a skinnier point, or butt ends, which are more uniformly round. The butt is a bit leaner, if that’s what you like. In any case, you can also get spiral hams bone-in, which tends to lead to better flavor, or for the easiest carving ever, grab a boneless spiral-sliced ham.

Some spiral hams come pre-glazed, but many include the glaze in a little bag within the foil or netting around the ham. In the latter case, if you don’t want to use that probably-syrupy-sweet glaze, you can easily whip up your own—with ingredients like honey, maple syrup, or orange marmalade instead of high-fructose corn syrup.

Which spiral hams are best?

Historical opinion on Chowhound has favored the hams from Trader Joe’s and Safeway, though it was mixed on Costco’s Kirkland spiral-cut. Cook’s Illustrated has done tastings of supermarket spiral-sliced hams (link is available to subscribers only) it found that bone-in hams that didn’t add water to the meat were the best, and recommended the Cook’s Spiral Sliced Hickory Smoked Bone-In Honey Ham, which had a “nice balance of smoke and salt” and “genuine ham flavor.” The Carando Honey-Cured Spiral Sliced Ham was called “too wet” (ick), and the Hillshire Farm Bone-In Brown Sugar Cured Ham (Spiral-Sliced Ham) was “spongy and cottony.”

Of course, supermarket hams generally won’t have the amazing, crackly glaze of a real HoneyBaked. But Internet gossip and recipes claim that said HoneyBaked glaze is simply sugar and spices, caramelized into crackle with a blowtorch like the surface of crème brûlée. Anyone tried it?

Tintec Culinary Blow Torch, $13.47 on Amazon

No time like the present!

Check out our guide to types of ham to see how spiral-sliced compares to country ham (and other varieties), and get our ham recipes for ways to glaze it—and use up the leftovers when you get sick of sandwiches.

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35 Ways to Use Up Leftover Ham

If your refrigerator is full of extra ham after a big holiday meal, these ideas will help you put it to good use. From pasta salads to pizzas, these recipes taste every bit as good as they look!

Related To:

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Spicy Italian Pasta Salad with Ham and Pepperoncini

Crushed red pepper and pepperoncini add a little heat to this pasta salad with ham and an easy vinaigrette.

Deep-Dish Hash Brown Ham and Cheese Quiche

How to improve on ham-and-cheese quiche? Bake it in an uber-crispy hash brown crust for the perfect breakfast dish for a crowd.

Ham, Spinach and Potato Pizza

Take pizza night to a whole new level with Molly&rsquos fun twist on the classic meat and potatoes. Slice leftover ham into thick pieces, then sprinkle it on a no-knead pizza dough with spinach, potatoes and mozzarella.

Lentil Soup with Peas and Ham

More soup, peas! The sweet peas in this lentil soup pair wonderfully with the saltiness of the ham and slight tanginess of the yogurt.

Garlicky Ham and Swiss

All of the elements of a great French country picnic are rolled into one grilled cheese sandwich.

Sweet and Spicy Ham Fried Rice

Pair sweet chili sauce with chili oil to get a sweet heat for this ham-and-shiitake rice dish.

Ham and Spinach Quiche

Bump up the richness of this from-scratch quiche by adding Monterey Jack to the ham-and-spinach filling.

Cheesy Country Ham Dip

You can never go wrong with a ham-and-cheese combo, especially when it&rsquos transformed into a gooey baked dip. Salty ham makes a wonderful addition to Trisha&rsquos cheesy appetizer, which is made even better by adding crunchy chopped pecans on top.

Mustard Greens and Ham with Toasted Couscous

Mustard greens are known for being assertive and bitter. To match its potency we've paired it with other strong flavors, like garlic and salty ham. If you have some whole-grain mustard or hot sauce on hand, try adding a touch before serving.

Spanish Ham and Manchego Pasta Salad

Evoke the flavors of Spain with this pasta salad that features ham, manchego and smoked paprika.

Ham Salad

Don't know what to do with all that leftover ham from Easter? Try this fast and easy ham salad with tangy mustard and crunchy celery. Enjoy it in a sandwich or just on its own.

Quinoa, Ham and Pepper Breakfast Salad

You'll find all the fixings of a western omelet &mdash egg, ham, peppers, onions and cheese &mdash in this made-for-breakfast salad. But what an omelet doesn't give you is this salad's hefty 6 grams of fiber!

Spaghetti with Ham and Brie

Upgrade a simple spaghetti dinner with chunks of leftover ham and creamy brie.

The Hammy Down

This is the best Hammy Down that you will ever receive! Thick caraway-flavored bread adds a warmth and heartiness to this sandwich, apple jelly adds sweetness, and toasted pecans a bit of texture.

Grandma's Anything Goes Strata

Grandma knew how to make a hearty meal out of leftover bits of bread and cheese. This recipe is meant for riffing, so use any type of cheese, leafy greens, meat or bread you happen to have on hand.

Country Ham Carbonara

The prettiest way to serve pasta? Twirl it into a nest and top with diced ham and extra Parmesan cheese.

Potato Nests with Peas, Ham and Cream Cheese

This elegant appetizer comes together easily with simple, time-saving ingredients. Frozen hash browns are pressed into mini muffin tins and baked into crispy nests filled with ham, lemony cream cheese and peas. Serve them at your Easter dinner or spring cocktail party.

Jambalaya with Shrimp and Ham

Ellie combines land and sea with this healthy and hearty jambalaya. If you like it spicy, try adding a bit of hot pepper sauce to your dish at the end.

Breakfast Cornbread Casserole with Ham and Kale

The combination of ham and hardy greens is always unbeleivably delicious. Make this satisfying casserole as-is or easily adapt it to whatever ingredients you have on hand.

Country Ham Biscuits and Scallion-Pimento Cheese

Thanks to Trisha&rsquos recipe, it&rsquos easier than ever to get creative with leftover ham. She incorporates chopped ham into a buttermilk biscuit dough, then tops each biscuit with a scallion-pimento cheese.

Cheesy Gnocchi Casserole with Ham and Peas

A one-pan meal covered in golden, bubbly cheese? Yes please! Potato gnocchi, ham and peas are coated in a creamy sauce infused with thyme. Sprinkle with shredded Swiss or Gruyere and broil until it's all lovely and melted.

Hash Brown Crusted Veggie and Ham Quiche

With leftover ham and a frozen hash brown crust, Trisha&rsquos quiche is both easy and delicious. Have leftover veggies? Feel free to throw those in, too!

Macaroni and Cheese

"The mac and cheese is for the kids." Who are we kidding when we make that statement? Giada knows that we adults like mac and cheese, too. The bits of ham and melted mozzarella elevate this classic pasta dish.

Smoked Ham Biscuit Sandwich

Ham and honey complement each other beautifully, so it's no wonder Chef Amanda Freitag has created this enticing biscuit sandwich with thinly sliced ham. The lightly-sweetened biscuits are made using &mdash you guessed it &mdash honey.

Scalloped Potatoes and Ham

Slicing the potatoes for Ree's scalloped potato recipe is totally worth the effort. For best results, slice the potatoes thinly &mdash and add lots (and lots) of cheese!

Hot Brown Soup

Springtime doesn't mean you can't enjoy a tasty bowl of soup. This cheesy, creamy soup is filled with ham, turkey and, best of all, bacon.

Put-An-Egg-In-It Ham and Cheese Corn Muffins

This breakfast muffin has an egg-cellent surprise inside! Corn muffins are the perfect medium to incorporate leftover ham, or other ingredients you have on hand after Easter.

Orecchiette with Ham and Leeks

Leeks and peas create a bright pasta dish that is perfect for spring. Add your leftover ham from Easter to fill out the dish it goes great with the slight sweetness of the peas.

Country Ham and Smashed-Potato Home Fries

Home fries without having to grate potatoes &mdashnow that's something we can all get behind! Damaris uses a cast-iron skillet to achieve maximum crispiness.

Barley Risotto with Ham and Mushrooms

Quick-cooking barley is the trick to this earthy risotto filled with mushrooms. Diced leftover ham adds a bit of saltiness to this hearty, flavorful meal.

Ham and Cheese Bake

Dice up some leftover ham, and sprinkle it into this cheesey bake. It's a great way to use up leftover ingredients (like roasted vegetables) from your holiday gathering.

Ham and Vegetable Gratin

Toasting the panko breadcrumbs in a bit of butter creates the most perfectly golden crust on this decadent potato dish.

Ham and Cheese Breakfast Casserole

This colorful, extra-cheesy breakfast casserole can be made ahead and baked the next day &mdash perfect for brunch with a large crowd.

Waffle-Grilled Ham and Cheese

Make a few extra waffles on the weekend, and turn the leftovers into this kid-friendly sandwich. (Okay, so maybe it's an adult favorite, too!)

8. Easter Ham

Believe it or not, even that juicy ham on your dining room table dates back to pagan rituals honoring spring and the goddess Eostre. The tradition goes back to at least 6th-century Germany, according to Bruce Kraig, the founder of the Culinary Historians of Chicago. Hunters often slaughtered hogs in the forest in the fall, then left them to cure all winter. By spring, pork was one of the only meats ready to go for spring celebrations. As with other pagan rituals, Christianity adapted the tradition for their own needs as the religion spread.


The Spruce Eats/Diana Rattray

With the passing of time and with better access to healthcare and better livelihood conditions in rural areas, families grew in numbers and one small goose wasn't enough to feed multiple mouths. Turkeys were cheaper to raise than other birds. Born in the spring, they grew to a great size for a meal when Thanksgiving and Christmas arrived. Modest and working-class people forged the Turkey traditions, although more affluent families turned to game meats to show off their status. Turkey became a staple on American and British tables around the 19th century.

Our recipe for roasted turkey doesn't require a brine and comes out wonderfully moist thanks to the herby butter that seasons and covers the skin. Ready in under 4 hours.

Eating ham at Easter dates back to at least sixth-century Germany

Sally Pasley Vargas for The Boston Globe

Just as sure as small children will hunt colored eggs and refrains of Peter Cottontail will lodge in your head, a ham will be front and center on most American tables this Easter.

While the rest of the world celebrates the arrival of spring with lamb, the pink, salty-sweet slices of cured pork, slathered in a sticky glaze, have become the tradition. Eating ham at Easter dates back to at least the sixth century in Germany, says Bruce Kraig, founder of Culinary Historians of Chicago and author of “Man Bites Dog.”

Pigs, says Kraig, are ecologically forest-adapted animals. They thrived in Northern Europe, where farmers let pigs roam the abundant woodlands to forage for acorns and roots. Slaughtered and hung in the autumn, pigs were one of the few meats available to eat at the early spring festival. When Christianity spread northward, it merged with the pagan spring celebration of Eostre, the goddess of the rising dawn. A convenient uniting of traditions was born, with ham at the center of the feast. Early American settlers brought pigs from Northern Europe to the New World, where they were not native.

Today, after decades of spiral-cut and other sweet, pink, commodity hams, consumers are demanding humanely raised, all natural meat. A small niche of the American pork market is offering pasture-raised animals with no artificial color, hormones, or antibiotics added in the curing process. The nitrates in the meat necessary for preservation result from a natural salting process without extra additives.

A traditional Easter ham is typically cured in brine or salt and smoked, which means it is fully cooked, and only needs to be reheated. The variations are many: whole, half, bone-in, semi-bone, or boneless. A leftover bone, which many cooks want, can be used for another meal, like a bean soup, but the meat may be harder to slice.

For boneless ham, count on ¼-pound per person for a bone-in ham, allow ⅓ pound per person. In both cases, round up the amount you buy.

This Is Why We Eat Ham on Easter

On Easter tables around the world, you're most likely to see lamb—that is, everywhere in the world except the U.S., of course. Easter ham is about as ubiquitous as the Easter Bunny in America. It's just a sliver of the 50 pounds of pork we eat a year per capita. So, how did the U.S. come to change up the traditional Easter meal? Well, it's all a matter of practicality and taste. Read on to find out why most Americans eat ham on Easter, not lamb.

The traditional Easter meal

The significance of lamb dates back to the times before Christianity. It's actually connected to the story of Passover, which is still celebrated by Jewish families today.

"According to the biblical Exodus story, the people of Egypt suffered a series of terrible plagues, including the death of all firstborn sons," explains Stephanie Butler of the History channel. "Jews painted their doorposts with sacrificed lamb's blood so that God would 'pass over' their homes while carrying out the punishment. Accustomed to eating roast lamb on Passover, Jews who converted to Christianity continued the tradition at Easter."

Out like a lamb

Travel to New Zealand or Eastern Europe, and you'll find that lamb—particularly in spring—is still plentiful, but it has never experienced the level of popularity in America that it sees elsewhere.

Indeed, in 2017 American meat companies produced 25.6 billion pounds of beef compared to 150.2 million pounds of mutton and lamb (the only meat we eat less of is veal, while chicken is at the top of our list).

The average American eats less than a pound of lamb a year, Megan Wortman, executive director of the American Lamb Board, told The New York Times' Kim Severson in 2017.

Lamb tends to be pricey, tricky to cook, and an acquired taste for American palates. Those who did grow up eating lamb at home probably associate it with copious amounts of mint jelly, meant to mask the gamey flavor and leathery texture that comes from overcooking it.

From lamb to ham

But this wasn't always the case. "Lamb used to be more common when wool was in higher demand," explained Severson. In the past 75 years, she noted, the number of sheep in the U.S. has gone from 56 million to just six million.

As synthetic fabrics began to emerge in the 1940s and wool was no longer needed for World World II uniforms, the need for sheep decreased as well.


Additionally, military rations of canned mutton (which is meat from a mature, as opposed to a young, sheep) during the war killed America's appetite for lamb a bit, Wortman told The Times. She said that after living off the stuff for years, soldiers had vowed never to eat it again.

In like a pig

With lamb popularity waning, the door was wide open for a new star of the Easter meal. And the timing for ham to step in was perfect.

Traditionally, pigs are slaughtered in the fall when it starts to become cold and the meat could stay fresh in the lower temperatures as it was broken down. Back when there wasn't refrigeration, farmers would set aside the meat they hadn't sold to be cured throughout the winter to preserve it (and their income).

By spring, the cured meat was ready to eat—just in time for Easter! Ever since, it's been a popular choice for the holiday's brunch or dinner meals.

So, from practical considerations, tradition was born.

Investing in the piggy bank

There are plenty of reasons why ham is so popular stateside. Not only is it readily available and affordable, but it comes in an array of options—honey baked, smoked, country, glazed, bone-in, boneless, spiral-sliced…the list goes on.

Hams are also larger than lamb and easily serve a crowd. You can buy it fresh or frozen, prepared or ready to add your own flourishes (brown sugar and pineapple anyone?).

Any way you slice it, ham is a big seller on Easter. According to the National Retail Federation, an estimated 81 percent of Americans celebrate Easter, and of that 87 percent have a dedicated Easter meal—and spend a collective $5.7 billion on the food.

So the big question is: will you be eating ham or lamb this Easter?

RELATED: Easy, healthy, 350-calorie recipe ideas you can make at home.

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