One Foot

One Foot

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Ham Loaf Brings Out Memories - and Mom's Recipe Box

Each year as the holidays approach, my mind seems to call up memories of my mother and the foods that she created in her kitchen.  Sometimes these are emotional if I’m feeling sort of bluesy, but not this year – this one is just recalling some of the more amusing aspects of her cooking.  My mother wasn’t even a great cook.  She didn’t have to be, as my father wouldn’t have eaten anything that wasn’t flat, fried or greasy.   Nevertheless, she tried, and God knows she worked hard at it. Farm kitchens can be basic, get-it-on-the-table sort of things and usually that works for everyone in the family.

This “Mom’s kitchen” association came from a conversation I was having with a friend regarding the upcoming brunch I host each year for my quilting group.  This is our annual party, hosted by the one who has enough room to host each year (that being me).  The hostess is responsible for the main entrée and the girls all bring sides to accompany and the deserts.  I am always puzzled by what to fix, as I want the dish to be really tasty, yet not be so large that I wind up with leftovers for a week after the event.  My friend suggested I serve ham loaves, a favorite of his family and community for decades.  It came to me that ham loaves were also a favorite of my mother - a possibility worth investigating.    
       I remember tasting “ham loaf” at Mom’s years ago and I wasn’t impressed.  As I look at the recipes for the dish, however, I understand why there could have been some variance.  First, the “loaf” is a mix of either half ham, half ground pork, or a mix of thirds – ham, beef, and pork.  The farm kitchen may have the ground pork – we butchered yearly.  But ham was an expensive item.  It would need to be purchased (conclusion: buy as little as possible).   Second, the packages of both ground pork and beef as butchered for us could be an average pound, but more likely, a package could be 1.3 pound.  Knowing my mother, she would simply have mixed the meats as they came packaged – still another variance.  The measurement of the ingredients was about as “loosey-goosey” as the meat, so given all that, I’ll bet each loaf was an adventure.
Mom (on left) and Neighbor Share at Sale

The ham loaf was not a dish prepared for the family. It was a main dish prepared for the community served.  Mom was a member of the church, the Council of Churches, and the Council of Clubs.  Each of those served the meals for community farm auctions, church meals, fall festivals, winter carnivals, high school fund raisers, etc.  Consequently, the recipes found in the “Mom’s recipes” box served many.  I believe the practice was for each lady to prepare a dish for about 12-15 individuals, bring it to the community building or auction site, then the dishes were combined and sold.  

I decided to try the ham loaf.  My friend knew a butcher shop in his local community that sold the beloved ham loaf already mixed.  “That’s a blessing,” I thought as he offered to pick it up when he went home for Thanksgiving.  We plan a trial run this week, just to be sure, but I bet it comes out well.  At least I know it will please him, so my friends will also benefit.

Seeing the old recipe leads to a fuller memory -   The best part is remembering how the ladies of the community came together, serving hundreds of people to raise money or serve and support the cause.  Women who lived on farms went out every morning to feed livestock, fed their families, and operated a farm but still had the time to cook their portion of food (donated of course) and bring it in to the kitchen.  They then spent an entire day heating the food, serving plates to the customers, laughing with their friends and neighbors, cleaning up the huge kitchen and going home in time to feed the animals again.  They also brought their children with them, wrapped an apron around their waists and taught them the social skills of service as they brought  plates to the customers, cleaned tables, and helped with the clean-up and disposal of plates.
  If you think this is a story of “good old days,” it is not.  Community meals continue in my church, neighborhood associations, and for sure in my farm community.  Sometimes people ask me about my sense of “place.” It is in my community – my city community and my church, as well as my farm community and home town.  It is where we know about meat butchered from the farm, participation in community causes, and the joy and work of that goes into making a real community.  It is about making home-made pies to sell at the raffle; about cakes for the cakewalk, and for sure about ham loafs at the auction of our best friend and neighbor who is selling his farm.

          I think this week’s trial run to prepare ham loaf will be much fun.  I plan to tell my friend all about my mother and how she used to make it – with a great deal of license on the recipe.  We’ll make a dish, pour some wine and maybe have a side dressing of salad. 

          Come on by – care for some ham loaf?  Dang, I think I may be getting ever so slightly bluesy.