I was born with an acute fondness for the ‘other white meat.’ Mom made pork chops every other week. We’d have bacon for supper with eggs, but more often in addition to lettuce, tomato and toast. But my favorite cut of pork she bought came in a large egg shaped tin with a metal key stuck on the bottom of the can. The ‘key’ unlocked the ultimate prize. A ham. She’d carefully strip off the lid, turning that unique key, which got thicker with every crank. Slowly winding its way around that odd shaped can. Snugly nestled within (amongst globs of gelatin) was a pink ham, ready for the oven. One of my favorite meals.
With Mom’s affinity towards homemade pea or bean soup, I assumed she would have preferred a shank or butt ham with a nice bone for added flavor, but as far back as I can remember she usually bought the ones stuck in the egg shaped can with the hidden key. A couple nights after our ham/baked potato supper, she’d dice up a goodly amount from the leftovers and make scalloped potatoes. A single layer of potatoes sprinkled lightly with salt, pepper, dotted with butter and chunks of ham, repeated several times. Then she’d pour a can of cream of celery soup that she’d mixed with a can of milk and plunk it in the oven. Another favorite meal of mine. (How in the world did I marry a guy who doesn’t like scalloped potatoes and ham)? So we pretty much had 3 suppers from that canned ham growing up, and I loved them all.
Naturally when I got married, I clung to the age old Gerritson tradition of canned hams to feed the family. I distinctly remember having a 5 pound canned ham as the featured entree for Shannon’s baptism celebration. This was the first time we invited a large group of family from both sides over to our 3 room rental house in Hinton, Iowa in 1971. We were 2 years into our marriage and I had finally moved past the ‘can’t boil water’ stage, though not by much. The canned ham was the only part of that expensive meal (we lived on Starkist tuna most of the time) I was responsible for at the baptism dinner. My mother-in-law Mag made potato salad, my Mom brought baked beans and I don’t know what was on the menu for dessert but I was not to the point of making cream pies or German chocolate cake yet.
For the first few years, a canned ham supper was my go-to meal for company, until I learned how to make homemade spaghetti sauce and roast a stuffed turkey. Just as suddenly, canned ham fell near the bottom of my menu repertoire. I still liked ham, it just wasn’t special anymore. The ‘other white meat’ had literally been replaced by the other white meat.
This change happened coincidentally when we moved to Michigan. It was no longer a six hour road trip to visit our parents for every holiday, the drive time was doubled, requiring us to stay home for certain holidays and start making some of our own traditions. One of those traditions was replacing the ham supper for special meals. It just sorta happened. Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn or green bean casserole, cranberry sauce (served all year round at our house) dinner rolls became the meal I served when the whole family got together. At least 3 times a year. Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Easter. To supplement the nine dry months (where a scheduled turkey feed wasn’t in the forecast) I’d stuff a chicken occasionally or buy a 10 pound turkey and have it when one of the kids came to visit for a weekend. (I’m seeing a pattern here. I think I’m addicted to stuffing).
It’s not like my turkey meal is that much work. (Well it is kinda) It is a lot more work than sliding a ham and baked potatoes in the oven however. The turkey clean up though takes this meal to a whole ‘nother level. It’s the pots, pans, bowls, silverware, crockpot involved in the turkey dinner that makes it a lot of work. The cleanup just kills me. Freaking dirty dishes everywhere. And that’s before we eat. I stuff the bird before ‘he’ (always a Butterball. Not going through all that work and mess and try and gnaw a tough piece of meat) goes in the oven, then put the rest of the stuffing in the crockpot about 2-3 hours before we’re ready to eat. Gives me extra oven space.
Since we moved to Jackson almost 5 years ago, our traditions have another slightly different twist. We did a major downsize, giving up a thousand square feet, so 15 people in our house (eating) at one time is really a stretch. All 3 kids have much bigger homes than we do so we just started rotating holiday feasts in their homes. I usually cook the bird and stuffing but they handle the rest of the meal. And somehow I’ve been eliminated from the cleanup crew. Yay me, not complaining. (The downside is not having leftovers! Major bummer. At our house I always make a couple extra meals on divided plates, which I look forward to so much that I hide from the Hubs. Don’t judge).
Lately our beloved country and our ordinary lives have been at a virtual standstill. This virus movement is kinda like waiting for the other shoe to drop. Or this ominous cloud that’s hovering right above our heads and we gotta wait for it to pass over. Like when God said, “hey folks, mark your front door with some blood so this death/plague/destruction will pass over your household.” Um, I might not have that exactly right, you get the jest, right? That’s what the quarantine feels like to me.
Knowing none of the kids could come over I asked Hubs what he wanted to eat for Easter? (I silently began praying to myself, please, please say, “why don’t you make that little 10 pound turkey and let’s do it up right!”) ‘Fraid not, it was more like, “you’re not going to go through all that work making a turkey supper just for the 2 of us. That’s crazy. Let’s have ham.” (That’s what I get for praying to myself. This request demanded divine intervention. I blew it.)
I did have a shank ham in the freezer. But of course. Always be prepared for the likelihood of an apocalypse or pandemic. That’s me-the quantities provider. (No I haven’t bought toilet paper, paper towels, Clorox wipes, napkins, soap or coffee since this began. I only need the staples, fruit, vegetables, milk, bread, eggs like everyone else, though I did buy some extra flour and sugar since I have a lot of yeast on hand and enjoy making bread and rolls).
I baked the ham, made twice baked potatoes, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce and dinner rolls. Sigh. Gave some serious consideration to the baked pie shell I have lurking in the freezer. The logical pie choice would be lemon because I have at least a half dozen lemons in the fridge. (I don’t drink enough water for a cactus to survive in the Mojave. The only way I can gag it down is with a slice of lemon and gobs of ice). But there’s only 2 of us and a meringue pie actually lasts about a day. What are we gonna do with 6 slices of pie between us? Well besides take one for the team and each eat 2 slices and throw away the rest. Probably not the best idea. So I put the kabosh on that silly notion. (Though it stills sounds awfully tempting after Easter).
I’ve decided when the quarantine is over I’m gonna invite just the grandkids (and our great-grand, Jovi) over for a turkey supper. Feels like we all missed out, celebrating Easter by ourselves. Roast that nice 11 pound Butterball, (heck, 19 year old Landon is quite capable of devouring that much turkey by himself though he prefers dark meat. All of the dark meat. All.) Make a delicious cream pie which won’t have any leftovers for the weak who live here without willpower. That sounds about pritnear perfect…