Story last updated at 12/27/2013 - 2:42 pm
There are two things I hope for at Christmas: That Santa will fill my stocking with Godiva Chocolates and that I get to have my family's traditional holiday feast. My family was the average American family of the 1970s; mom, dad, three kids and sometimes a dog. Dad was in the army, which meant we relocated quite a bit. Being an enlisted man, he didn't make a lot of money, but that didn't seem to matter. My parents always came through, especially at the holidays. My brothers and I never went hungry nor did we ever do without. We may not have had the best and latest toys or things for Christmas, but we never cared. Our apathy was bribed through a vigorous two-day preparation of THE FEAST.
Each year, just after Thanksgiving my mother would methodically peruse and inventory the pantry for the required ingredients for THE FEAST. This was the meal of all meals. It was Thanksgiving dinner and Easter dinner combined. It included every food group and at least four pounds of butter were used in the preparation of the meal. THE FEAST wasn't known for its healthy qualities. It was the bounty of food that was presented to our gluttonous family.
The menu included turkey, ham, cornbread dressing, turkey gravy, deviled eggs, green beans, potato salad, relish tray, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, cheese plate, sweet potato pie and a coconut cake. The menu was written in stone like the Ten Commandments. Today, if I even think of deviating from the menu, I am told that generations of Gunters and Hardys, relatives on my father's and mother's side respectively, will haunt me in such a fierce manner that would make Ebenezer Scrooge shiver. I don't stray from the menu. Ever.
Truthfully, I don't want to change it up. It's a perfect dinner. As mentioned above, all the basic food groups are included and it has pork. I've always believed it isn't a real meal unless pork is involved. And the pork for this meal is my dad's baked ham. It's a masterpiece of pig. It's traditional, it's beautiful and it's delicious.
What makes it so wonderfully good is the glaze. I have always had an affinity for the savory and sweet combinations of food. Salt caramels are a great example. They're sweet, but they have a hint on saltiness to them that makes one's mouth water for more. I imagine it's a Pavlov's dog kind of thing.
It's a ridiculously simple recipe as well. It has the obligatory pineapple and cherries, which I think make it look so pretty. But the glaze is this sweet concoction of pineapple juice, cherry juice, brown sugar and of course butter.
This is the taste of Christmas to me. While my mom did most of the cooking, i.e., just about everything, my dad labored in the kitchen on Christmas Eve preparing the ham for THE FEAST on Christmas Day. This is why I woke up every Christmas morning excited and full of joy. Oh yes, like every child I was eager to see what Santa had delivered, but even as a small child I also knew the best part of Christmas was THE FEAST.
Now, before I am thought to be a gluttonous pig, please allow me to explain. This meal was the culmination of a year of hardships, joys, work and fun. It was a time of family and sharing and it brought us together for one general purpose: to celebrate Christmas, it's true meaning and being with our family.
This year, I am traveling to Nevada to be with my parents for the holiday. I haven't spent Christmas with them in more than a decade. Mother started planning THE FEAST right after Thanksgiving and has been calling and texting me constantly since then. She has assured me that I'll be cooking most of the meal, which is just fine by me. I love to cook it. More importantly, I'll get to cook the holiday ham with my dad, and celebrate the holidays with my family.
This week I present a recipe that has been in my family for generations. Although I am strongly discouraged from changing it, I invite you to make it your own. I wish each of you the very happiest of holidays, the merriest of Christmases and the most wonderful New Year.
Until next time...
Eat and enjoy,
BAKED GLAZED HAM
1 5 - 7 pound bone-in picnic ham (no spiral cut please)
1 can pineapple rings
½ cup pineapple juice
1 small jar maraschino cherries
¼ cup cherry juice
4 tablespoons butter
½ cup brown sugar
Carefully remove layer of fat on ham. You are looking for the meat only as much as possible. Using toothpicks, place pineapple rings on ham, add a maraschino cherry in the center of each ring. Cover with tin foil and bake for 1 hour in 350 degree F oven. While ham is baking, melt butter and brown sugar in small sauce pan. Carefully add pineapple juice and cherry juice. Stir gently until well incorporated. Let simmer until it is reduced by half and thickened, about 20 minutes. Remove ham from oven and generously baste with glaze. Bake uncovered for additional 20 - 25 minutes. Remove from oven and let stand for about 20 - 30 minutes, until cooled. Serve with remaining warm glaze.