Unless you are from St. Mary’s County, you have probably never heard of stuffed ham. Stuffed ham is a dish that is ubiquitous in Southern Maryland, especially in the Fall and Winter months, but has not travelled much past its borders. The origins of the recipe are unknown, but it is thought to be a combination of practices from England (stuffing meat with herbs and spices) and the Carribean (hot red peppers). There is a legend that the recipe was actually invented by an enslaved person who was with the Jesuits in St. Inigoes as a celebratory food at the end of Lent. However, these recipes have been mostly passed down through oral tradition and there is no known source of the original. My mother ran the adult education program for the county and had a class every year, taught by a local businessman, Joseph Alfred Dillow, on how to make a stuffed ham using his family’s recipe. And it was overbooked every single year.
To make a stuffed ham, you start with a corned ham. A corned ham is a ham that has been cured in large grain rock salt, similar to a corned beef. The ham would be deboned and butterflied and then stuffed with a mixture of blanched and finely chopped greens, typically kale, cabbage, spinach, and/or watercress, and great deal of spices such as celery seed, mustard seed, and dried peppers. The ham would then be rolled back up and secured with string. Then you would cut slits in the outside of the ham and continue to stuff it from the outside. It would then be wrapped in a pillowcase or cheesecloth and boiled in a large pot for 3 or 4 hours. Once it cooled, it was sliced thin and you would have these lovely pink slices of ham intersected with the dark green stuffing. Depending on who made it, it could be relatively mild and reminiscent of Old Bay seasoning or so hot, you could only eat a slice or two on a roll with a bit a mayonnaise. It has a very distinct flavor and appearance and while some love it, many do not. Regardless, it was a staple during the holidays and even though I didn’t necessarily love it as a child, I always wanted a taste of it because it meant Christmas. And if you grew up in the county and went to a neighbor or friend’s house during the holidays and there wasn’t any stuffed ham, well, that was strange.
I made my very first stuffed ham last year and my parents approved, but it was pretty much a no go for everyone else. I imagine its a lot like lutefisk, szalona (bacon fat dripped on bread over a fire), or scrapple, ie, if you grew up with it, you loved it. Otherwise, no thank you.