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Robert St. John

Restaurateur, author, enthusiastic traveler, & world-class eater.

Notes From A 25% Ham Disciple

November 9, 2015

After 18 years of parenting I assumed that I had encountered every emotion that goes along with the job. There is the sheer joy and elation that occurs during birth in the maternity room at the hospital, the first word, the first time a daughter says, “daddy,” the pride that is involved when she stands up and goes against the grain to help a friend in need, her first on-stage performance, the out-of-the-blue “I love you, daddy” texts, and thousands of other emotions and occurrences that finally lead up to the final goodbye and the driving away from a college dormitory.

This weekend I experienced a new parental emotion when our daughter walked, unannounced through the door of our home on a Thursday night to surprise us with a weekend visit from college. It’s the second time she’s been home since she moved away to school, but there was something special about this visit because it wasn’t planned.

She seems a little more grown up, more mature, an independent young woman, maybe. My wife and I milked every moment out of her visit. The highlight for me was a lunch with my wife, daughter, son, and me. Just the four of us. The original group. The meal was nothing special. The company and conversation were outstanding.

Sometime during the meal the conversation turned to food. That is a St. John thing. We talk about what we will eat for supper while we are eating lunch. Somehow the topic turned to sandwiches and meats. It wasn’t until that moment that I learned that my wife and two kids prefer turkey over ham. I am saddened to report that 75% of my family is wrong, very, very wrong.

I almost took it as an affront to my culinary constitution and a major parenting failure. Sure my wife has always preferred turkey over ham. No news there. But my offspring, the fruit of my loins, the two siblings whose tastes I have molded all across the globe to enjoy the finer foods available to us all. They are both turkey devotees and not ham disciples. How could this have happened?

In retrospect, I may have started too strong out of the gate. As kids I wanted them to value the beauty and simplicity of pork. They both eat and appreciate bacon. We never really ate eat pork chops for supper as I did in my childhood. The occasional Christmas meal was supplemented with pork tenderloin and cocktail parties and political fundraisers that were held in our home usually included some type of pork loin that they may have nibbled on for a few days after the event. They were exposed to pork early and often but never became enthusiasts.

When it came to feeding them ham— a very important foodstuff to me— I started at the top with country ham. I have an uncle in Virginia who sends us country ham every Christmas. My friend, Allan Benton, also sends his country ham to our home. The children didn’t care for either one. Fools! Where did I go wrong as a parent?

In retrospect I probably should have weaned them on the garden variety store-bought, water-injected ham during their early years and worked our way towards the strong, salty country ham that I so dearly love.

We spent a month in Spain several years ago eating Jamon Iberico all across that country. Jamon Iberico, is widely considered the best ham in the world. During our stay in Seville, my son and I ventured north into the Spanish countryside where— in one information-filled afternoon— we followed the five-year process of Jamon Iberico from the shade of cork trees and holm oaks where the black pigs forage for acorns, to the town of Jabugo (a municipality so dedicated to ham, the city square is named for it), to a curing facility where 100,000 hams were hanging in the cure house. Afterwards, my son and I ate Jamon Iberico Jabugo until we reached the point of porcine overdose. He has been to the ham mecca of the entire world, Jabugo, and still is not a fan.

I guess I’ll just have to live with the fact that 3/4s of my immediate family is dead wrong when it comes to the ham-turkey debate. In the end, I was just grateful that, if only for a weekend, we were all back together like it used to be. Enjoying each other’s company while sharing a meal.

As a society we have gotten too used to grabbing a bag at a drive-through window and taking it home to eat it on a TV tray in front of the TV and calling that “dinner.” That is not dinner. We all need to stop and share a meal with each other— TV off, cell phones down. It doesn’t have to be a mom, a dad, a son, and a daughter. Share a meal with your friend or a neighbor. Share a meal with your friend’s neighbor. Just do it. And if you make ham a part of the meal, I promise it will be even more meaningful!


Virginia Ham & Pimento-Cheese Biscuits

I dare you to eat just twelve! It is rare that anyone ever has leftover pimento cheese, but if you do, these biscuits are a great way to finish it off.

2 cups self rising flour

1 Tbl sugar

2 Tbl unsalted butter- cut into small pieces and chilled

1 /4 cup homemade pimento cheese, crumbled

2 /3 cup buttermilk

2 TBL melted butter

Virginia Ham or country ham, seared in a skillet with butter

Preheat oven to 375.

In a food processor combine flour and sugar and pulse to mix. Add butter and pimento cheese pieces pulsing until mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs. Transfer mixture to a large mixing bowl and make a well in the center. Pour buttermilk into the well and gently blend together the dough, being careful not to over mix.

Allow the dough to set for 10 minutes and then turn dough onto a floured surface.

Gently knead dough for one to two minutes. Roll out to 3 /4-inch thickness.

Cut 1 1 /2-inch circles from the dough and place them on an ungreased baking sheet. Brush the tops with the melted butter.

Bake 12-15 minutes.

Cut biscuits in half lengthwise and lay a small piece of Virginia ham in the center. Serve warm. For an added treat add a little blackberry preserves.


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