Hamming it up

With Easter just a couple weeks and a few days away, it’s time to think about the dinner menu.

For many people, Easter wouldn’t be Easter without a big ham on the table. It’s tradition.

At our abode, however, you’re more likely to encounter the holiday ham in a different form — ham balls.

“If I had to single out one main dish which has been an all-time favorite at our family table, it would be these ham balls,” wrote DotMom in her “Mixing & Musing Cookbook.”

She wasn’t exaggerating. Ham balls were the go-to entrée for just about every holiday meal when I was growing up. Hubby Bryan and I even served them at our wedding.

I recently had an intense discussion with high school classmate Ken Moser about the virtues of ham balls. He and wife Robyn (also a classmate) had “discovered” the recipe in DotMom’s cookbook when they were looking for a way to use up an excess of ham, and he made a point of telling me it had become one of their favorites. By the end of the conversation, I was making copies of the recipe for other people who were within earshot.

At our house, Hubby Bryan and I often buy a half bone-in ham, baking it for one meal, perhaps making scalloped potatoes and ham for a second, but saving the rest for ham balls. My food processor works well for grinding the meat, then I use the same appliance to crush the cracker crumbs. But if you’re buying ham solely for the purpose of making ham balls, the butcher will do the grinding.

There are almost always ham balls in our freezer, because they freeze beautifully (ideal for pre-holiday preparations). I form the mixture into balls, place them on a waxed paper-lined cookie sheet and freeze until solid. Then they go into a freezer bag, and I take out whatever I need for a meal, defrosting in the refrigerator before baking.

I’ve also adapted the recipe to the slow cooker: I briefly brown the ham balls on all sides, then put them in a slow cooker that has been coated with cooking spray, pouring the sauce over the top. (Since I don’t cook a full batch for just the two of us, I usually make a half batch of the sauce, reducing the water a bit since it won’t condense like it does in the oven). A few hours later, they’re cooked through and ready to eat.

The key to making really good ham balls is NOT packing the mixture too tightly — a gentle touch is needed. I usually use an ice cream scoop to dole out the portions, barely using my hands to form the balls.

Ham Balls

Lightly mix 2 pounds ground ham, 1 pound lean ground pork (not sausage), 2 cups cracker crumbs, 1 cup milk, 2 eggs and a dash of pepper. Loosely shape mixture into balls. Arrange in a single layer in a 9- by 13-inch baking dish.

Bake for 45 minutes at 350 degrees, then turn. Combine sauce ingredients: ½ cup vinegar, 1 cup water, 1 cup brown sugar and 1 teaspoon dry mustard. Pour mixture over ham balls and bake 45 minutes longer, basting frequently with the sauce.

 I would guess the sauce mixture would make a tasty glaze for the Easter ham, too.  Here are a couple of other glaze recipes for those who are inclined to go the traditional route. (Remember you can always turn the leftovers into ham balls!)

Orange-Glazed Ham

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Mix ¼ cup packed brown sugar, ¼ teaspoon ground cloves,¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon and one 6-ounce can orange juice concentrate (thawed). Place ham on rack in roasting pan. Spread half the glaze mixture over the ham, and bake, uncovered, for 1½ to 2 hours, until ham reaches internal temperature of 140 degrees.

About 30 minutes before ham is done, remove from oven and cut fat surface into a uniform diamond pattern, about ¼-inch deep. Spoon remaining glaze over meat and bake for another 30 minutes.

 Rum-Glazed Ham

Follow same directions as above, substituting this glaze: 1 cup orange marmalade, ½ cup dark rum and 1 tablespoon dry mustard.

 What’s your family’s favorite Easter holiday recipe? All recipe submissions are appreciated. Send to brickers@dglobe.com; Daily Globe, Box 639, Worthington MN 56187; or via this online blog, http://lagniappe.areavoices.com.

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