Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The bounty of autumn: Ham Bone

Hey! It's fall! Even here on this temperate little peninsula, there is a carpet of brown leaves on the sidewalk, and last night it was downright chilly. I pulled out a hat and scarf for the first time this season--the changing seasons always make you remember things you've forgotten about: a favorite sweater, a familiar smell in the air, and, of course, good foods that should only be cooked when it's chilly and you need to turn on the oven, braise some meats, roast some squash, roll out pastry for apple tarts.

I had the good fortune to receive a ham in the mail last week, sent from the good people at Snake River Farms. They're one of a handful of companies in the States who are selling Kurobuta pork--an heirloom breed of pig (the Berkshire) raised according to strict specifications that guarantee deliciousness. Berkshire hogs were the pig around the time of Oliver Cromwell, and the British government gave Berkshire hogs to the Japanese as a diplomatic gift, which is how they came to be known as Japanese Black Hogs. (Hmm, pork as a diplomatic gift. Well, it wouldn't work in Iraq, but what about North Korea?)

The ham was delicious, marbled with fat, and a deep, rosy color. It had a rich, porky flavor that you don't find from the Honeybaked hams of the world. This kind of quality doesn't come cheap, (a half-ham, about 9lbs., will set you back about $90) but with the holidays fast approaching, no other roast will be so simple to prepare and will certainly be a crowd-pleaser. You can order one from www.snakeriverfarms.com They also sell Kurobuta pork chops, too.

The segue between fall food and ham may seem vague, but here goes: Ham=ham bone. Ham bone=soup. Split-pea soup is the ultimate fall food, and is the natural follow-up to a fine ham. To make it, do this: chop up an onion, a couple of carrots, a couple stalks of celery and a couple of cloves of garlic. Heat a couple glugs of olive oil (glug, glug, that's about 2 tbsp.) and cook up the vegetables over medium heat. Stir in 1 cup of split peas, plop in the meaty ham bone (if you aren't fortunate enough to have a ham-bone to spare, you can always use a meaty ham hock), pour in 8 cups of water, some salt, some pepper, a bay leaf....then simmer that baby until the peas are tender. If you have some surplus ham, chop it up and stir it in. Serve it with some cheese, some bread....and wait for the Trick-or-Treaters. Dessert, of course, will be fun-size candy bars. Of course.