This Little Piggy Went All the Way Home

You haven’t lived until you’ve tried to get a ham through airport security. It was April, almost a full year of ham testing and cooking under our ever-more-ample belts, and we had one 14-pounder left from Wilbur, our pig.

“I’ll bring it for Easter dinner,” I told my mother.

It sounded pretty innocent in the thrum of long distance. It felt pretty innocent as we slung the frozen thing into a canvas bag and headed for the Hartford airport. It was pretty innocent until we ended up at the X-ray machine with the ham and both our laptops dumped into various tubs. I got stopped right away.

The agent was stern: pursed lips and bobbed hair. She snapped on her plastic gloves and reached into the bag. “Is this human?” she asked.

Yes, I wanted to say. It’s a chunk of me. After the liposuction, I just couldn’t part with myself. We’ve had such great times together: fresh hams, some even pan-fried, acres of prosciutto crudo, and the wet-cured one in the big bowl.

But I remembered those signs about jokes and terrorism. Was fat terrorism? Was ham? Maybe. Things were confusing in America.

“It’s a ham,” I said.

The woman didn’t appear amused. “Why?”

Of all the questions, it’s the one I least expected.

“From our own pig,” I said.

“Uh-huh. We had a turkey once.” She narrowed her eyes. “I’ll have to check.”

Within minutes, the ham was out of its plastic bag. It was frosted and gray—not exactly at its best. She set it on that white folding table. A gaggle of TSA’s finest gathered around. They waved wands. They swabbed. They opened manuals. Finally, she walked back over, the glimmer of a smile around those thin lips.

“You say it’s from your own pig?”

“Absolutely.”

If it had come from someone else’s pig or (God forbid) the store, would it have made a difference?

“OK,” she said. “You can go.”

I slipped on my shoes and tried to get the ham and the laptops back into their respective bags.

“What were they doing?” Bruce asked when we met up again.

“The ham. They wanted to know what it was.”

“You told them?”

“I hardly knew where to begin.”

And so we flew to Texas, where Easter was already summer, its warmth the best antidote to the chill still padlocked onto Connecticut. We arrived with our ham in tow, a fitting end for the last bit of Wilbur. No longer a blank, this joint represented so much possibility, so much history, so many meals. It would soon be roasted and become, well, the very best thing of all, the exemplar of hope: dinner on the table.

Recipe
Roasted Fresh Ham with a Maple-Spice Glaze

Excerpted from Ham: An Obsession with the Hind Quarter | Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2010
© 2010 Bruce Weinstein | Mark Scarbrough. Photo © 2010 Marcus Nilsson. All rights reserved.

About Bruce Weinstein | Mark Scarbrough

Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough are exhausted. Twenty cookbooks in 12 years. Several other books for persnickety celebs. (Shhh. Confidentiality agreements.) More than 10,000 original recipes tested, tweaked, and perfected. A million or so hours on cross-training equipment, not to mention many, many pairs of elastic-waistband pants. Their work can be found in the James Beard Award-nominated Ham: An Obsession with the Hindquarter and Goat: Meat, Milk, Cheese. They’ve also written for many of the food bigwigs, including The New York Times, Cooking Light, Fine Cooking, the late Gourmet, and, in a fit of modern irony, weightwatchers.com. About three years ago, they left Manhattan for New England—or what Cole Porter called “this rural America thing”--to share several acres with some resident moose and bear, as well as an irascible collie named Dreydl.

Comments
Comments
  1. Peggasus says:

    What a great story! That reminds me of when my Dad and my aunt Bernice, his sister, were still alive, each time they would go visit each other (he from Chicago, she from San Francisco), they would bring this big old suitcase full of Polish sausage, both smoked and fresh (about 40 pounds worth!) back and forth and have it as carry-on. It always got searched, but the officers were always drooling, too! It’s been 8-10 years now that they’ve been gone, and that suitcase still smells like sausage!

    • Yeah, it’s great in retrospect, but I feared a cavity search–and not the ham’s. (Oh, how I wish I had a suitcase of Polish sausage right now. Reminds me of my days in Chicago and then Madison, Wisconsin!)

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