and Red Eye Gravy
The story of Country
Ham and Red Eye Gravy
So-called country hams are special hams. Most hams purchased
today cannot really be called "country hams."
Red Eye Gravy can be made with water or strong coffee. Which
is best is highly debated to this day, even though the recipe probably
originated during the war of 1812. More about that later. First, let's
"talk" about ham.
When I lived in the South (USA) for a brief period of time,
I learned quickly that not all hams are created equal.
A real Country ham is soaked in a salt water brine or salt
mixture for several days and then rinsed off and slowly smoked. It is then hung
to dry cure for 6 to 12 months or longer. This method of preserving ham was
developed during America's pioneer days, long before refrigeration, and was
refined (perfected?) since then. In the South you cannot call just any ham a
A true Country ham often comes in a cloth bag (now specially sealed plastic) and is salty and dry
and can be covered with mold. Is this bad? No, not if you know how to prepare
the ham. Don't worry about the mold. As long as the mold is only on the
outside, the ham is fine. Just scrap it off and wash it off.
The real concern should be to get the salt out of the ham.
To do this you need to soak the ham in water to draw the salt from the meat and
to add back moisture.
If you have a really small ham (6-10 pounds) soaking it for
about 12-16 hours should get most of the salt out. Most experienced people tell
me it is better to soak the ham for at least 2 days. If it is a large ham, 3
Make sure the Country ham stays cold while you are soaking
it (about 40 degrees F). This helps assure that bacteria will not grow.
Change the water every 6-8 hours and as you do so, rinse the
After soaking the ham you can cook it. (Yes, it has been
smoked and so you could eat it without cooking but I advise slowly cooking to
make certain all bacteria are dealt with.)
Cook your ham at a low temperature but make certain to get
the internal temperature up to 160 degrees F. You can cook the ham on a grill
or in a smoker or your oven.
If you cook it on a grill, put a pan with water under it to
catch the drippings and add back some moisture. Also, baste the ham
occasionally with the drippings. (Some people in the South use Dr. Pepper and
At a low grilling or cooking temperature of about 300
degrees F. your ham should be done in about 3 to 4 hours, depending on size. Use your meat thermometer.
After all this work, you'll be starving and LOVE the ham. :-)
The Red Eye Gravy
Red eye gravy is well known in the South, but many people in
the rest of the United States have never heard of it.
The gravy is made from
the ham drippings and strong black coffee. Some people use water and that's
what the so-called controversy is about. Which way tastes better? You decide
for yourself but I use coffee (and then add a little water if the gravy is too
salty or too strong).
and Red Eye Gravy
Legend has it that during the War of 1812, General Andrew
Jackson (later to become the 7th President of the U.S.) ordered his cook to
prepare him a ham dinner.
The cook had apparently found enough liquor to drink
himself to sleep several hours prior to being told to perform his duties and
his eyes were very red. Jackson looked at him and told him to also make a gravy
that was as red as his eyes. Country Ham Red Eye Gravy was the result.