What makes a day delicious?
It goes way beyond serving food that merely tastes good, and it has nothing to do with whether each leaf has been tweezed into place.
My friend Kathryn went to visit her mother in Lexington, Kentucky, not far from where her grandmother—known as Granny and about whom family legends are spun—and her people came from, about an hour southeast of the city on Spencer's Mountain. It was a place where, no matter what your family's circumstances were, there was always music being played and biscuits made with White Lily flour coming out of the oven.
Kathryn's mother (l) and grandmother.
Granny knew who made the best liquor on the mountain, and what proper series of words must be spoken to get it, how to play a mean guitar and handle a gun, and how to warn off hussies who might be making a play for her man with a simple, "I wouldn't do that." Her passing a few years ago left a big hole in the heart of the mountain.
Whenever she visits, Kathryn accompanies her mother on the rounds of her beloved thrift stores, always working in a stop to pick up a ham to bring back to Portland. This time it was a Burgers' Smokehouse Brown Sugar Cured Country Ham that caught her eye, an 18-pound beauty in the case at Critchfield Meats in Lexington.
Biscuits ready for the oven.
Yes, I said 18 pounds, loaded in a purchased-for-the-occasion thrift store suitcase along with several pounds of White Lily flour, Weisenberger's grits and cornmeal mix to get her family through till the next visit.
On arrival, the cloth-bound, 100% TSA-approved ham was ceremoniously hung in a closet in the basement to await its date with a liter of Coca-Cola and a house full of guests. On Wednesday the "Ham Baby," as it was be-monikered, was removed from the closet and its cloth suit and set in a pot of water to soak out some of the copious amounts of salt used by Burgers to cure its hams.
The Ham Baby and proud parents.
For three days the baby bathed, the water changed daily by its dutiful attendants, and on the third day it was removed from the briny water and submerged in the fateful liter of Coke and more water, to simmer until its internal temperature reached 155 degrees. Removed to Kathryn's butcher block table, the ham was then deboned by her husband Jeff and tightly wrapped in plastic wrap so it would cool completely in one piece, the easier to slice it just before their guests arrived.
Friends were gathered the next day with beautiful flowers, jams and fresh butter on the table to celebrate summer and each other and the holy ham, which had been sliced wafer-thin to be served with baskets of those cloud-like White Lily biscuits.
And here's what made it a delicious day: the laughter and stories, the appreciation for the food and the strong women of Kathryn's family whose traditions had made it all possible.