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Tue Mar 20, 2018, 10:41 AM

In This Corner of Maryland, Holidays Mean a Stuffed Ham.

Last edited Tue Mar 20, 2018, 11:25 AM - Edit history (1)

It’s a lot of work, but this traditional dish remains one
of America’s most regional, and revered, specialties.

TALL TIMBERS, Md. — William Andrew Dent was the stuffed ham king around here. . .

Unless you’ve lived in St. Mary’s County ((Wow, coincidence, how often does anyone HEAR of St. Mary's County, MD?)) or spent a holiday with someone from here, you’ve probably never heard of stuffed ham. Like Cincinnati chili, Jersey Shore rippers and the collard sandwiches of Robeson County, N.C., it is one of America’s most regionally specific dishes, but has never migrated beyond its home. People here cherish it. . .

There was a time when you’d be hard-pressed to find a family in St. Mary’s County that didn’t make a stuffed ham, at least for Thanksgiving, Christmas or Easter. But here, as everywhere, home cooking waned. Families got smaller. The will and skill needed to boil 20 pounds of cabbage-stuffed ham faded. People turned to country stores like Dent’s to fill the gap.

“We have the second-best stuffed ham in the world,” Andy Dent told me in an interview at his bar the day before he died. “Your grandmother’s is the best. But ours is easier.”

Capturing the precise recipe is like trying to get an artist to explain how to paint a landscape. Still, there are common building blocks. You start with a corned ham, which is a whole, fresh ham that has taken a long vacation in salt. (Good luck, by the way, finding one outside the county — especially one that weighs less than 20 pounds.)

Next, you chop several pounds of cabbage, kale and onions, then perk it all up with enough black and red pepper “to give it some bite,” as cooks here say.

From there, the recipe diverges into a debate that runs the length of the county. In the north, cooks will tell you to add a lot of kale. In the south, kale is just an accent color, if it goes in the stuffing at all. Whether mustard seed, celery seed or celery itself belongs in the stuffing depends on the version you grew up eating.'>>>


A film crew recorded his last ham-stuffing project, this one for a church fund-raiser in November. Mr. Bowes and a team of volunteers stuffed 55 hams. The session will be featured in “Eatin’ the Chesapeake: The Five Feasts,” a show that premieres April 23 on Maryland Public Television.


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