Recently, 11 kids and a few dedicated adults arrived at Arveybell in Middlesboro to start their 4-H Country Ham project. These 4-Hers embarked on a 4-H project that will test their work ethic, their resolve and eventually, their communication skills. After eight months of diligent work and learning, this group will have the reward of an experience at the Kentucky State Fair in Louisville and each 4-Her will take a country ham to enjoy with their families.
Curing meat is a very old tradition that was done for years out of necessity. Before people had refrigerators, meat would spoil quickly if it was not preserved in some way. After animals, especially hogs, were slaughtered much of their meat was cured with salt, sugar, and spices. Doing this kept the meat from spoiling for much longer amounts of time — sometimes a year or more!
Hog slaughtering was done in the late fall so the temperature would be cool enough to keep the meat fresh until it could be cured but not so cold that the meat would freeze. This was the perfect time of year to save a little fresh meat for the holidays, too.
Every part of the butchered hog was used for something. Some parts that couldn’t be easily cured with salt were eaten immediately. Things such as the brain and tenderloin that wouldn’t keep without spoiling were eaten right away. The intestines were used to encase sausage that was made from much of the scrap meat. But many of the big cuts of meat, such as the shoulder, ham, and side were cured with salt right away so they would keep without being refrigerated.
Because we now have refrigerators and many other modern conveniences we often don’t think about doing things the “old fashioned way.”
“The 4-H Country Ham project is a great way to learn a new skill while learning about the past,” Agent Brandy Calvert said. “What I love about the 4-H Country Ham project is that these kids learn the value and reward of hard work. I see their self-confidence improved. Most of all, I really love seeing the community and different generations come together with this common and unusual goal of curing ham.”
“We are so fortunate to have such amazing community support of 4-H in Bell County. George Schneider of Arveybell really goes above and beyond by allowing us the use of his facility and lending his expertise and support to our project. I just can’t thank him enough. And I try, throughout the duration of this project, to remind our kids of where our help comes from. Without Kentucky Farm Bureau’s enduring support and this amazing partnership with Mr. Schneider, these kids may not have this opportunity,” Calvert said.
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