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Food & History

Hog wild about ham —

Jeff Cheek —

Ham is so important that it earns two entries in the dictionary. — Ham — is "A cut of meat from a hog's hind quarter, between hip and hock." — Ham 2 defines it as "A performer who overacts." What is the connection — between these two definitions?

The slang word "ham" comes from the 19th Century, when — minstrel shows were a standard part of popular entertainment. White performers — blackened their faces with soot before going on stage. They tended to — overact, or "ham it up." Since they used ham fat to remove the makeup, — they were classified as "hams."

Real ham is a delicious cut of meat which has been cured — or smoked. There are many varieties, like Danish ham, Polish ham or York — ham from England, but the people of Virginia boast that the best ham in — the world is from Smithfield, Va.

At least one world leader agreed with them. Queen Victoria, — who ruled Great Britain from 1837 to 1901, had a standing order for six — Smithfield hams per week for her table.

Smithfield hams have a distinguished lineage. The area — was exporting hams and bacon to England as early at 1639, although the — town was not founded until 1752. The name comes from London's Smithfield — Livestock Market.

As their hams won an international reputation, other cities — tried to cash in with imitation Smithfield hams. In 1926, the General — Assembly of the State of Virginia enacted a law to protect their major — export. "Genuine Smithfield hams are those cut from carcasses of peanut-fed — hogs, raised in the peanut-belt of the State of Virginia or North Carolina, — and are cured, treated, smoked and processed in the town of Smithfield, — in the State of Virginia."

Smithfield Foods is a major employer and a Fortune 500 — company. Residents call their hometown "Ham City" and the water tower — is decorated with a mouth-watering baked ham. In 2002, Smithfield celebrated — its 250th birthday. To mark the occasion, the city baked a 12-inch-high, — 2,200-pound ham bisket. It contained 500 pounds of sliced ham. This gigantic — ham bisket earned Smithfield an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Considering the importance of ham to the city, it is hard — to imagine that a battle is raging about the future of Smithfield. The — historical society points out that the town has scores of Colonial homes — which present a better image than Ham Town. These houses should be the — major focus in attracting tourists.

The tourist bureau disagrees. Their newsletter features — a dancing pig in a polka dot bathing suit on its letterhead. They proposed — scattering a dozen or so artsy swine statues around the city to encourage — tourism. Their proposal went to the city council in June. The council — took one look at a sketch of a coquettish, dancing pig and rejected the — petition. Smithfield is still Ham Town, but without dancing pigs.

These Honeydew-ham canapes are popular in Spain:


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Peel melon, cut into inch square chunks. Slice ham into — similarly sized pieces. Skewer one piece of each on toothpick, chill and — serve.