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Tale of Two Hams–by Jean

April 6, 2010

I don’t consider myself to be a procrastinator. I do, however have a very full life, and consequently, I find that I must schedule important life details such as purchasing an Easter ham. If it’s not scheduled, more often than not, the holiday will arrive and I will be left with no entrée to feed my family and guests. Which is why I was very thankful that Ken Ruegsegger from Ruegsegger Farms LLC emailed last Wednesday to let us know that he still had Easter hams and lamb available. The email reminded me that I still hadn’t purchased food for our Easter dinner. Ruegsegger and his wife Sherrie own and operate Paoli Local Foods 
(6895 Paoli Rd.,
(608) 845-FOOD) an outlet for Ruegsegger’s meats as well as products from 80 other local farmers, bakers and producers.

I emailed back and asked how should I order the ham—phone call? Web site? Ruegsegger promptly replied “Web site”. So, I ordered a half-ham to be ready for pick-up on Friday. I received a confirmatory e-mail that said Sherrie would be calling me to arrange pick-up.

On Thursday morning, Sherrie did indeed call. She said that they no longer had a half ham, but they had 2-quarter hams, and would that work? I told her that would be fine, and I would pick them up at the Paoli store on Friday. She said she would put them away for me and then she hung up. Ten minutes later she called back, apologizing and said that somehow there had been a mistake. Ruegsegger’s didn’t have any hams for Easter. “Not a problem” I told her. I hung up the phone and called Knoche’s grocery store—our ‘go-to’ meat market for spiral cut Nueske’s hams. I asked the cheery man at the other end of the phone if it was too late to order a half ham for Sunday. “No. Of course not.” I told him I would pick it up on Friday. He said that he would put my name on it. Relieved that Easter dinner was taken care of, I went back to the smorgasbord of tasks.

Thursday evening the phone rang. It was Ken Ruegsegger. He said that there was a miscommunication with his wife, and that he did have my half-ham waiting. It had been cured that morning. I thanked him for calling, but that I already had a ham in waiting. He said that he understood, but he wanted me to know that there was a ham. I thanked him and told him that I would pick it up on Friday. He said, “If you already have a ham, you don’t have to buy this one. I just wanted you to know that we did reserve a ham for you.”

“No, I want to try your ham,” I told him.

I told Mike the story of the 2 hams. He said, “Cancel the ham at Knoche’s.” But I told him that no, I wanted to have both hams to taste and compare. On Friday Mike and I set out to Paoli and picked up the ham. Sherrie apologized again for the miscommunication, but both Mike and I told her that we completely understood. We then went to Knoche’s and picked up the Nueske’s spiral-cut honey-glazed ham.

We now had over $100 worth of ham riding in our back seat. Mike questioned my sanity, but I was adamant about cooking them both and doing a taste test.

Easter Sunday morning I made the usual preparations for our late afternoon meal. I put the Ruegsegger’s ham in the oven first and then about an hour later I put in the Nueske’s ham. Nueske’s directions clearly state, “This fully cooked product is best enjoyed gently warmed.” But I didn’t ‘gently warm’ it. I sort of let it sit in the oven for a little too long and part of it was a little dry. The Ruegsegger ham was very moist. Everybody said the difference was mostly likely due to the spiral slices of the Nueske ham, whereas the Ruegsegger ham was not sliced.

I served the hams with all the fixings and waited to hear the comments from the diners. Our grandsons clearly preferred the Nueske ham. In fact they had several servings. Nueske’s ham was smoked to perfection, delicious albeit a little dry (because I left it in the oven too long). The adults, however, preferred the Ruegsegger ham. It was tender, juicy, and delicious. It tasted like the ham I had when I was a child visiting my grandparents.

And that’s the interesting thing about eating locally grown meat—the taste. The first time I had a Ruegsegger’s beef roast I felt as if I were a child again playing in the fields of my grandparents’ farm. The taste was reminiscent of the meat we had when I was growing up. I mentioned that to Sherrie during one of our visits to Paoli. She told me that I was lucky to have known what non-CAFO meat tastes like because a lot of people don’t. (CAFO stands for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation that is where most of our meat is produced.) Consequently when they taste local, non-CAFO meat, they think it tastes funny or ‘off’. I think it tastes sweeter and juicier and for some reason the taste transports me to a time long ago when there were no ‘smorgasbord of tasks’ only fields of wonder to explore.

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