You never know how Christmas is going to fall out. Even with the simplest of plans.
A few days before Christmas, my brother’s wife panicked about the prosciutto crudo, the cured ham sliced from, depending on the source, a special breed of pig legs. The Bristol Farms in the area had closed, and it was her go-to store for the prosciutto. She claims she can’t count on the prosciutto at other stores. The ham is either not cut right or inconsistent in quality. She probably didn’t eat much prosciutto before she married my brother. Now she reports inconsistencies in prosciutto among grocery stores.
My brother took action. He looked for prosciuttos for purchase – online. Then he ordered a whole, boneless prosciutto to be sent to his home. I keep calling it prosciutto, but it’s a jambon because it’s French. Still excellent. Other people waited for their toys or electronics. My brother waited for his jambon. It arrived on 24 December from the east coast, before the bomb cyclone upended air travel, at environmental temperature in a foil bubble pack inside a cardboard box. We were home when it arrived, so my sister-in-law saved it from potential ransacking by the coyotes. Or any other wild life in their area.
We already had an incident in the family with wild life and Christmas presents. My sister’s chocolate delivery left on her porch was breached by some frisky squirrels. They chewed through the cardboard delivery box and into one of the small boxes of chocolates packed therein. There were nuts in there after all, albeit chocolate covered.
Once the jambon arrived, my sister-in-law was instructed to photograph the package and text the photo to my brother. She opened the package and made space in the refrigerator in the garage for the ham. When my brother came home, the first thing he did was bring the ham into the house.
He doesn’t have an electric meat slicer at home – not yet. He watched YouTube videos instead on how to slice a prosciutto by hand. One video he quickly passed on.
“Goofballs,” he said.
In a video produced by Prosciutto di Parma, a young Italian man with an apron and a hat standing in front of a wall of hams tells the viewer the rules of slicing a prosciutto. A narrator translates his three rules into English.
One, never cut the ham with the rind.
Two, never cut the ham unless the customer asks for it.
Three, the slices must be thin as possible.
Then they try to sell you a slicing machine.
I watched the various videos with my brother, thinking it was like the time I listened to a podcast on how toilet paper is made – things I never thought I would need to know. It’s a lesson in realizing there’s an audience out there for whatever idea or product you might be selling.
The jambon was treated like a patient. My brother picked a side and trimmed away the rind along that edge, as instructed in the YouTube video. He cut off the rind in large pieces so that they could be used to cover the exposed side of the ham for storage. After each slicing session, he placed the pieces of fat back over the exposed edge, and wrapped the ham along with the fat in cheese cloth as if for a splint. The bandage wrapped ham went onto an old cookie sheet and then back into the refrigerator.
My mother arrived a couple days later with a choice of two knives more suited for slicing the ham. And a day or two after that, the soporte jamonero (from Spain) showed up from Amazon. Although not having the ham support did not keep us from cutting into the jambon. If I’d known he was going to get a ham, I would have gotten him the soporte jamonero as a gift for Christmas.
There was talk of leaving the jambon in the soporte jamonero out on the counter for easy access and no clean-up. The ham doesn’t need to be refrigerated. But there is a dog in the house. A hunting dog. All one had to do was watch the speed of her nose twitch to know the ham needed to be stored away after each use.
I took a shot of the ham before my brother cut into it and sent it to my other brother.
“I hope you like ham because it looks like you’re going to be eating a lot of it,” he texted back.
Yep. Breakfast? Ham. Lunch? Ham. Pasta? Definitely ham.
My nephew created French ham and eggs on toast, fried, scrambled, or poached.
The first thing my brother did when he arrived home from work every day during the holidays was get the ham out.
The jambon can’t go on just any kind of bread. Eating it carpaccio style is allowed, but you don’t eat this kind of ham on the sliced bread offered in a plastic bag. My sister-in-law had this covered. Her favorite French bakery? Only 19 miles away. My sister-in-law is a fan of the ham sandwiches at the bakery, which are butter and jambon on a narrow baguette-like bread called ficelle.
“The ficelle has to be fresh,” she said. “You can’t eat it the next day.”
So she got into this routine of ordering the three or four ficelle online each day. Since the bakery is in a busy neighborhood with a small parking area, one of us would jump out of the car to grab the bag and we would make our getaway.
When we weren’t eating the ham, we were making ham jokes. One day we did stop long enough for us all to go inside the bakery to buy a dessert, or something other than the bread for the ham.
“Do you want a ham sandwich?” my nephew asked.
My two-year old niece narrating a video of her father cutting the ham summed up our Christmas. “Daddy is cutting the ham,” she said in her measured, halting toddler manner of putting her words together for the first time in this context.
After about 10 days, it happened. My sister-in-law said, “I don’t think I can eat ham this morning for breakfast.”
When I left, about half of the 12 pounds of ham was already gone, and my brother worried about whether or not he would need to order another ham.
We won’t forget this Christmas. Nope, not the year of Christmas and the ham.