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Need help to find really good country ham!

post #1 of 17
Thread Starter 
I'm in trouble :eek:

My Christmas ham source in Cape Girardeau, MO has gone out of business after 72 years. :cry: I've gotten my whole, cooked Christmas ham from them for about fifteen-eighteen years ; it's very much a family tradition. My father's family farmed in Jackson, MO, just up the road from Cape, for four or five generations, and slaughtered and processed their own hogs (and other tasty animals) until fifteen years or so ago. I found Esicar's on a visit for a cousin's wedding, and we started ordering for Christmas delivery.

I've surfed the web, including a few suggestions from the retired owners of Esicar's Smoke House, but can't seem to find whole, cooked, long-hung, well-smoked country ham. (I would not let a honey-cured ham in the house.)

As a complete purist, I would cook it myself, but the proper cooking of a whole country ham (really the back leg of a hog) reqires a pot just slightly smaller than your bathtub, and is a huge hassle. From Esicar's I got a 16-pound smoked and cured hog-leg, cooked, for about $50 including shipping. I have no objection to re-heating, skinning, and then carving the real McCoy.

I'll pay more, I'll pay more! for the right thing.

Can anybody with hands-on experience point me in the right direction?

Thanks in advance.

Mike

I don't wanna take the family to MacDonald's for Christmas dinner.
travelling gourmand
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post #2 of 17
Virginia Country Hams!!!!!!:bounce:

Smithfield, Edwards of Surry, Padows all great sources.!:lips:Here are a couple links and Don't forget the peanuts!

S. Wallace Edwards family has produced authentic Virginia Hams, Hickory Smoked Bacon, Sausage, Pork Barbecue and classic Southern foods since 1926.

Virginia Country Hams | The Smithfield Collection

Padow's Hams: Hams and More
post #3 of 17
Thread Starter 
Well, Joe-

Thanks for the addresses: I'll look into these tomorrow. I'm well acquainted with the Smithfield/Virginia hams, and I know how they run the hogs into the harvested peanut fields in the Great Dismal Swamp area of Virginia. (Just ask Chloe) The hogs root out every last peanut that the harvesters missed, which are quite a few, and they (the hogs, not the peanuts) are then turned into Smithfield hams.

Smithfield was acquired by the ITT congolomerate quite a few years ago, and I've been reluctant to go with them as long as I had the good down-home smokehouse that Esicar's in Cape Girardeau was until they closed last September.

Best,

Mike
travelling gourmand
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post #4 of 17
Have you tried a Smithfield Ham from Va. I think it a little different than one from the midwest but not sure. Its salt cured but very good sliced thin on a biscuit.
post #5 of 17

country hams

The absolute best hams are from Kentucky. Check Gattons hams at Fathers Country Hams, Inc.
post #6 of 17
Hey Mike,

The Edwards brand is still that local producer you are maybe looking for. I just bought a small shoulder (I think it was the cured, smoked, cooked variety). Cut most of the meat away and cryo'd it for use later and the rest was turned into stock for soups. I do plan on going with the cured smoked type for a holiday gathering and will probably cook it myself. I'm even considering purchacing a slicing stand. Really a neat thing. :smiles:

Having had different variety's of hams through my travels across the country..... This one really caught my attention. I too have strayed away from the Smithfield variety but have to admit there does seem to be a slight difference between what I've purchased locally and what has been available in other areas. Until we moved here I never tried any of the stuff that's considered local and only what has been available thru brokers and vendors. It seems to me you have a good shot of getting this same stuff thru their website.

Padows is really more a local region sandwich shop. Their the Mid-Atlantic Regions answer to Honey Baled Hams. Still not a bad ham yet not as Regional tasting as the other two.

Hope ya get what you're looking for soon. Most of these places may start looking sparse the closer you get to the Season. ;)
post #7 of 17
Thread Starter 
I grew up in Maryland and spent some summers in Fredericksburg, VA, so I'm quite familiar with Smithfield hams.They were very good, way back when. I came to prefer the Missouri hams as produced by Esicar's in Cape Girardeau, near the ancestral family farm. (And was put off when Smithfield became a division if ITT.)

I need a ham that's been well-smoked in hickory and hung to dry for six months at least. It should be tough as a drill sargeant's boot, and thus needs to be sliced VERY thin.

When in college, my daughter invited a Jewish friend to Christmas dinner. I told her, in some alarm, that we were going to have our traditional ham (which was already delivered and in the fridge) and to warn him in advance. He said not to worry, there was a little-known dietary law that, if sliced very thin, ham was Kosher, after all. We all went with that, and it seemed to work. :roll:

Anyway, to cook a whole country ham, it is absolutely imperative the the ham be ENTIRELY submerged in the cooking water, which implies a pretty big pot. That's why it's such a hassle, especially since I have an electric stove in the condo.

My late sister used to send me a good Maryland country ham, from a place near Frederick, MD. I know Kentucky hams have a great reputation, and I've heard good things about Tennessee hams. Of course, the Cajuns do Tasso, which is a little different animal....so to speak. I've heard that Vermont hams are smoked over smouldering conrcobs. That doesn't do much for me.

Anyway, I'll keep hitting the web and I appreciate all the interest and help.

If anybody has some more hamology, I'd be interested to hear it.

Mike
travelling gourmand
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post #8 of 17

Esicar's is Back!!

Mike, you'll be thrilled to know that Esicar's is back in business!! Though the Esicar family no longer owns it, one of their long-term employees (21 years) still works there. It is now owned by someone in the family of a local fresh meat purveyor. I hope you found this information out in time for your 2008 Christmas ham (reopened summer 2008). If not, you can go for 2009!!
post #9 of 17
Thread Starter 
G-Gal...

Thanks and, yes I have been aware that Esicar's had been started up again, by the Wisnant family that owns American Grass Fed Beef of Doniphan, MO.

It's a family business that raises and processes their grass-fed beef: Dad is the farmer, Mom is a vet, and various of their six kids run their packing plant and other operations. It sounds like a wonderful small business.

I met one of their sons, Jack Wisnant, a year or so ago when he was demo-ing the family beef at our local Whole Foods. Turned out he knew my late uncle Roy, who was the last operator of my father's family's farm in Jackson, MO and who was a very big guy in Black Angus show cattle circles. Jack and I had sort of an Old Home Week chat, and he told me they were in negotiations to acquire Esicar's Smokehouse.

They have done so since then, and it's now operating as "Old Hickory Specialty Meats." Their phone is 573-335-9283, if you want a nice country ham, smoked sausage or bacon, or a neat hickory-smoked cheddar cheese. (I'm not working on commission.) :crazy:

Their beef website is

Grass Fed Beef - Steaks - Dry Aged

I plan to go with them for next Christmas's ham.

Thanks again.

Mike :beer:
travelling gourmand
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post #10 of 17

Cape Girardeau Today

Mike, today my husband and I went to Cape to the old Esicar's, a 1 1/2-hr drive from our home. Though the business name has changed, as you mentioned, the Esicar's sign, entry inlay, etc., is just like it was. Alas, the wonderful aroma from 74 years of smoking their meats is but a memory. There is a smaller selection of smoked meats, and in fact no bacon was available. The fresh meat looked wonderful, and we did purchase some.

We ordered two half-sides of bacon, to be delivered via UPS in about two weeks (the first available). I would advise you to order your Christmas ham well ahead of time to assure delivery!

It's very nice to know that the market is still operating... here's hoping the bacon and ham will be of the same quality we both remember.

Gingerbread Gal
post #11 of 17
Thread Starter 
G-Gal-

Hope it was worth the trip, though I can't understand how the he!l they could lose the smoky aroma of 70-odd years of smoking in the building.

On our last visit, a good 25 years ago, we had our two oldest kids with us and were picking out some bacon, cheese, sausage, and sliced ham to take back to Chicago. A kid about 10 years old came in and a clerk said to him

""Harr yew, Tommy?"

he replied "Ah'm fahhn, Mr. Smith"

my kids were too polite to react in the store, but when we got out to the car, they broke up over the accents.

I told them to knock it off - if their grandfather had not become the first in the family to go to college, at the University of Missouri at Columbia (the only one they had at his time) and wound up as an officer in the U S State Department, they would be working the family farm in Jackson and talking in exactly the same way.

In a regional accent which I find quite attractive. :D

I spent 12 years listening to blue-collar Boston accents, and southern Missouri talk beats the he!l out of that. :bounce:

Mike
travelling gourmand
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post #12 of 17
I grew up on the Illinois side of Hannibal, Missouri, so everyone had a southern kind of twang, probably from the river influence. When I went to UI-Urbana, straight across the state, I definitely sounded (and acted) like I was from "down on the farm." Five years later, I taught in Evergreen Park for awhile, and I still sounded that way! So I definitely appreciate your story!

I, too, was surprised that the aroma could have been gone, or so faint as to be unrecognizable. What a loss... If you ever get that way again, though, do check it out. As for us, we'll be ordering over the phone (and often, if the bacon is still as good) unless we have another reason to get to Cape.

G-Gal
post #13 of 17
asked my pig farmer/processor Karlos Hienkebien about Escar's openning, he said they are still using inexpensive commodity pig from a large distributor, their bacon and hams are the things of legends.....just imagine what it'd be like with great raw product. Was headed to Swiss Meats in Hermann this weekend but the weather turned to rain/snow!!!??? and part of the hour drive was to see hwy 100 in all it's Spring glory.

my eldest just graduated from Mizzou Columbia last Dec.....carries no accent....funny how the accent gets stronger the more south you go......
and each is different (lived in Little Rock, Memphis, Louisiana east and west)...
cooking with all your senses.....
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cooking with all your senses.....
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post #14 of 17
Thanks for your post. We go up to St. Louis (2 hrs north) once or twice a month for my husband's medical appointments. The accent we're familiar with here doesn't seem to carry that far north.

We'll just have to see what the new Esicar's bacon is like. I know when the family owned it, they purchased from small hog farmers. Too bad if that really has changed!! The old Esicar's was a truly legendary place, and one of the saddest days of our lives was the day we heard it was closed.

G-Gal
post #15 of 17
No way, they sound wicked retaded to me. ;)

Chris (who normally lives in a blue-collar neighborhood of Boston)
post #16 of 17
Thread Starter 
...they sound wicked retaded to me.

Pretty funny, Chris, and I think you got that accent just right! :D

I apologize for the aspersion.

Mike
travelling gourmand
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post #17 of 17

actually the people who took over Esicar's source their products from small meat packers is missouri and in illinois. i also know for a fact that karlos hinkebien buys comodity beef and pork for resale. i have known the Whisnant family for several years now and believe them to be honest hardworking people, as a side note i heard they are starting to raise their own heritage breed hogs on their farm and so should have it available for sale along with their beef. i buy Esicars\Old Hickory Specialty Meats bacon at least once a week and it tastes wonderful, just as good as in the old days if not better.

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