Ham History: Why We Eat Ham During Easter

Ham History: Why We Eat Ham During Easter

Ham is one of those traditional holiday meats that is hard to resist and brings everyone together at the table when served. Typically, we eat ham for Easter, but why? Read on to learn why we eat ham during Easter.

Ham Was Butchered and Fattened in the Fall

Before the invention of the refrigerator, it was hard to keep meat from going bad, and it took quite some time to butcher an animal as large as a pig. To not waste perfectly good meat, farmers butchered pigs in the colder months—such as fall and winter—so they didn’t have to rush the process.

Additionally, pork is known to taste better when the pig eats foods such as acorns and apples, which grow in the fall. Because of this, farmers would fatten their pigs up with these foods and then butcher them during fall.

Ham Takes Time to Cure

Curing ham is a process. To cure ham, you need to rub salt, sugar, and saltpeter into the meat, let it cure for weeks, and then smoke it. However, keeping it at a consistently cold temperature was key in ensuring that the meat wouldn’t rot. Fall and winter were the perfect times of year to start curing meat while keeping it cold. And when it got exceptionally cold, the meat would dry age. Dry aging vastly improves the flavor of meat, so by the time the ham was ready to eat, not only was it tastier, but Easter was also around the corner, making it the more convenient choice.

Lamb Became Less Available

Before we can fully understand what transitioned us to ham, we must know a little history.

As you may already know, Easter is to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and Jesus was Jewish. Because of this, Jesus celebrated Passover, a Jewish holiday, during his lifetime. Traditionally, celebrants eat lamb on this holiday, as it is strictly forbidden in Judaism to eat pork. Because of this, many people all over the world still eat lamb for Easter. But what happened in America?

The theory is that during World War II, things like meat, fat, and sugar were in short supply—and so was wool! Wool became difficult to ship around the world, and because wool became less profitable, fewer sheep, and subsequently lamb, were kept. So, with lamb in short supply and pig being the most readily available fall and winter meat, the tradition of Easter ham was born!

Now that you know why we eat ham during Easter, how do you feel about the tradition? Will you keep eating ham? Or will you make the switch to traditional lamb?