Zack Shepherd circa 1900 in Virginia.
This is Zack Shepherd, my great great grandfather, looking a little freaked out. Don’t worry, Zack, we’re all friends here. He was born in 1868 to Ballard Shepherd and Virginia Surface, who were both of German stock (their family names were anglicized from Scheppert and Zerfass, respectively). In 1899, he married Pearl Price and they lived near their families in Price’s Fork, Virginia.
Zack worked as a farmhand all his life, working dawn to dusk for the Flanagans, three brothers who owned five hundred acres along New River. On his way to work, Zack would set fish traps in the river (long, barrel-shaped contraptions with a funnel opening at one end) or a trot line (a heavy line with hooks at various points, anchored to a tree on each side of the river), and check them on his way home. He also carried an old shotgun with him to and from work because the cornfields along the river attracted wild ducks. Sometimes he would bag three or four ducks as he walked home in the evening, which Pearl would roast in the oven like a turkey.
However, most of the family’s meat came from their pigs. Zack butchered one or two each year. This is his method for curing ham, as remembered by his daughter, Ethel Shepherd, my great grandmother:
Virginia Cured Ham
To cure ham or any hog meat, he would turn the meat out, skin side up, on a large table, and let it drain for several hours or a day. You then turn it over with the skin side down and cover it completely with salt. You renew this every so often, and also sprinkle black pepper on it. After the salt has gone into the meat, you put some brown sugar on it. It is left to cure for about six weeks.
If you want to smoke cure it, you then hang it up in the smoke house over a pit above hickory chips or wood that is burning to create smoke. Or you can get a smoke cure at the store to put on the meat. Some people put red pepper or saltpeter on the meat to keep flies from contaminating it. It is bagged with heavy cloth bags or brown paper bags, and hung by wires down from the ceiling of the building so that the mice can’t get at it.
So, no, I haven’t tried this one, yet. But when I do, you’ll be the first to know!
Next Recipe: Butter and Cottage Cheese
(Previous Recipe: Fried Apple Pies)