Cooking and Baking

Rediscovered Recipe: Beer + Ham = ?

There are two kinds of recipes: makers and readers. A maker is a recipe that you intend to make, while a reader is one you probably never will. You read it simply for the voyeuristic thrill—the imagined gastronomical delights or, perhaps, horrors.

The following recipe—Ham Baked in Beer—is, for me, a reader. Making it would be wonderful, as it combines three foodstuffs I have great affection for: ham, beer, and cinnamon red hots. Every Easter my husband and I have ham baked in Coca-Cola, and even though we throw ourselves into ham consumption with a ferocious intensity, leftovers persist in lurking for up to a month. Our move across the country is a handful of weeks away, and we cannot commit to a month-long extravaganza of creative ham consumption.

Even so, a girl can dream. The aforementioned Ham Baked in Beer that caught my eye appears in “Recipes & Menus,” a spiral-bound cookbook put out by the Storz Brewing Company of Omaha, Nebraska. Alas, Storz Brewing is no longer with us, but its legacy marches on in a number of the book’s beer-centric dishes; the copy that we have is the revised edition, which appeared in 1949. Here is the recipe exactly as it appears in the book.

"Take a 14 or 16 lb. ham, score the fat diagonally across the ham about half way through the depth of the fat. Make your scoring about an inch and a half apart and cut diagonally across the ham both ways. Stick cloves on all cross lines and red hot cinnamon candy in all scored fat lines. Put ham in a deep roasting pan, add 1 quart of Storz Beer, place in a 350 degree oven and bake at the rate of 12 minutes per pound of ham. Mix 1 cup corn syrup and 2 cups brown sugar and warm and mix in a saucepan. Pour half of this mixture over the ham about 20 minutes before it is done. Then pour the other half over the ham, shut off the flame and allow the ham to remain in the oven for another 10 to 15 minutes with the heat turned off.

Important Note: To get the best results it is important that the ham be soaked out in a sugar and water mixture for at least 24 hours. 48 hours is better. Follow the directions under Storz Special Ham for this procedure."

Several aspects of this recipe make me wary. First of all, Storz brewed several types of beer, though the recipe does not specify the use of a particular one—perhaps they were all basically the same watery, interchangeable Americanized lager that’s so refreshing from a cold can on a summer day. I’d be curious about what ham baked in, say, dunkel would yield.

Secondly, this recipe calls for a lot of sugar—2 cups brown sugar plus 1 cup corn syrup. With this much sugar, does baking the ham in beer even make a difference? Why not water, or stock? I must admit that my beloved Ham Baked in Coca Cola is likewise bathed in soda-bound sugar/corn syrup, and the results are delicious—a perfect balance of porky richness and salty-sweetness. Sometimes dicey-sounding recipe will, when prepared faithfully, trump the expectations of skeptics. I suspect that Ham Baked in Beer may be one such recipe. Had I a Brady Bunch-sized family and a spare afternoon top baby-sit a baking ham, I’d be on this recipe in an instant. Any takers?

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