Saturday, August 14, 2010

Historic Recipe: Jellied Ham Loaf

This is yet another recipe from Betty Crocker's rationing recipe booklet. Now, there's been more than one recent work of web-based journalism covering some of the horrific concoctions we Americans have managed to create with humble Jell-O. Since most of these stories end with me throwing up in my mouth a little, I was a dubious about trying a meated gelatin recipe. I don't even like most of the fruit-based Jell-O recipes. But, in fairness to the rationing year and to those generations who grew up during WWII (and its shadow) I decided, despite my misgivings, that it was a must.

After all, serving a Jell-o dish during the summer was a sign of wealth in the late 1930's/early 1940's. Since Jell-O (and any gelatin, for that matter) requires a cool environment to set, serving a Jell-O-based dish in the summer heat was a subtle yet unmistakable way of saying,"Take, that, hussy - my man can afford to buy me a refrigerator," at the neighborhood picnics.

Despite this status I did have one very strong warning from friend/colleague Ms. Grasslands when she heard the next historic recipe was to be a jellied ham loaf. "Jellied ham loaf," Ms. Grasslands wrote, "Was literally the only dish I could not eat as a child. It made me choke. I could eat everything else you've blogged about, including liver and onions, heart, tongue, but not ham loaf. I'm retching even as I type." Egads. This definitely made me second guess my choice, especially considering how our last historic loaf recipe turned out. But, I made a firm decision to be optimistic. After all, this was a rationing recipe that did not require a white sauce (gasp!) and, as TMOTH pointed out, we'd basically just be making our own SPAM. Right?

Before we get too far into the details of the recipe, I want to point out that the first ingredient listed is ham shanks. This is one of those mythical meats that I've heard of but never purchased and really have no idea as to it's original placement on the pig. The first result from my Google search entitled, "What is a ham shank?" informed me that it is, apparently, a pithy name for an act of masturbation. Umm...luckily the second result informed me that a ham shank is from the lower portion of the pig's leg. According to this source, ham shanks have less fat and are not as meaty as the traditional butt end ham.

Rationing-wise they're also considerably cheaper on the point scale than traditional ham. On our handy-dandy chart ham shanks are five points a pound, whereas traditional ham is a whopping 12 points per pound. I'm sure this fact alone made creative ham shank recipes popular during WWII rationing.

Here's a quick run-down of the recipe:

1. Simmer 2 1/2 pounds ham shanks in a pot of water for two hours.
2. Pull ham meat from the bone and grind enough meat to make 2 cups.
3. Soften 1 TB gelatin in 1/4 cup cold water.
4. Dissolve 2 beef bouillon cubes in 2 cups hot ham stock.
5. Combine gelatin mixture, bouillon mixture and ham together with 2 tsp horseradish, 2 tsp prepared mustard and 1 1/2 cups corn or bran flakes.
6. Chill until firm in oiled bread loaf pan.
7. Unmold and slice.

Let me tell you that there is nothing pretty about this recipe. Ground ham shank looks like reject dog food and once you combine it with the bran flakes and warmed broth/gelatin mixture it looks more like a science experiment gone horribly wrong rather than something edible (at least, something edible to an organism that lives outside of a petri dish). Rather than pat it into a loaf pan I used a roundish bowl instead. I felt like the cubic confines of the loaf pan could not contain the organic awesomeness of the ham loaf. That, and I thought it would look prettier on a plate if it was round.

Oh, and I was very much thankful that the girls were not in the kitchen while I made this up in the morning. I knew that if they saw the taupe, viscous mixture in its un-gelled state then it would be over before it all began.

After a very hot day (automobile thermostat declared the outside temperature at 112 degrees at one point) which included swimming, piano practice, laundry and such dinner was a snap since all I had to do was cook the fresh corn on the cob and decoratively arrange the jellied ham loaf on plate. Of course, I still had to get the loaf out of the mold.

Now, when the directions said to place the concoction in a oiled pan, I took the "oiled" part seriously, slathering what seems like way too much canola oil along the inside of a metal mixing bowl. I assumed that this ensured a nice, quick slip of the molded meat onto the plate come dinner time.

I was wrong.

My first attempt at flipping the loaf bowl contents onto a plate resulted in...nothing. So I kept the bowl turned over on the plate and hammered the outside of the bowl with the blunt end of a wooden spoon. Still, no slippage.

I took a butter knife and ran it around the outside edges of the loaf, sure that it would release the mold just as the same technique releases a cake from its pan. No go. Not even when I banged it some more with the wooden spoon.

Did Newton every write a law about the physical inertness of jellied meats?

Confounded, my next act was to use said butter knife to slide around the side of the loaf again and pry the bottom off of the bowl's surface. A quick flip over onto a plate and...nothing. A few more thumps of the wooden spoon and soon I heard the satisfying slurping noise of the loaf disengaging from the bowl and landing firmly on the plate.

Thank goodness I didn't use a real fancy mold or else I would never have been able to get the loaf out in one piece.

And yes, friends, it was very reminiscent of the sound molded moist cat food makes as it slurps out of its tin can and into kitty's dish. And you know what, it looked a lot like it, too.

When I sat the jellied ham loaf on the table for dinner the girls gave it a quizzical look and proceeded to poke it, as they had previously done with the SPAM. After asking them to stop poking the meat I used a knife to carve slices off the loaf. "Carving" might be a a generous term to describe the sectioning of the loaf, since it didn't slice very cleanly. I placed portions on each of the girls plates (along with a squirt of the obligatory ketchup) and waited for them to take a taste.

Since it was not a bean or vegetable-based dish Sissy was the first to dive in. "It tastes a lot like SPAM," she replied, and soon Eowyn was taking a bite of her slice. Eowyn agreed with the SPAM comparison. And then they kept on eating.

TMOTH and I both though the loaf was palatable, but suspected it would be better pan-fried (if the gelatin would hold up to the heat).

At one point one of the girls said, "It would be better in a sandwich, with ketchup and mayonnaise." Actually, that must have been Sissy because she thinks anything can be made better with mayonnaise. We all agreed with her statement so off she went to get bread from the kitchen. And she then proceeded to eat another slice of the jellied ham loaf while Eowyn finished all of her original slice and had a few bites of another.

So, I guess this was, surprisingly, a success. Go figure.

As for leftovers - oh, there are leftovers! The recipe says it will feed 8 to 10 people and I wish I would have read that before I made the recipe. I took a few slices in my lunch the next day and under the fluorescent glow of the break room the loaf definitely look less edible - mottled grays and pinks with an occasional ham string hanging out. I quickly ate my slices before anyone else came in to the room so that I didn't have to explain why I was eating cat food.

The next day I asked the girls what they have for lunch (they were home with TMOTH), and they said they had ham loaf sandwiches. "Were they good?" I asked. "Yes." was the unanimous reply.

Will we make jellied meat loaf again? Well, I don't plan to - at least, not immediately. I'm happy enough to say we made it and ate. Of course, we never know what the Randomizer will throw at us...there may be some week where all the red points we can afford for meat will make ham shanks (the meat, not the act) look like a good deal. In that case, jellied ham loaf it is.

At least it's not jellied pigs feet.
--Rational Mama

P.S. This seems to be the Rational Living post with the most potential for sexual euphemisms, considering the mentions of ham shanks, butt ends, meat grinding, and meat poking. Don't worry, we won't have our heads in the gutter for too long.


  1. Wow, I made beet salad for Jules and the Barracuda and thought I was pushing the envelope a bit. I am humbled by your bravery at eating gelatinous meat :)

    Jules and Sissy sound like they would get along well; he also believes mayonnaise is the secret to all universal tastiness.

  2. I like the small print at the bottom-- too funny. Glad you all survived and lived to tell about it :)