At the grocery, I palm a ham the size of softball. Paula’s recipe for Peanut Butter Glazed Ham calls for a 10- to 12-pound hunk of meat. This one feels a little light, but I’ve been lifting weights. The butcher watches me from behind the glass as I thoughtfully juggle the ham in the air.
“Can I help you?” he asks, poking his head out of an opening.
“I’m baking a ham tonight,” I explain. I wait for an ovation; he forces a smile. I’ve never cooked a ham before and I think it’s a pretty big deal. “Yep, that’s right,” I continue, trying to earn some snaps, “a ten-pound ham.”
“That’s about four pounds,” he says, pointing to the ham in mid toss.
Time to reconsider my weight-lifting program.
I want to release the underweight ham back into the sea of mini meats, but the look on the butcher’s face suggests that I was inappropriately touching the meat. I decide to keep it, at least until checkout. I’ll stuff it in with the gum and chocolate bars like the other people who are too lazy to put things in their proper place. (My husband says that there’s a special place in hell reserved for people who do this.)
The butcher teaches me that the meat’s label indicates the weight (how convenient!). Then he points me to a pyramid of meat; each piece is the size of my cat. I feel a little queasy as I prepare to lift a ham into my cart. I have to throw in a case of soda just to keep the cart from doing a wheelie. When I get home and cut away the wrapping, I discover that the ham does not look like the neat spiral-cut football I’ve grown to love at the buffet. This is pure animal. There’s a bone. And thick, leathery skin. And when I look closely: tiny hairs.
I flash back to the great pig massacre of 2009.
I had never been to a luau-style pig roast before. It was my friend’s family reunion, held on a sprawling farm in Washington. She took my 3-year-old daughter and me on a tour of the farm, which included a viewing of our dinner, buried deep in the ground. The steaming burial mound was inappropriately located next to a pen of live pigs. Five men in camouflage hats stood around it, spitting and telling stories.
When the dinner bell rang, dozens of people gathered round to see their dinner unearthed. The men each grabbed hold of a chain that was somehow fashioned to the buried pig. And they pulled. When the mound failed to budge, they hooked the chain to a four-wheeler and gunned it. The mound lurched. Slowly, a body emerged. For a second I thought Michael Jackson would start doing “Thriller” right out of the dirt. It was wrapped in some sort of sheet, which I hoped was out of respect, but later discovered it was to keep all the pieces together.
They pulled the load onto a gigantic slat of wood and removed the covering. The crowd cheered. I covered my daughter’s bulging eyes. With the exception of key identifying features, the pig had cooked for so long that it was barely recognizable as such. That is when I realized that I am a 21st-century cook. I can’t eat a carrot straight from the ground, let alone a pig.
I became a vegetarian for a solid week, until I was tempted by a drive-thru burger, which barely counts as meat anyway.
Nonetheless, I was going to make Paula’s recipe. I already paid $20 for the ham and had promised friends a delicious Deen dish. I blended up the peanut butter glaze just as the recipe instructed. And when it came time to “slather” the glaze on, I pulled out the ham, averted my eyes and quickly poured it on top.
At dinner, I munched on spinach salad while my guests pulled at the parts of the ham that weren’t burnt. They loved the peanutty flavor, but agreed that I let too much of the glaze run off. I sopped up the soupy glaze with my biscuit, but avoided visual contact with the piece of ham on my plate. At one point, my daughter pieced an entire slice with her fork, lifted it up to her mouth and licked it, announcing, “I love pig!” I had to excuse myself.
Babies are a miracle, but I don’t want to think about where they come from. Same thing goes for scrambled eggs and sausage. When it comes to food, the civilized members of our society rely on the suspension of disbelief. Hamburger is round, hotdogs are tubular and ham is spiral cut. I highly recommend Paula’s peanut butter glaze, but I’d rather have someone else cook it.