Ham and Potato Pie

  I was inspired not long ago (by a Harry Potter book,  no less) to make a lovely Ham and Potato pie.  I do remember the day was chilly, still blustery back there in Winter.  Certainly such a hearty dish was welcome on that day.  But aside from the cold temperatures of the day, this particular combination of ingredients was a great example of a “seasonal” dish. 

   Long ago, before the common person had electricity to power a freezer all winter, food had to be stored “energy free”.  Two great examples of this are the curing and salting of meats, and the root cellaring vegetable crops . 

    Meats can be cured, which means soaked in a very salty and/or sweet brine, held over for a period of time to somewhat dehydrate.  Adding a treatment of smoke can enhance the flavor and contribute to the drying process.  The aim is to create within the meat an environment that is dehydrated, acidic and otherwise inhospitable for bacteria to grow and spoil the meat.  Properly cured and/or smoked meats can stay fresh even if not frozen, provided the temperatures remain cool enough and no additional moisture is introduced.

   Many vegetables and fruits can be held over much of the winter if they are kept above freezing and protected from the elements.  This is called root cellaring.  Many old homesteads still have a root cellar either in the basement, or nearby outside, often dug into a bank or other similar arraignment.  Many very starch vegetables such as potatoes, beets, turnips, carrots, apples, and winter squash stay fresh and edible very well.  But surprisingly, there are a great deal more, less starchy items that also hold.  Grapes, cabbage, celery, pears, onions and garlic are great examples.  Some foods require very dry conditions to keep, others need high humidity.  There are plenty of wonderful books out there to research, but my favorite is Root Cellaring by Nancy Bubel.

    These are just  a couple different methods once employed to keep a supply of fresh, healthy food available over the winter.  But much like maintaining your refrigerator today, this was not a static undertaking:  The stash of food had to be checked weekly or even daily, as any foods that were turning bad had to be removed before they took everything else down (origin of the phrase, “one bad apple can spoil the bunch”).  Often this was how dinner was selected!

  As families got better at keeping their food over, the wonderful dilemma arose of what to do with the excess leftover (and barely still good) food at winter’s end.  Likely the reason for Vernal Equinox feasting, later to coincide with Easter  and Passover feasting, to use up the remaining supply and store it in our bodies (the safest place) until new fresh spring foods began to appear.

So, at the end of a long cold winter,  the foods often still available are our ingredients for our Ham and Potato pie:  A nice ham, root cellared potatoes, celery, carrots, onions and garlic, fresh milk from the cow for the gravy, and either fresh butter of left-over lard for the pie crust, and whichever grain was still around to mill for the crust. 

  Providing your own food for the winter months takes planning during the spring and summer months.  Figure out now which foods you are buying most frequently and plan to put some up this growing season when they are plentiful.  Different foods preserve best with different methods, so be prepared to do a bit of homework and create a plan with realistic goals.  And buddy up with a partner for help and support.  It’s fun, rewarding and very empowering. 

  Stay tuned here for more tips on different ways to preserve you favorite foods.

  Lastly, a free gift to anyone who can guess which Harry Potter book Dean was packing his face with Ham (and chicken) pie!

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Tia Zink
    Mar 21, 2011 @ 19:49:36

    Ah…another HP fan…..


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