- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Harvest is a good time to be at Historic St. Mary’s City unless you’re the rooster, that is. Or the pig. At any rate, the food for the annual event will be good.
“Of course, the colonists didn’t necessarily celebrate what we know as Thanksgiving back then,” HSMC interpreter John Harvey said. “They held things at Jamestown. Thanksgiving or the notion of Thanksgiving was more noble then.”
Historic St. Mary’s City will present Hearth and Home in Early Maryland from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 23 and 24. This year the focus is on a local culinary tradition stuffed ham.
There are as many recipes for stuffed ham as there are stories about who first thought to meld greens, pork and spices. Some suspect African-American origins and there is a good argument that the idea of “stuffed chine,” served in Elizabethan England, was brought to the New World by the Maryland colonists. George Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore and Maryland’s proprietor, wrote that he dined on stuffed ham while at the family estate in Yorkshire.
Tradition has it that at hog butchering time, the master got the hams and the slaves ended up with the jowls. The slaves in Southern Maryland would stuff the jowls of the hog with greens to make it stretch farther. Once the master got a whiff of that, he had them stuff his hams as well.
Stuffed ham will be center stage at this year’s Hearth and Home event. The stuffed ham project is supported by a grant from the Maryland State Arts Council and the Historic St. Mary’s City Foundation.
“This time of year was the colonists’ last chance to get their act together for winter,” said Sue Wilkinson, director of marketing and communications. “You couldn’t run to the supermarket for Cheerios if you ran out of grain.
“Hearth and Home is one of our largest events,” she said. “After eating millions of calories on Thursday, people get their guests up and they come here. It’s a great excuse to get out of the house.”
There will be food most notably stuffed ham at Historic St. Mary’s City’s Colonial plantation, at the Indian hamlet and at other sites. Seasonal, hands-on activities and demonstrations of early food-preservation techniques and open-hearth cooking at each of the museum’s four living history sites.
During Hearth and Home, visitors can watch the process of making stuffed ham as volunteers Pete Himmelheber and Becky MacDonald demonstrate the technique they have honed over decades of stuffing together from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Savor a sample while supplies last and record memories of making and enjoying this Southern Maryland delicacy.
At 2 p.m. Nov. 23, there will be a panel discussion on stuffed ham in context with demonstrators Himmelheber and MacDonald, Capt. Bob and Pat Bowes of St. George’s Catholic Church, local grocer Gilbert Murphy and HSMC historian Silas Hurry.
At 2 p.m. Nov. 24, there will be a lecture, “The Stories of Stuffed Ham,” with Elizabeth Nosek, HSMC education director, with a “minidrama” pig trial to take place at 3 p.m.
Visitors also will receive a cookbook of 17th-century recipes including one for stuffed ham.
We must admit, at the Godiah Spray Plantation on Rosecroft Road, things will not go well for recently donated roosters who will be part of the weekend fare. The unfortunate fowls will be decapitated, plucked and disemboweled as part of the event’s activities. They will also be basted on the spit as part of dinner.
When I was a kid growing up in Chaptico, this was standard operating procedure for a chicken dinner. Many a time my momma would instruct me to chop off the hen’s head and afterward I’d watch amazed as poultry rolled around on the lawn, staining the green grass with vibrant red. It took a little getting used to, but growing up in the country it was a way of life.
I have to warn parents they might not want to bring their children early in the program if they’re squeamish, although the interpreters feel it is a vital lesson for children.
“It’s something that I think most kids have forgotten or aren’t aware of where food comes from,” Harvey said. “They think milk comes from the supermarket. They’re not even aware of the cow.”
The Colonial plantation has three paid staff, including Harvey, Beth Stanford and site supervisor Peter Friesen. The rest are students, three from area home-schools.
“There will be a lot of things for the kids to do,” Friesen said, “grinding corn, they can roll a hogshead [a barrel used for transporting tobacco to market], make corn cakes, help stuff the chicken and the ham. We’ll be stuffing all sorts of stuff.”
The Hearth and Home event has been held at the site of Maryland’s first capital for 30 years, Wilkinson said.
“There will be cooking over an open fire at the Maryland Dove,” she said. “There will be open-hearth cooking at the Indian hamlet, and we’ll be roasting a chicken and making meat pastries here at the plantation. Expressions of St. Mary’s will offer stuffed ham sandwiches, soup and more for sale at Farthing’s Kitchen. Part of the $10 general admission fee [$9 for seniors, $6 for ages 6 to 18] pays for the tasting at the various sites.”
She said the event annually draws between 500 and 600 visitors.
“We have had as few as 200,” Wilkinson added. “It’s all about the weather.”