How to Boil a Ham (According to an 1800s Homemaker)

Mrs. Hill's Instructions for Boiling a Fresh Ham

Boiled Ham With Vegetables
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These instructions come from Mrs. Hill's New Cook Book, by Annabella Hill, originally published in 1872. Mrs. Hill's instructions go into detail with suggestions for garnishes and coatings.

To know if a ham is "sound," Mrs. Hill advises sticking a knife in the thickest part of the ham and running the knife around the knuckle. If there is taint, it can be detected "by smelling and examining the knife."

How to Boil a Ham

After washing and scraping the ham well, place it in a vessel that will hold it without cramping, and cover every part of it, and three inches over, with cold water; boil slowly and steadily. A ham weighing ten pounds will require four hours. They are seldom boiled long enough. Be sure the pot boils; skim frequently; keep the pot well covered; avoid piercing the meat; this makes unsightly marks and lets out the juices. When done, lay the ham, before skinning, in a stove-pan, and set it in the oven; half an hour's baking will improve it. After the ham is taken up, cabbage, greens, beans, etc., may be boiled in the broth. It is not proper to boil cabbage, or any kind of greens, with the ham, as they impart a disagreeable taste to the meat.

An old salt ham should be soaked several hours before boiling. After being skinned, hams may be ornamented in different ways. Brush over the top with the beaten yolks of eggs; sift over fine cracker or bread crumbs evenly; bake half an hour in a moderate oven, or cover with a thin coat of Irish potatoes, rubbed through a colander. Set it for a few minutes in the oven.

When used for party occasions, and it is desired to make them [particularly fine], the skin may be permitted to remain; cut this in diamond shapes with a sharp knife, leaving the skin on alternately; fill the skinned shapes with grated yolks of hard-boiled eggs, or grated carrots or beets; trim the dish with celery tops. Another way: Skin the ham; lay it off in diamond shapes with cloves sticking the stems into the meat; fill alternately with grated yolks and whites of hard-boiled eggs; be careful not to mix them; garnish the dish with green sprigs of parsley. They are very pretty ornamented with flowers cut from vegetables; make red roses of beets; yellow of carrots; white with turnips; use curled parsley or mustard for leaves; wrap the knuckle with fringed letter paper.