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Ham is symbol of spring, centerpiece of Easter buffet

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Ham has been a symbol of spring and the centerpiece of Easter tables for centuries.

Early Romans buried pork by the sea in the winter to create a salty cured ham for spring; the Pilgrims hand-cured pork in the fall for their Easter holiday feast; and our grandparents' generation, too, commonly cured and smoked ham for spring enjoyment."Its popular taste and ease of preparation keep ham the star of the Easter table," says Robin Kline, a registered dietitian and director of the Pork Information Bureau for the National Pork Producers Council.

The variety of hams available today, she says, encourages the persistence of the tradition.

Kline recommends a buffet-style Easter meal for family and friends, featuring a spiral-sliced ham. She suggests accompanying it with complementary condiments and side dishes. A variety of traditional mustards would go well with it, as would homemade Orange-Pineapple Chutney and Cranberry-Chile Salsa (see related recipes).

Now is also the season for spring vegetables, which you can serve up in such preparations as Sugar Peas with Red Peppers, and New Potato, Pecan and Blue Cheese Salad (see related recipes).

Kline offers advice for choosing, preparing and storing both bone-in and boneless hams:

- Nearly all hams come fully cooked and will be labeled so.

- Preparation is easy. Unwrap: If you want a hot dish, follow the directions on the label, heat the ham to an internal temperature of 140 degrees in a moderate (325-350 degree) oven, and serve; if you prefer, simply serve the ham cold.

- A bone-in ham will provide two to three servings per pound. A boneless ham will yield four to five servings per pound.

- Bone-in hams are available whole, or as a shank or butt half. Bone-in hams are trickier to carve than boneless: Your butcher can spiral-slice a bone-in ham for you.

- Boneless hams are usually packaged in heavy plastic or foil. You may remove them from their packaging, heat and serve at once. But hams packaged this way will keep for several weeks in the refrigerator if they are left unwrapped.

- Wrap leftovers well in plastic wrap. Refrigerate promptly and use within five days.

- Freezing ham is safe, but not recommended because it reduces eating quality (the meat loses water, Kline says, and gets rubbery).

- FREE BROCHURE: The National Pork Producers Council offers a free booklet with ham-buying guidelines, recipes and cooking tips.

Send a self-addressed, business-size envelope to: Official Ham-book, National Pork Producers Council, P.O. Box 10383, Des Moines, IA 50306.

Or visit the NPPC Web site at (http://www.nppc.org/) for more recipes and tips.

The recipes accompanying this article are from the Pork Information Bureau.


2 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons orange juice concentrate, thawed

1 tablespoon orange liqueur (such as Triple Sec or Grand Marnier)

1/4 teaspoon ground mace

8-ounce can crushed pineapple

1 large navel orange, peeled and finely chopped

2 tablespoons red onion, finely chopped

In medium bowl, stir together honey, orange juice concentrate, orange liqueur and ground mace. Stir in crushed pineapple, navel orange and chopped red onion. Cover and refrigerate if made ahead.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

- Nutrition facts per tablespoon serving: 16 cals., 4 g carbo.


16-ounce can whole cranberry sauce

1 jalapeno chile, seeded and diced (use rubber gloves when handling hot peppers)

3 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

2 teaspoons lime juice

In medium bowl, stir together cranberry sauce, jalapeno chile, cilantro, black pepper and lime juice. Cover and refrigerate if made ahead.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

- Nutrition facts per tablespoon serving: 29 cals., 7 g carbo.


2 pounds sugar snap peas, trimmed

1 large red bell pepper, seeded and cut julienne

1 tablespoon butter

4 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Simmer peas in water in large saucepan until almost tender, 5 minutes.

Add red pepper to pan, cover and cook 2-3 minutes longer. Drain; keep warm.

Melt butter in large saucepan; add mint and saute 2 minutes; add peas and red pepper to butter; toss well, season with black pepper and serve immediately.

Makes 8 servings.

- Nutrition facts per serving: 63 cals., 9 g carbo., 4 g pro., 1 g fat.


10 small new potatoes, boiled until tender

3 slices bacon, diced

1 cup chopped onion

1/4 cup coarsely chopped pecans

1 minced garlic clove

1/4 cup cider vinegar

4 tablespoons vegetable oil

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

10 ounces fresh spinach leaves, cleaned and trimmed

2 ounces crumbled blue cheese

Quarter potatoes into large bowl, set aside. In medium skillet, fry bacon until slightly crisp. Add onions; cook and stir until onions are wilted, about 5 minutes. Stir in pecans; cook another 2-3 minutes, stirring.

Remove from heat; stir in garlic, vinegar, oil, sugar and pepper. Pour mixture over potatoes and toss well.

Immediately before serving, toss potatoes, spinach leaves and blue cheese in an attractive serving bowl.

Makes 8 servings.

- Nutrition facts per serving: 166 cals., 4 g pro., 13 g fat, 279 mg sodium, 11 g carbo., 7 mg chol.