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Bringing Home the Bacon

These vendors can sell you a tasty Easter treat, but for detailed storage and serving instructions, you'll have to look elsewhere.

April 05, 2001|JENNIFER LOWE |

For travelers on Interstate 395 through Bishop, Calif., the low-slung, red building is no doubt a familiar site. Meadow Farms Country Smokehouse features a 20-foot-long meat case packed with hams, bacon and jerky, all slow-smoked over mahogany logs, just as they have been since the 1920s, Meadow Farms says.

And if your route doesn't take you through Bishop, you can always go online. There, at, you can satisfy your jerky craving with just a few clicks.

I'd been by the Bishop store before, but not until I got to talking with a colleague did it dawn on me that Meadow Farms might be a good place from which to order an Easter ham. Sure, I've always liked HoneyBaked hams, based right here in the Golden State, and you can't beat them for parties.

But I sit next to one of the world's biggest meat maniacs, a guy whose desk sports a sign that warns bad things will happen to approaching vegetarians. A few years ago he did some major ham research and discovered that the Internet had opened the world for his kind. Forget roaming back roads; he could get a Southern ham, a New England ham, a Bishop ham--all without leaving home. He convinced me I ought to try a different kind of ham (although you can still order a HoneyBaked ham online if you'd like at

He handed me a postcard for Meadow Farms (which also calls itself Mahogany Smoked Meats), and I promptly logged on. "Bet We'll Hook You!" exclaimed the site's very simple home page, which featured a picture of a guy in a smokehouse with a bunch of hunks of pork (I think they were pork; meat photos don't come across well online).

A butt half--about 8 pounds--was on sale for $34, down from $40. I wanted more information, though, and surfed through customer testimonials (Jennifer F.: "You guys have the best jerky in the universe!") and the history of the business (founded by a guy named Wally), but I couldn't find care and cooking information about the ham I was considering. Was it fully cooked? I assumed so, since the big thing here was smoked meats. And did I want a butt half?

In frustration, I reached for "The Joy of Cooking." "Rump halves are somewhat more meaty, but relatively difficult to carve," read the section under "hams."

Feeling the need for more ham info, I jumped to another site recommended by my colleague, Harrington's of Vermont ( Harrington's, the site said, has been famous for its corn cob-smoked meats since 1873. Here too was an Easter sale: A sliced spiral party ham, 6 1/2 to 7 1/2 pounds, was reduced from $62.95 to $49.95.

Harrington's also had bone-in hams and boneless hams, but I couldn't find any guidance on which ham I might want. A few clicks more brought me to serving sizes. I again consulted "Joy," which said that a rump of 4 to 7 pounds would serve 10 to 12. While pondering poundage, I also pondered shipping. Hams from Harrington's to California incurred an extra $6.95 fee for two- to three-day shipping. I finally did find ham advice under "cooking and care," which gave instructions on storing and warming my ham.

Both the Meadow Farms and Harrington's hams sounded good, but I was curious what else was out there. The first thing I found was that using an Internet search engine for "hams" brought up ham radio Web sites. "Mail-order hams" on the Google search site turned up hams from sites such as, Iowa's Pantry and Most of the sites were small and lacked any real depth of information. Maybe the ham instructions would come in the packaging.

I went with my colleague's recommendations, ordering the butt half ham from Meadow Farms and a 2- to 2 1/2-pound boneless ham from Harrington's (on sale for $21.95). Shipping was high for both--about $16. Harrington's let me specify a desired delivery date.

Despite "The Joy of Cooking," I didn't figure the ham sizes right. The Harrington's ham was tiny in comparison with the Meadow Farms ham--good for three or four sandwiches at best. And it arrived with a cold pack--but the cold pack was room temperature, as was the ham. Though the Harrington's ham came with a brochure on care and reheating, it said nothing about my ham's arrival. I e-mailed Harrington's, which replied the next morning that its hams can "be in transit" up to four days and didn't need to be kept cold.

I also called Meadow Farms to find out whether I should freeze the ham, which came with only brief heating directions, since I wouldn't be having it for about a week; "Yes," I was told.

How do I thaw it? "In the refrigerator." OK. So much for ham information.

One last try--I decided to head over to Ask Jeeves, a question-and-answer search portal at

"How long can I refrigerate a ham?" I typed in the search box.

I didn't get a direct answer, just a list of sites that were popular among people who'd asked similar questions.

They included ham radio and survivalist sites. This Easter, I think I'll have some good ham. But as for how best to take care of it, I'm turning to my old basic survival guide: "The Joy of Cooking."


Jennifer Lowe is deputy food editor of The Times.

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