SPOILER ALERT: Ever since I found out the Easter Bunny was not real; the holiday has lost its luster. Sure, I enjoy a nice Cadbury Egg or twenty and a Reese’s carrot may be my favorite vegetable but growing up Easter was never really a big deal for my family. Our dinner was usually a remix of a Thanksgiving meal, swapping the turkey for a ham and ditching the pumpkin pie. Except for the Easter egg hunt memories, I don’t share the same nostalgia for it like I do for other holidays. This year, thanks to a friend’s 👀recommendation, that may change.
Those that know of the Southern Maryland Stuffed Ham are mostly confined to St. Mary’s County of, you guessed it, Southern Maryland where the Eastern shore of the Potomac empties into the Chesapeake Bay. Prior to the internet, chances are if you did not live there or have a family member from there, you never heard of a Southern Maryland stuffed ham. For over 300 years however, generations of St. Mary County families have enjoyed this micro-regional dish for Christmas and Easter celebrations passing down their family recipes. Back in the day, this dish was typically prepared at home, but due to the lengthy preparation process, many people now purchase a ready-made ham at a local grocer or even from their church or fire house fundraiser.
Tell us what’s in the stuffing already!!!
A fresh ham is corned aka cured with salt which can take up to a week. The ham can either be left on-the-bone providing for a richer taste or skillfully deboned. The latter allows the stuffing of equal parts cooked cabbage and kale (collard greens may be substituted) with a healthy helping of chopped garlic, onion, celery, dried mustard, and pepper to be jam-packed into the empty crevasses. The general consensus is the more stuffing the better. The outside of the ham is scored and the slits are also stuffed. The remaining green goodness is then smothered all over. Because this stuffing is believed to have Afro-Caribbean influences, a spicy element of cayenne and red pepper flakes is often added for a kick. The entire ham is then wrapped tightly in a cheesecloth or in the "olden days" a pillowcase.
Cut to: “Ma why does my pillow stink?” #ikid
The ham is then simmered for hours, refrigerated overnight and served cold the next day. It is also excellent on a sandwich, think Thanksgiving leftovers.
According to Washington Post article “Ham Stuffed With Spices and Steeped in History", the precise origin of the dish is unknown, it is believed that recipes could have come over with the first English settlers in 1634. There is a strong belief that the recipe as we know it today took shape during the pre-Civil War era as slaves utilized their cold weather crops to make the food go further and they added the additional heat of hot peppers to satisfy their palette.
Where to Order
There are several spots in St Mary's County still making the local specialty, but I was told that I needed to visit W.J. Dent & Sons . I am glad I did. The third generation deli/grocery occupies a quaint storefront in Tall Timbers near the tip of SOMA. Today, David Dent and his niece and nephew continue the tradition of making the county's tastiest prepared stuffed ham. When I asked David if he believes that they make the best in the county,
he did not hesitate to answer. "No, your grandma does, but we are a close second", he said winking over his protective mask. During Christmas and Easter, Dent & Sons cranks out hundreds of ready-made packages ready for takeout. If you can't make the trip, don't worry they ship their hams all over the country. While you are there take advantage of Chief's bar and try the funky fusion of stuffed ham egg rolls served with Texas mayo and load up on J.O. Crab Seasoning, a preferred alternative to Old Bay.
W. J Dent & Sons
44584 Tall Timbers Rd
Tall Timbers, Md. 301-994-0772