This October, we are celebrating National Ham Month with a squeal of delight!

Ham has existed ever since Cato the Elder, a famous Roman Statesmen wrote about salting pork legs in 160 B.C.  Hogs have been a part of the American culture over the past 300 years in the form of bacon, ham, pulled pork and more. Check out this awesome graphic showing what the pig gave us! Pig PartsFor more than 2/3rd of that time, Americans have been curing and eating ham.  Curing ham originated in Virginia during the mid 1700s and spread across the country over the years.

Here are ten fun facts about pigs, ham and the industry;

1)      During the War of 1812, a packer named Uncle Sam Wilson sent off several hundred barrels of cured ham and pork for the troops.  Each package was labeled ’U.S.’ and it didn’t take long for ‘Uncle Sam’ to be a household name for the government.

2)      Swine were among the first of all animals to be domesticated- around 10,000 years ago.  The Chinese were the first to raise wild pigs for food.

The Pig3)      Baby pigs appear very greedy when they are competing for food from their mothers.  For this reason, the words “pig” and “hog” have come to be associated with greedy behavior.

4)      George A. Hormel & Company pioneered canned hams in America in 1926, which cost around $4.00.

5)      Country Ham was first mentioned in print in 1944, referring to a method of curing and smoking done in the rural sections of the Eastern United States.

6)      A ham from the right leg is tougher than a ham from the left leg; this is because a pig uses his right leg to scratch himself, which means he will use the muscles more often.

7)      Pork production creates nearly 35,000 full-time jobs and an additional 515,000 indirect jobs, accounting for more than $97 billion in sales each year.

8)      In 1950, there were over 3 million pork operations in America.  Today there are less than 70,000, with over half of those producing over 5,000 pigs per year.

9)      Illinois ranks fourth in pork production behind Iowa, North Carolina and Minnesota.  In 2011, Illinois produced 1.9 billion pounds of pork.

10)  At the global level, pork is by far the most widely consumed meat.

Ham is traditionally made from only the hind legs of swine, but today can include meat that has been processed and reformed.  Ham exists in many different varieties, cuts and styles.  Some of the most popular are;

  • Aged Hams are heavily cured, smoked hams that have been hung to age from 1 to 7 years and are covered in a mold that must be scraped off before eating.
  • Brine-Cured ham is soaked in salt water brine and then smoked.  This variety is the most common form of ham found in grocery stores.
  • Black Forest Ham is a variety of dry-cured smoked ham produced in the Black Forest region of Germany, and is the most popular European variety.
  • Canadian Bacon is a lean cut taken from the eye of the loin of the middle back.  It is precooked smoked meat, and is much more akin to ham than bacon.
  • Country Cured Ham is also known as country style ham is uncooked, cured, aged and dried and prior to consumption must be cooked with a special process.
  • Prosciutto HamProsciutto is an Italian ham that is seasoned, salt cured and air-dried.  The meat is not smoked and is pressed into a dense, firm texture.

Any blog about food wouldn’t be a good blog without sharing some ideas about incorporating ham in your diet.  Ham has a healthy dose of protein and iron, but the type of ham you eat will influence how nutritious the meal is.  The best choice would likely be lean deli ham.  Deli ham is low in fat and pairs well on sandwiches, but it still has a large quantity of sodium.  Cured hams have a small amount of calcium and potassium, but they also have an elevated saturated fat level.  Your best bet will be to look lean ham and varieties low in sodium.  Many brands also manufacture deli meats that don’t contain nitrates which are harmful to human health.

You can easily use deli ham on a sandwich and even chop it up to put it on a breakfast omelet.  Add ham chunks to a pasta salad or scatter it over a tossed green salad to add a healthy dose of protein.  You can also add chunks of ham to soups and casseroles for flavors.  Or, you can glaze it in mustard and maple syrup and eat it as a main course.

Ham is a much more versatile food product than one might expect.  You can find almost any way to somehow incorporate it in your meal, given a little creativity.  My family loves their fair share of ham and has a delicious Ham and Corn Chowder recipe.  While it’s a timeless family secret, this one is just as good and will satisfy any appetite on a cool October evening.

Ham and Corn Chowder

Ham and Corn Chowder Recipe


  • 8 bacon strips, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 cup sliced celery
  • ½ cup diced green pepper
  • 3 cups cubed peeled potatoes (about 3 medium)
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 4 cups whole milk, divided
  • 4 cups fresh or frozen whole kernel corn, divided
  • 2 cups cubed fully cooked ham
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon


  1. In a large saucepan, cook bacon until crisp.  Remove bacon to paper towel todrain, reserving ¼ cup drippings in pan.  Saute onion, celery, green pepper in drippings for 5 minutes.  Add potatoes and broth.  Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 10 minutes
  2. Place ½ cup milk and 2 cups corn in a blender; cover and process until pureed.  Pour into saucepan.  Add ham and remaining corn, simmer for 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender.  Stir in the butter, seasonings, and remaining milk; heat through.  Garnish with bacon.

Yield: 10-12 servings (3 quarts)

Jacob DickeyJacob Dickey
University of Illinois student

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