Lamb ham and the seder plate

Today is Good Friday (on the Christian calendar) and, starting at sundown, the first day of Passover (on the Jewish calendar). A day for symbolic food.

Lamb ham. From the NPR blogs on the 31st, “The Revival Of Lamb Ham: A Colonial Tradition Renewed” by Jill Neimark, beginning:

Roast rack of lamb or a platter of smoked, glazed ham — which dish should be the centerpiece of the Easter table?

Lamb is rich in religious symbolism: A sacrificial lamb was first served by Jewish people on Passover, and Christians often refer to Jesus as the lamb of God. But ham feeds more guests and makes tastier leftovers.

Soon, we may not have to choose. Third-generation country-ham curemaster Sam Edwards, of Surry, Va., and shepherd Craig Rogers, owner of Virginia’s Border Springs grass-fed lamb farm, are resurrecting the “lamb ham.” The spring delicacy was a fixture of American foodways in colonial times, gracing the tables of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington.

Using succulent, Katahdin sheep from Rogers’ farm and applying Edwards’ traditional smoking and curing facilities, the dish is a true “country” ham that takes six months to produce. It is, Rogers gushes, “stunning, like nothing I have had before. The richness of the lamb, coupled with salt and hickory smoke, creates this buttery, nutty, tender dish. How did something so tasty disappear so completely for so long?”

It was David Shields, a professor of English at the University of South Carolina, and author of the just published Southern Provisions: The Creation and Revival of a Cuisine, who first stirred Rogers’ interest in lamb ham. In 2013, Shields sent Rogers a note about the prevalence of lamb and mutton ham in the 1800s, first in England, and then in colonial America.


“This lamb ham is sweet, buttery and smoky, with just a hint of lamb flavor,” says Sam Edwards, one of the Virginians who is bringing back the colonial style of curing lamb. Photo: Sammy Edwards

Lamb ham is entirely kosher, by the way, so (looking ahead a bit) it could serve as the zeroa on a seder plate.

Now on the word ham. It started as the name of a bodypart. From NOAD2:

ORIGIN Old English ham, hom (originally denoting the back of the knee), from a Germanic base meaning ‘be crooked.’ In the late 15th cent. the term came to denote the back of the thigh, hence the thigh or hock of an animal.

And then the meat of this part of an animal, especially the pig: pork ham, or simply ham. Which can be eaten uncured (as fresh ham) or cured (as what is now referred to as simply ham, as in an Easter ham). Very much not kosher.

The seder plate. About Passover, from Wikipedia:

Passover or Pesach … is an important biblically derived Jewish festival. The Jewish people celebrate Passover as a commemoration of their liberation by God from slavery in Egypt and their freedom as a nation under the leadership of Moses. It commemorates the story of the Exodus as described in the Hebrew Bible especially in the Book of Exodus, in which the Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt. According to standard biblical chronology, this event would have taken at about 1300 BCE …

Passover commences on the 15th of the Hebrew month of Nisan and lasts for either seven days (in Israel) or eight days (in the diaspora). In Judaism, a day commences at dusk and lasts until the following dusk, thus the first day of Passover only begins after dusk of the 14th of Nisan [this year, today] and ends at dusk of the [22nd[ day of the month of Nisan. The rituals unique to the Passover celebrations commence with the Passover Seder when the 15th of Nisan has begun [this year, tomorrow].

And the seder plate, again from Wikipedia:

The six traditional items on the Seder Plate are as follows:

Maror and chazeret — Bitter herbs, symbolizing the bitterness and harshness of the slavery the Hebrews endured in Egypt. In Ashkenazi tradition, either horseradish or romaine lettuce may be eaten in the fulfillment of the mitzvah of eating bitter herbs during the Seder. Sephardic Jews often use curly parsley, green onion, or celery leaves.

Charoset — A sweet, brown mixture representing the mortar used by the Hebrew slaves to build the storehouses or pyramids of Egypt. In Ashkenazi Jewish homes, Charoset is traditionally made from chopped nuts, grated apples, cinnamon, and sweet red wine.

Karpas — A vegetable other than bitter herbs, which is dipped into salt water at the beginning of the Seder. Parsley, celery or boiled potato is usually used. The dipping of a simple vegetable bounces into salt water (which represents tears) mirrors the pain felt by the Hebrew slaves in Egypt. Usually in a Shabbat or holiday meal, the first thing to be eaten after the kiddush over wine is bread. At the Seder table, however, the first thing to be eaten after the kiddush is a vegetable. This leads immediately to the recital of the famous question, Ma Nishtana — “Why is this night different from all other nights?” It also symbolizes the spring time, because Jews celebrate Passover in the spring.

Z’roa — Also called Zeroah [or Zeroa], it is special as it is the only element of meat on the Seder Plate. A roasted lamb or goat shankbone, chicken wing, or chicken neck; symbolizing the korban Pesach (Pesach sacrifice), which was a lamb that was offered in the Temple in Jerusalem, then roasted and eaten as part of the meal on Seder night. Since the destruction of the Temple, the z’roa serves as a visual reminder of the Pesach sacrifice; it is not eaten or handled during the Seder. Vegetarians often substitute a beet, quoting Pesachim 114b as justification; other vegetarians substitute a sweet potato, allowing a “Paschal yam” to represent the Paschal lamb.

Beitzah — A roasted hard-boiled egg, symbolizing the korban chagigah (festival sacrifice) that was offered in the Temple in Jerusalem and roasted and eaten as part of the meal on Seder night. Although both the Pesach sacrifice and the chagigah were meat offerings, the chagigah is commemorated by an egg, a symbol of mourning (as eggs are the first thing served to mourners after a funeral), evoking the idea of mourning over the destruction of the Temple and our inability to offer any kind of sacrifices in honor of the Pesach holiday. Since the destruction of the Temple, the beitzah serves as a visual reminder of the chagigah; it is not used during the formal part of the seder, but some people eat a regular hard-boiled egg dipped in saltwater as the first course of the meal.

The sixth symbolic item on the Seder table is a plate of three whole matzot [or matzos; singular matzo, matza, or matzah], which are stacked and separated from each other by cloths or napkins. The middle matzah will be broken and half of it put aside for the afikoman. The top and other half of the middle matzot will be used for the hamotzi (blessing over bread), and the bottom matzah will be used for the korech (Hillel sandwich). Matza is flat bread and symbolises the yeastless bread that was eaten by the Hebrews after they were set free.


From the upper right, going clockwise: chazeret, zeroa, charoset, maror, karpas, beitzah. Matzos not illustrated.

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