Retro Recipes: Ham Logs, 1966

Photo by Stephanie Butler

Welcome to Retro Recipes! Brought to you from the capable kitchen of Eat Me Daily's Stephanie Butler, each week revisits a preparation from the past that straddles the line between ingenious and absurd. This week: Ham Logs.

“Come on over, we’re having ham logs!” is an invitation that, even in the heady late 60s, was unlikely draw the crowds to your dinner table. Perhaps that’s why it's fallen by the culinary wayside: the word “logs” right there in the name is enough to send even the most intrepid taster dialing for delivery. This recipe comes from the old standby Better Homes And Gardens cookbook, one of many recipes designed around the masking of common proteins in sauces, bread crumbs, and layers of cheese. The meats of choice here are ground pork and ground ham, mixed together like a meatloaf. Binding agents are added, the mixture gets shaped and baked, and covered with a sweet and sour raisin sauce (because nothing says “classy” like hot raisin sauce).

As American as preserved pork

It’s hard to think of two foods more closely associated with American dinner tables than ham and meatloaf, but it's surprisingly rare to see the two together in the same casserole dish. Humans have been preserving pork products for at least 4,000 years, originally by salting and smoking methods. These mediums remove liquid, inhibiting bacteria growth and reducing the likelihood of spoilage. In 50 B.C., Cato wrote a recipe for ham in his On Agriculture, bragging that pork treated in his fashion would be touched “by neither bats nor worms”. Fast forwarding a few millennia, in 1926 Hormel Foods brought ham into the modern era by introducing the world’s first canned ham. More recently, charcuterie has experienced a renaissance in America, happily coexisting with processed meat companies like Oscar Mayer and Hormel, who don’t seem to be going anywhere soon.

Photo by Stephanie Butler

Making the ham log

This recipe called for ground ham, which is a novelty in and of itself: I could find no ground ham in my local supermarket, so I ended up dicing two packs of Oscar Mayer ham slices. With my hands, like I would for a regular meatloaf, I mixed in a half-pound of ground pork, one beaten egg, oatmeal, milk, and a generous spoon of horseradish. Uncooked ground meat is not a pretty thing under the best of circumstances, but this pink, soupy mass studded with oats was ridiculously gross.

Still hopeful that the raisin sauce would make the whole thing edible, I mixed cornstarch and cold water in a saucepan, added lemon juice, cider vinegar, brown sugar, and raisins, and whisked. The sauce became thick, like caramel, with a dark brown color. Tasted by itself, it was sweet and puckery at the same time. There was also something familiar in its flavor, something reminiscent of cloves and spice. I took another spoonful: It turns out raisin sauce tastes like a quality hot toddy, sans booze.

Photo by Stephanie Butler

But how did it taste?

Forty-five minutes later, the logs were done and my kitchen smelled like Glade Plug-Ins “Spiced Pig”. The logs looked much as they had when I put them in the oven: five lumps of pink covered with a syrupy sauce. They certainly hadn’t gotten much more appetizing with the heat. I dished up a log with a big spoon of sauce, dug in, and nearly didn't make it through my first mouthful. It tasted like hot, hammy oatmeal, and the brown sugar-raisin sauce certainly didn’t help matters. The texture, too, was weird. I’m a big fan of meatloaf, and my favorite recipe has oatmeal in it, but these oats expanded in the extra liquid and took over the whole dish. The raisin sauce was more of an afterthought than anything else. It did little to disguise the ham, and didn’t have enough spice or salt to be interesting on its own.

There was so much disappointment in those five little logs. I’d been looking forward to the salt and smokiness of ham, plus the comfort food benefits of a personal-sized portion of meatloaf. It's possible that if I'd managed to find actual ground ham, I could have had that, but my packaged-lunchmeat workaround gave me a handful of hammy oats and a rum-less hot toddy sauce. If you have a ham on hand — Easter leftovers, for example — it's a great way to get rid of leftovers, assuming you don’t like ham sandwiches. Honestly, though, if you don’t like ham sandwiches, you probably don’t like ham all that much, in which case you should just steer clear of the ham logs in the first place.

Ham Logs

1 pound ground ham
1/2 pound ground pork
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup quick cooking rolled oats
2 teaspoons prepared horseradish
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon salt
dash pepper
1 tablespoon cornstarch
3/4 cup cold water
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons vinegar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup raisins

Combine first 8 ingredients, mix well. Shape into logs, place in baking dish. Blend cornstarch and water, add remaining ingredients. Bring to boil, whisk until thickened and pour over logs. Bake in 350 oven for 40-45 minutes, basting occasionally with the sauce.

–Stephanie Butler

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