April 2, 2007

Easter ham starts north of Cokato, ends on platter

By Roz Kohls
Staff Writer

The journey for an Easter ham from hog farm to the dinner table is swift and smooth.

Pat Fitzsimmons of Dassel outlined March 21 how an Easter ham, originating from his farm north of Cokato, ends up on a platter, and served with cheesy hash browns or scalloped potatoes.

Fitzsimmons and his father, grandfather, uncles, brothers, brothers-in-law, and two of his six children all are involved in pork production. He now lives just north of Dassel on 237th Street.

When he and his wife, Marie, moved to the Cokato area from Good Thunder in 1985, they lived on the farm along Wright County Road 100. His son, David, operates the Cokato site now.

Fitzsimmons currently has 10 farms in his pork production operation. In addition to Cokato, they are in Good Thunder, Mapleton, Fairmont, Elkton, Kenyon, and Rockford, Iowa. Fitzsimmons manages the labor of about 100 employees. In addition he manages the pig flow, he said.

The hogs are bred and farrowed at the Cokato site, where the Easter journey begins. They are taken off the sow at 20 days and moved to “nurseries” at Torey Miller’s farm or Gordy and Deb Nelsons’ farm, both near Dassel, where the Fitzsimmons rent their barns.

For the first seven days, the little pigs are fed small pellets of grain. Then, they switch to ground corn and soybeans. Fitzsimmons’ daughter, Kim, 19, helps work in the nurseries, he said.

When the pigs reach about 35 to 40 pounds each, they are trucked 600 at a time to finisher units in Good Thunder. There, for the next five and a half months, they are fed more ground corn and soybeans until they reach market weight of 275 to 280 pounds each.

Male hogs are taken in semi trucks to Tyson Foods in Waterloo, Iowa. Some go to Hormel in Austin. They are cut up not only into Easter hams, but also pork chops, ribs, tenderloin and all the other cuts, he said.

The females are distributed to the 10 farms to be used as breeding stock.

Ham is pork leg meat. Because the leg muscle is well-exercised, it is surprisingly low in fat, with about 112 calories per three-ounce serving, according to the Minnesota Pork Producers Association.

Hams are usually either wet- or dry-cured. Hams that are purchased from a grocery store most likely have been wet-cured, which means it has been treated with a brine solution of water, salt, sugar and spices. Most likely this will be an Easter ham cure.

Dry-cured hams are rubbed with a mixture of salt, sugar and spices, and then aged from a few weeks to more than a year. Country ham is an example of a dry-cured ham.

The Fitzsimmons like their Easter ham with the bone in it. They order it from the White Front Locker Service in Cokato. His wife, Marie, bakes it in a roaster, and serves it with cheesy hash browns. Fitzsimmons likes his ham plain. If he wants sauce, though, he will dress it up with a honey-mustard sauce, he said.

Both of the Fitzsimmons come from large families in Good Thunder, so they have two Easter dinners to accommodate all the people. He has a grandson, Davon, 9, who is David’s son.

The Fitzsimmons’ daughter, Angela, lives with them in Dassel. She has two children, Abby, 6, and Jackson, 2. Another daughter, Katie, lives in the Twin Cities and works at a Salvation Army group home.

The Fitzsimmons have two more sons, Jeff, who attends Brown Institute of River Falls, Wis., and Paul, who attends the University of Wisconsin, Rivers Falls, Wis.

The basic Easter Ham

Place ham in a shallow pan and roast in a 325-degree F. oven until meat or instant-read thermometer inserted reads 140 degrees F., or about 15 to 20 minutes per pound.

To carve the ham, place it on a cutting board with the shank or lower leg to the carver’s right. Steady the ham with a fork and cut a few slices from the thin side of the leg.

Place the ham on the side where you removed the slices. Make perpendicular slices to the leg bone.

To loosen the slices, cut along the leg bone, removing each slice with the fork.

How ham came to be the traditional favorite for Easter dinner

In pre-refrigeration days, hogs were slaughtered in the fall, and cured for six to seven months, just in time for Easter.

Today’s health-conscious cooks like that lean ham packs a powerful nutrient punch. Not only is it a great source of protein, but also a rich source of the B-vitamin and thiamin.

Pork is 31 percent lower in fat than it was 20 years ago.

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