Jul 16, 2015

Grabbing a slice of hillbilly hog heaven

If you are one of my faithful followers, you may recall my very first blog post which explained my inspirations for this endeavor and also the profound influence my grandmother had on my thirst for travels, great and small.  Whenever I take a road trip anywhere, I sometimes think of her.  But I especially think of her whenever I make the drive between my current home in Springfield, Ill., and what I consider my “true home” in Louisiana.  My grandmother never met an interstate she liked.  In fact, she insisted on taking the two lanes.  After all, you only get to know people and the towns they’re from if you see them up close and personal.

All of this is a rather long-winded explanation of – once I learned the April and I would be driving northbound on U.S. Highway 51 through Tennessee, Kentucky and Southern Illinois on our road trip earlier this year – why I had to make a pilgrimage to a place from my past travels with my grandmother: the Harper’s Country Hams Company Store near Clinton, Ky.  

No, we didn't come for the jumbo quail.
Honestly, you really can’t miss this sign up on the ridge where the Harper’s Hams complex is located. 

I think she may have overdressed for this adventure.

We arrived early in the afternoon to browse through the company store and visitor’s center which has come a long way since I first came here with my grandmother in the 1970s. 

Back in the day, from what I recall, the old store was little more than a meat counter in the warehouse, and whole hams hung from hooks in the ceiling.  A couple of freezers kept sliced ham packages and other items that required refrigeration.  But, of course, the salt and sugar (OK, mostly salt) curing process meant whole hams didn’t need any until they were cut open. 

Today, an actual store exists behind the entrance.  Prices for various hams, bacon and other cuts are displayed on a chalkboard.  A few shelves carry jams, relishes and other similar products (notice the jar of tomato relish we’re purchasing – at 50 cents on clearance, I couldn’t pass it up!). 

We also picked up a platter pack of country ham slices, as well as some biscuit slices for breakfast, from the cooler. 

I was already salivating before I left the store knowing I’d soon be cooking up a delicious reminder of my youth, and happily aware that my salt intake and blood pressure would increase exponentially because of it. 

This is what hog heaven looks like.
In case you’re interested, you can still get a good glimpse into how Harper’s Hams are processed through the looking glass at the Country Store.  It’s still very much a family business, and you can tell they take pride in their craft.  And they should, since they continually earn awards for their product.  Plus, take one look at their sales contacts (pictured here), and you have to believe they love their ham.    

To be fair, Harper’s Hams could be considered an acquired taste.  Don’t expect to be overcome by sugary sweetness.  This ham is salty and savory.  A lot of people rinse it before frying it.  But to me, a slice of Harper’s Ham is a slice of hillbilly heaven – just like my grandmother taught me it should be.  

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