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Mar 31, 2009 12:15 PM

Why ham on Easter? [split from Home Cooking]

A nice Jewish girl has a serious question - why ham on Easter (or why do Christians eat pork anyway?) Jews and Muslims adhere to almost the same dietary laws and it is highly unlikely that Jesus ate pork/ham - really curious.

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  1. In the United States, ham is a traditional Easter food. In the early days, meat was slaughtered in the fall. There was no refrigeration, and the fresh pork that wasn't consumed during the winter months before Lent was cured for spring. The curing process took a long time, and the first hams were ready around the time Easter rolled around. Thus, ham was a natural choice for the celebratory Easter dinner.

    1. Good question. I'm guessing it's because it's cheap and feeds a lot of people. Lamb makes more sense, but until recently it was very hard to come by in much of the US. Nowadays you can get chops or leg of lamb in any supermarket, but still not cheaply.

      10 Replies
      1. re: Agent Orange

        Lamb is only slaughtered now, so that's why it makes sense to me. But ham is a lot more economical for large groups as you say. Besides lots of people don't like (or think they don't like) lamb. My mother has been making lamb every year for Easter since the 50s, and luckily we never had trouble getting whatever we wanted. Actually I know someone who buys one live and does it himself, with the help of his son. In that case, I wouldn't touch it, I'd be in tears. But I do love lamb if it's from the butcher.

        I'm making veal only because I just made lamb for St Patricks Day, but I am buying a leg at the supermarket anyway, because it's $1.88/lb, it'll be nice for Memorial Day I think.

        1. re: coll

          We get lamb from our Lamb farmer/rancher in Spring and Fall.

          1. re: Bryn

            Spring lamb is the best. Unfortunately it won't be ready until after Easter this year, according to my butcher. I love lamb and it is a good meat, ethically speaking, because it can't really be intensively farmed. Lambs need to graze. They also thrive in poor, hilly pasture, hence their popularity in Wales and in Greece. Folks who've lived in the US say lamb is much better this side of the pond (UK).

            1. re: greedygirl

              I'm from Alberta and I find local lamb is much better than the Auzzie and Kiwi lamb we can get in the Grocery stores here. It's a breed from South Africa our lamb guy breeds.

              1. re: Bryn

                Colorado lamb is the best I've ever had (and I love lamb, too).

          2. re: coll

            ". Besides lots of people don't like (or think they don't like) lamb."

            Nah. I'm downright positive I don't like lamb.

            1. re: laliz

              With you there. I can't stand the smell of lamb, much less the taste.

              1. re: queencru

                I grew up with Mom trying to sneak mutton into things. I could smell it when I walked in the door. After years, I discovered that young lamb doesn't have that smell, to me anyway.

                Ooops, old post.

                1. re: queencru

                  Too bad for you & laliz. More for me.

            2. re: Agent Orange

              PĂ„skelam - "Easter lamb" is the traditional meal in Norway.

            3. Laliz has an excellent explanation for the historical reasons ham has become a traditional food for many Americans on Easter (as it is in Central Europe, as well).

              As for Christians and kashrut, short version is that St. Peter had a dream where God basically said "Eat whatever you want" and the apostles talked about it and were cool with it. More involved version: Christians have a different understanding of Jewish ritual law and believe that it was fulfilled ultimately by Christ. There were lots of things that the Jews of the Roman era did that Jesus did not.

              11 Replies
              1. re: JungMann

                "and were cool with it" I love are too funny!

                1. re: JungMann

                  JungMann you also forgot that Jesus said that it is not what goes into a man that makes him clean/unclean but what comes out of his mouth. I think a lot of Christians consider that to be true

                  1. re: JungMann

                    From a more skeptical pov, if you're going to try and convert Greco-Roman gentiles, you'd better not (a) tell them they've got to adhere to a whole roster of dietary restrictions and (b) tell the men they've got to be circumcised. :)

                    1. re: Striver

                      Peter's "slaughter and eat" vision has nothing to do with dietary restrictions, and everything to do with accepting Gentiles (specifically the Roman centurion Cornelius) into what had been a Jewish group that would have been forbidden from associating with (unclean) Gentiles, especially Romans.

                      1. re: MikeB3542

                        I have read several interpretations of this text, and they vary; the meaning you ascribe is certainly there, but it is coupled with the assertion that the "unclean" is no longer so. That would include Gentiles; it would also include the animals in question.

                        Now, about that circumcision thing....

                    2. re: JungMann

                      Plus when trying to convert others to Christianity, the didn't just ficus on the Jews but the Gentiles as well. It is a lot easier to convert folks by lessening restrictions hence the lack of strict dietary rules and the removal of circumsision.

                      1. re: melpy

                        Please, please, please tell me that Autocorrect was responsible for that "ficus on the Jews." Make my Friday.

                          1. re: Brianne920

                            FOCUS on the Jews.
                            Sorry it took two years to get back around to replying.

                        1. re: JungMann

                          Romans 14:2 One person's faith allows him to eat everything, while another, who'd faith is weak, eats only vegetables. (New International Version translation)

                          1. re: mwhitmore

                            Does that mean that vegetarians have weak faith? :) That meat/no meat issue in Romans was really about participation in the pluralistic Roman society and religion, one where market meat often came from animals sacrificed to the gods and emperor. It's a different religious controversy than the one in Acts.

                        2. Ham is a Christmas thing in the UK. At Easter, lamb is traditional in most European countries, especially Greece, where Easter is the main festival and spit-roasted lamb the order of the day.

                          I'll probably be doing lamb in some form. Haven't decided yet whether it will be rack of lamb a la Ottolenghi, or leg, or shoulder. Depends on the number of guests!

                          1. laliz has it right about the slaughter/curing/readiness issue. It was also helped along by a clever marketing campaign in the US here in the 30's.

                            Lamb is still traditional on many tables, as well.

                            In my parent's day, the family had a rotation: Thanksgiving Turkey, Christmas Turkey, New Year's Day Fresh Ham, Easter Baked Glazed Ham (the cured variety). In my siblings' control, the Christmas Turkey's been replaced by whole Beef Tenderloin, nobody much celebrates New Year's Day anymore, and if anyone does Easter, it's Lamb or Ham. Two of us love lamb, the other two can't stand it. Go figure.