A few hundred million of us will be sitting down to a major ham dinner on Easter, which is on April 24. Here's everything you need to know about types of ham, how to bake ham and where ham comes from. Plus, recipes for Ham Salad and ham glazes.

A few hundred million of us will be sitting down to a major ham dinner on Easter, which is on April 24. We don’t question why, we just dig in.

Germans started the tradition of ham served at holiday feasts. The English attached it to Easter and Christmas.

Ham is a huge part of every cuisine this side of Antarctica. It was one of the first cured meats, and the first hams were boars.

Although ham is common, it is hard to take for granted. When I was in the Army, I sent a mail-order Smithfield ham to my mom for Christmas. I didn’t hear a word about it. Finally, I asked if she received the ham.

“I did, but it was covered with mold. Had to throw it away,” she said.

Smithfield’s are country-cured hams. The mold is part of the process. You just scrub it off and enjoy. Oh, well.

The other major ham guffaw is overcooking a pre-cooked ham. The key is don’t cook, just heat through. If you use the cooking time for whole ham, you’ll get leather.

The question we all face in the store is bone-in or boneless? Boneless is convenient and bakes quicker, and it makes slicing easy. Bone-in offers stronger flavor, more “hammy” taste. The bone and its marrow add considerably to the end result. Carving is a bit more difficult but worth it.

You get double duty out of the bone. Many cooks boil it and add beans, onions and celery for ham soup. And there’s always a leftover problem after baking a whole ham. Ham salad, a product of the American South, neatly solves that. It offers a change from ham slices and innumerable ham sandwiches. It’s excellent on crackers or bread.

Types of ham

City hams: Cuts from the hind leg; cured by soaking or injecting with brining ingredients; less intense flavor than dried ham; commonly found in American supermarkets.

Water-added: Water content boosted by injecting; commonly used for steaks; slices sold separately.

“Ham and Water” products: May contain any amount of water; best for slicing and shaving; most common sandwich ham at deli counters.

Prosciutto: The beautiful ham of Italy, aged under a press; served in very thin slices in a variety of dishes; often wrapped around figs and vegetables as an appetizer.

Country ham: A variety only found in the United States commercially developed in 1944; there a salting, curing and smoking method of Southern states; it is very salty and popular as a dinner ham, occasionally containing nitrates; it must be scrubbed of mold and soaked in water overnight before baking.

Boneless ham: Cut from hip or shank, fat removed; may be reformed from ham pieces (oval shaped), including Polish canned hams.

Dry cured: Popular in Europe; salty and often very thinly sliced.

Semi-boneless: Ham that has one leg bone remaining; easier to carve than a bone-in ham; the remaining bone adds flavor.

Black Forest: The best seller in Europe and from the German Black Forest region; cut from the thigh and rump of a pig or boar; the name is often borrowed by American producers, but, legally, Black Forest ham must come from Germany.

Cuts

Hock: The meat joint of a hog’s leg; most often used in soups with the bone and in stews.

Butt end: Upper cut from the hog’s hind leg; contains the most fat; meatier and more flavorful than other cuts; best for roasting.

Shank end: Cut from the hog’s lower hind leg; contains less fat and meat; sweeter ham flavor than butt end.

Fresh: Cut from the hind leg; not smoked or cured; similar flavor of pork roast.

Center cut: A ham steak; slice cut from the center of ham; available cured or smoked; considered the fillet mignon of ham.

Baking a whole ham

 The trick is to prevent it from drying out during long oven times. Use 5 cups of chicken stock in the baking pan with 1⁄2 cup of cider vinegar.

Score the meat into diamonds on the fat side. Place a whole clove at each intersection of the lines. Bake the ham fat side up to preserve its juicy texture. Baste every half hour.

Check the label for advice on baking times. A 16-18-pound whole ham usually bakes for about four hours. Hams labeled “ready to eat” need only a warming up.

Deciding how much to buy is easy. For 10 people, choose a 13- to 15-pound ham. You’ll rarely find a ham that exactly fits your needs. It’s better to buy too much –– leftovers are a big part of a ham holiday.

Don’t just store leftovers in a covered container, as ham dries out quickly. Wrapping in foil or plastic and then storing in a covered container maintains moisture and texture longer.  

Glaze it

Ham glazes should be applied with a basting brush at the start of the last hour. During the last 30 minutes of baking, baste every 10 minutes.

Honey Baked Glaze

1 cup honey 1⁄3 cup butter 3 tablespoons brown sugar 3⁄4 teaspoon dry mustard (high quality) 2 tablespoons orange juice 1⁄4 cup whole cloves

Mix except for cloves. Stud ham with cloves before baking. Make enough for 6 servings.

Golden Raisin Glaze

1⁄2 cup golden raisins (may use dark raisins, if desired) 1⁄2 cup rum (not rum flavoring) 1⁄2 cup apple jelly 1⁄2 cup orange juice 3 tablespoons corn starch 2 tablespoons brown sugar 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

Add to sauce pan and cook over medium heat until it thickens, stirring or whisking often.

Jelly Glaze

1⁄2 cup strawberry jam 1⁄2 cup apple jelly 2 tablespoons brown prepared mustard 1 tablespoon soy sauce 1 teaspoon lemon juice

Warm jelly and jam until they melt, stir in remaining ingredients and heat gently. Use warm. Serves 6.

7Up Glaze

1 cup Seven-Up soda (do not use diet) 1⁄3 cup brown sugar 1 tablespoon vinegar 1⁄2 teaspoon ground cloves 2 tablespoons yellow prepared mustard

Whisk together and warm gently to melt sugar. Braise ham every 30 minutes during baking. Serves 6.

Ham Salad

2 cups mayonnaise 1⁄2 cup sweet pickle relish 1 teaspoon salt 1⁄2 teaspoon black pepper 1 teaspoon celery seeds 1⁄2 teaspoon ground cloves 2 pounds cooked ham (six cups), finely diced 1⁄2 cup sweet onion, diced 1 cup green bell pepper, finely diced 2 stalks celery, finely diced

Mix mayonnaise, relish, salt pepper, celery seeds and ground cloves. Add remaining ingredients and toss until coated.  Refrigerate covered. Serves 8.

Note: If the salad dries out over time, perk it up with a little mayonnaise.