Easter Sunday ham used to be very popular
For many generations, a lot of southern families had a meal featuring ham on Easter Sunday after church. This was expected and was as normal as turkey on Thanksgiving in Southwest Virginia. The Easter menu would have no chicken, beef, or turkey but ham only. Today churchgoers often have an Easter Sunday brunch or eat out at a restaurant after Sunday service and do not uphold the traditions of parents and grandparents.
Virginia hams are especially popular and I recall many families in Botetourt County including my grandparents who had a smokehouse where they cured the meat after hogs had been slaughtered. My mother-in-law Enie Preston had a tradition for many years during the holidays when she would purchase two smoked Virginia hams from the Roanoke City market. She cooked one for her own family and mailed the other one to her sister-in-law Doris Preston in New Jersey.
Slavery may be a reason African Americans eat ham during Easter
Many African Americans have held onto the high fat and salt diets of their ancestors and at Christmas and Easter have meals that include chitterlings, ham, and other meals that are considered soul food. Unfortunately, because the plantation owners did not always feed the slaves well there were times they stole ham or other items from the smokehouse as a matter of survival and maintained unhealthy diets after slavery was abolished.
There are two theories on why ham is so popular at Easter
Southern Living suggests ham became popular during Easter as the need for wool and the taste for lamb declined. I recall my grandmother, great aunt, and mother-in-law all using leftover ham to make sandwiches and hame biscuits or a casserole that fed everyone into the week following Easter Sunday. Local churches that had an Easter Sunday breakfast or brunch also served ham on the menu either slices or biscuits and Garden Fun gives another reason why pork may be so popular at Easter.
You harvest the hogs as early as December, so by the time you put them in cure, they were coming out in say January, February, then you would smoke them—so the first edible hams would be getting ready by Easter,” Edwards says. “I think that’s why people, in Virginia at least, eat ham on Easter.”
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