The Right ‘Stuff’: ham-stuffing tradition turns 25

By: 
CHARLIE DENISON
Reporter

Ham Stuffers 2016: here is a group photo of this year’s ham-stuffing participants at Bruce Reid’s place. It was a good time had by all.

Photo by Charlie Denison

Every year between Christmas and New Year’s Day, a group of Lewistown friends get together for a different kind of holiday celebration.

Stuffing hams.

For the past 25 years, Bruce Reid and Pete Smith have kept this tradition alive, involving more and more people through the years. Now, the group meets at Bruce’s outdoor shop. It’s like a Thanksgiving get-together, as all involved bring food, drinks and merriment. Stories ensue once the hams are ready to cook. The environment is festive, friendly and often comical.

I know this because I was there on Tuesday night after receiving an invitation from Bruce’s wife, Dorothy.

“We were wondering if you would like to do an article for the News-Argus on this,” Dorothy said. “It would make for an interesting read. This is a tradition that was brought here from Maryland.”

St. Mary’s County in Southern Maryland to be exact, Smith explained.

“Stuffed ham is only prepared in that county,” Smith said. “In the fall, at school events, church events or at the grocery store or Safeway, you can get stuffed ham.”

 

How did this start?

“There are a few different versions of how it started,” Smith said. “One tale is that it started with slaves, one is that it came over from merry old England and another is that parishioners take a choice piece of meat and – after 40 days – make it real fancy and give it to the parish priest. That’s the most prevalent story.”

Smith, who lived in Maryland as an engineer on a naval base, stumbled upon this tradition thanks to a fellow engineer from St. Mary’s County.

“He had people come over to stuff the ham, and it was a great time,” Pete said. “We mixed all the veggies together, got the seasoning right and we’d feel our nose burn, tongue burn and we’d smell like spices for days.”

That’s no lie. Everyone at the get-together (which included people from Helena and even Saskatchewan) joked that I was going to smell for days.

“I smelled you as soon as you came home,” my wife said.

And, to be honest, my hands still smell as I write this story.

 

How is it made?

It starts with the ingredients, which include cabbage, kale, onions, salt and pepper, all mixed together. It’s a collaborative process that takes a while.

At first, you think there’s no way you can get all of the ingredients inside the hams, but after it is seasoned and after it dries a little, the pile starts to shrink on its own, and the hams are stuffed with little left over.

Then it’s story time, where many laughs take over. This year, there was even entertainment, as Smith brought a guitar.

“Who is playing?” I asked.

“You are,” he said.

 

Afterword

The ham-stuffing event is absolutely one of a kind and something you have to experience to fully understand. I could go on, but I’ll let the group keep its secret. If you’re invited, take them up on it, but stay for the whole thing, and don’t expect to be home right away.

“Thanks for wasting a perfectly good evening with us,” Smith said.

After experiencing it once, I can see why the friends keep coming back for more: food, fun, fellowship and absolute randomness. It’s a great way to waste a perfectly good evening.

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