Category Archives: Virginia

Wordcatcher Tales: Chuckatuck, Nottoway

During my recent trip to see relatives in southeastern Virginia, I got curious about some of the Native American placenames and the languages they came from. Eventually I came across a very comprehensive article in Wikipedia on Native American tribes in Virginia (whose main contributors have the usernames Til Eulenspiegel, Parkwells, and—early on—Sarah1607). In it, I found that those tribes include not just descendents of Algonquian speakers (like the Powhatan Confederacy), but also a few far outliers who once spoke Iroquian and Siouan languages. The area I was visiting was where the three language types once met.

The village of Chuckatuck is now a borough of the city of Suffolk (the “World’s Largest Peanut Market” and home of WLPM-AM), formed out of what used to be called Nansemond County. As an English colony, Chuckatuck dates back to 1635. Chuckatuck Parish church (now St. John’s Episcopal Church) was established in 1642, and George Fox himself established Chuckatuck Friends Meeting in 1672. (Some of my ancestors show up in Chuckatuck Monthly Meeting records, but there is no longer a Friends Meeting there, as I discovered on this visit.) A Chuckatuck grist mill operated continuously from 1676 to 1972.

Despite being a tiny riverport and crossroads town, it has its own Greater Chuckatuck Historical Foundation, and Chuckatuck Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1995. According to the Foundation’s website, the village name comes from Chuckatuck Creek, “or Crooked Creek as the Indians called it” (a tributary of the James River). Those Indians must have been Algonquian-speaking members of the Nansemond tribe. The Virginia Algonquian language is also known as Powhatan, and was the source of such English words as hickory, hominy, opossum, persimmon, and (corn)pone.

Nottoway Parish was the original name of Southampton County, Virginia. It was named after the Nottoway River, which was in turn named for the Nottoway Indians who lived along it. The name Nottoway appears to come from an Algonquian word for peoples who were not Algonquian speakers. The same name shows up elsewhere in two counties named Nottoway in North Carolina and Louisiana, streets named Nodaway in Iowa and Missouri, and Nadoway Point in Michigan, where it faces Iroquois Island in Whitefish Bay, Lake Superior. The wide-ranging Algonguians had many foreigners in their midst.

We know the Nottoway used to speak an Iroquian language because someone collected a wordlist in 1820 from one of the last elderly speakers and sent it to Thomas Jefferson, who shared it with Peter DuPonceau, one of the earliest experts in the indigenous languages of North America. A few more words were added to the list, but they are the only trace we have left of the language. Nevertheless, they suffice to show that Nottoway was closely related to Tuscarora, which is much better documented but now highly endangered.

Two other groups of Northern Iroquian speakers lived in the area. The Meherrin Nation once lived along the Meherrin River in Virginia, but migrated south to North Carolina during the early 1700s. They signed several treaties with the colony and are now one of the eight indigenous nations officially recognized by the state of North Carolina.

The Tuscarora people once lived around the Roanoke, Neuse, and Tar Rivers in North Carolina, but began migrating north after the Tuscarora War of 1711-1713. Those who reached New York became the sixth nation of the Iroquois who are nationally recognized in Canada and the U.S. But other descendants of the Tuscarora have remained in North Carolina, and some have moved to Oklahoma.

Of the eleven tribes recognized by the State of Virginia, only three groups are not of Algonquian heritage. The Nottoway Indian Tribe of Virginia, Inc. and the Choreonhaka (Nottoway) Indian Tribe of Southampton County both descend from people who once spoke the same Iroquoian language.

The third group claims descent from speakers of Eastern Siouan languages (also known as Catawban). The Monacan Indian Nation gets its name from one of two historic tribes, the Monacan and Manahoac (or Mahock), who once lived in Piedmont Virginia and spoke languages (now extinct) closely related to Tutelo. The Tutelo fled north in 1740 and were adopted by the Iroquoian Cayuga in 1753. The ethnologist Horatio Hale, working among the Cayuga in Ontario, was the first to discover that the Tutelo language from Virginia belonged to the Siouan family. (He was also the first to identify the Cherokee language as Iroquoian.) So the Siouan language family once extended as far east as Virginia and the Carolinas and as far south as Biloxi, Mississippi.

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Early ‘Plantations’: Settlers, Not Crops

From Empires of the Atlantic World: Britain and Spain in America 1492-1830, by John H. Elliott (Yale U. Press, 2006), Kindle Loc. 292-308:

Effectively, Cortes‘s company was composed of a cross-section of the residents of Cuba, which was deprived of nearly a third of its Spanish population when the expedition set sail. It was therefore well acclimatized to New World conditions, unlike Newport‘s party, which, within six months of arrival, had lost almost half its number to disease.

The fact that the company on board Newport’s ships were styled `planters’ was a clear indication of the purpose of the voyage. For the English in the age of the Tudors and Stuarts, `plantation’ – meaning a planting of people – was synonymous with ‘colony’. This was standard usage in Tudor Ireland, where `colonies’ or `plantations’ were the words employed to designate settlements of English in areas not previously subject to English governmental control. Both words evoked the original coloniae of the Romans – simultaneously farms or landed estates, and bodies of emigrants, particularly veterans, who had left home to `plant’, or settle and cultivate (colere), lands elsewhere. These people were known as `planters’ rather than `colonists’, a term that does not seem to have come into use before the eighteenth century. In 1630, when the British had established a number of New World settlements, an anonymous author would write: `by a colony we mean a society of men drawn out of one state or people, and transplanted into another country.’

The Spanish equivalent of `planter’ was poblador. In 1498, when Luis Roldan rebelled against the government of the Columbus brothers on Hispaniola, he rejected the name of colonos for himself and his fellow settlers of the island, and demanded that they should be known as vecinos or householders, with all the rights accruing to vecinos under Castilian law. A colon was, in the first instance, a labourer who worked land for which he paid rent, and Roldan would have none of this. Subsequent usage upheld his stand. During the period of Habsburg rule Spain’s American territories, unlike those of the English, were not called `colonies’. They were kingdoms in the possession of the Crown of Castile, and they were inhabited, not by colonos, but by conquerors (conquistadores) and their descendants, and by pobladores, or settlers, the name given to all later arrivals.

The English, by contrast, were always `planters’, not `conquerors’. The discrepancy between English and Spanish usage would at first sight suggest fundamentally different approaches to overseas settlement. Sir Thomas Gates and his fellow promoters of the Virginia Company had asked the crown to grant a licence, to make habitation plantation and to deduce a Colonic of sundry of our people’ in `that part of America commonly called Virginia …’ There was no mention here of conquest, whereas the agreement between the Castilian crown and Diego Velazquez in 1518 authorized him to `go to discover and conquer Yucatan and Cozumel’. But the idea of conquest was never far away from the promoters of English colonization in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.

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The Fourth Battle of Winchester, 1866

From This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War by Drew Gilpin Faust (Knopf, 2008), Kindle Loc. 3803-3814, 3829-3836 (pp. 241, 243):

The northern reburial movement was an official, even a professional effort, removed by both geography and bureaucracy from the lives of most northern citizens; it was the work—and expense—of the Quartermaster Corps, the U.S. Army, and the federal government. In the South care for the Confederate dead was of necessity the work of the people, at least the white people; it became a grass-roots undertaking that mobilized the white South in ways that extended well beyond the immediate purposes of bereavement and commemoration.

Winchester, in the northernmost part of Virginia, had been a site of almost unrelieved military activity, including three major Battles of Winchester, one each in 1862, 1863, and 1864; the town was said to have changed hands more than seventy times in the course of the war. The dead surrounded Winchester as they did Richmond, and women organized similarly to honor them. Fanny Downing, who assumed the presidency of the Ladies Association for the Fitting Up of Stonewall Jackson Cemetery, issued an “Address to the Women of the South” that echoed Richmond’s Mrs. William McFarland. “Let us remember,” her broadside cried, “that we belong to that sex which was last at the cross, first at the grave … Let us go now, hand in hand, to the graves of our country’s sons, and as we go let our energies be aroused and our hearts be thrilled by this thought: It is the least thing we can do for our soldiers.

On October 25, 1866, a crowd five thousand strong gathered to dedicate Winchester’s Stonewall Cemetery, graveyard for 2,494 Confederate soldiers who had been collected from a radius of fifteen miles around the town. Eight hundred twenty-nine of these bodies remained unknown and were buried together in a common mound surrounded by 1,679 named graves. General Turner Ashby, a dashing cavalry commander and local hero who had been killed in 1862, served as the ranking officer among the dead, as well as a focus of the day’s ceremonies. His old mammy was recruited to lay a wreath on his grave in a pointed celebration of the world for which the Confederacy had fought. The American flag flying in the adjoining national cemetery, where five thousand Union soldiers had already been interred, provoked a “good deal of rancor” from the crowd, and the members of the U.S. Burial Corps, caring for the Federal dead, were jeered and insulted. Twenty-five hundred Confederates on one side; five thousand Yankees on the other: perhaps this was the Fourth Battle of Winchester, the one in which the soldiers were already dead.

Just over fifty years ago, my family arrived in Winchester (on furlough from Japan) just in time for the Civil War Centennial, which sparked my interest not just in the Civil War, but in history of all kinds everywhere.

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Winchester, Virginia: My First American Hometown

Fifty years ago this month, I arrived in a snow-covered city I would come to think of as my first American hometown, Winchester, Virginia. I had just spent most of my elementary school years in Kyoto, Japan, which I still think of as my Japanese hometown. My parents were missionaries. I was born in Louisville, Kentucky, where my father was in seminary, and I later attended first grade there during our first furlough while he finished his coursework toward a Th.D. But our two-and-a-half years in Winchester gave me my first prolonged exposure to life in small-town America.

Amherst St. house, Dec. 1960

Mom in front of our house on Amherst St., Dec. 1960

For 7th and 8th grades, I walked to my mother’s alma mater, Handley High School, where I soaped the windows of my homeroom one Halloween, and had a classmate whose parents threw a grand Bat Mitzvah party, for which I learned to jitterbug when other kids were just beginning to dance the Twist. We two oldest brothers were baptized in my mother’s home church, First Baptist, where my parents had gotten married and my father now served as associate pastor during our extended furlough. He would draft us to help shovel snow off its sidewalks along Piccadilly and Washington Streets. My brother and I both had paper routes, delivering the Winchester Star on the way home from school each afternoon. I joined the Boy Scouts, advancing to Life Scout and marching with my troop in the annual Apple Blossom Festival parade. My mother’s two brothers lived a few miles down the Valley Pike, while her sister lived up the Pike outside Martinsburg, West Virginia.

House on Henry Ave., Winchester, Va.

Our house on Henry Ave., c. 1962

My parents resigned after their regular furlough year (partly from burnout), and we moved into a smaller house near Quarles Elementary School, where I had earlier finished the last half of 6th grade. Without a missionary salary, my father supplemented his earnings at First Baptist by substitute teaching at the county high school (James Wood) and serving as interim pastor at a tiny Baptist church in Gore, Virginia (birthplace of Willa Cather and Patsy Cline, I later discovered).

Meanwhile, my mother had her hands full with five kids. Our family car was a Rambler station wagon with an extra rear-facing seat in back. One summer we drove it to Sebago Lake in Maine, where our pastor let us use his summer cabin, where in the evenings my mother would read to her own five children from The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew (one of whom—in each family—was named Joel). My mother, who had dropped out of Berea College after her junior year to get married and become a missionary, always felt inferior to the more educated missionary wives, especially the registered nurses at the Japan Baptist Hospital in Kyoto, where my father had served as chaplain. Perhaps she compensated to some extent by being somewhat of a Japanese-style kyōiku mama (at least where I, her eldest, was concerned).

But I remember those years as the least bookish, most outdoorsy era of my life. We went sledding on the slope above our big old house on Amherst St., and built igloos and snow forts behind our smaller house on Henry Ave. One summer, Uncle Bill took us waterskiing on the Shenandoah River. Dad took us oldest boys along for a campout in Monongahela National Forest with a group from his little country church in Gore. With Boy Scouts, I took a 50-mile hike along the Appalachian Trail through the Shenandoah Mountains, and I remember one Camporee that got hit by such a heavy rainstorm that many parents came to rescue their boys and a few boys abandoned their pup tents to spend the night in the scoutmasters’ vehicles.

Sometime during 8th grade, I started to show signs of near-sightedness. I don’t think it was while trying for my rifle-shooting merit badge in the old Winchester Armory. I think I first noticed it when I had trouble reading the blackboard from the back of the classroom during algebra class or my tryout semester of Latin. But Uncle Bill likely noticed it sooner when I accompanied him on trips to Baltimore to bring back a tanker of gas for his filling station. He used to ask whichever nephew accompanied him to be on the lookout for certain road signs, landmarks, or maybe patrol cars, and I don’t think I was as good at spotting them as he was—or as my brother was. I went for an eye exam and got a prescription for contact lenses (newfangled and expensive at the time), which were soon replaced by regular eyeglasses after I lost one down the drain.

Sometime during that same school year, my parents opted to return to the mission field, this time to Hiroshima, which became the Japanese hometown of my three youngest siblings. We two eldest sons went off to boarding school in Kobe, and I began my evolution into the most bookish nerd one can ever hope to become.

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Wordcatcher Tales: Kohada-zushi, Konosirus punctatus

From Edo Culture: Daily Life and Diversions in Urban Japan, 1600–1868, by Nishiyama Matsunosuke, trans. and ed. by Gerald Groemer (U. Hawai‘i Press, 1997), pp. 170-171:

At the end of the Edo period the charming sight of sushi vendors selling kohada-zushi (sushi topped with a small gizzard shad) could be seen in the streets of Edo. Nigiri-zushi—bite-sized sushi made by squeezing a small amount of rice in the hand—was an Edo specialty that appeared during the Bunsei Period (1818–1830). This sushi soon became all the rage. The most conspicuous nigiri-zushi vendors sold kohada-zushi. These hawkers covered their heads with a hand towel in Yoshiwara fashion; they wore narrow-striped kimono tucked up behind, short coats with broad stripes and black silk collars, sashes known as Hakata obi, cotton leggings with white socks, and sandals made of straw and linen. Such a unique outfit made kohada-zushi vendors quite striking in appearance. From the start of spring until early summer sushi peddlers sauntered through the streets and called out in a mellifluous voice, “Sushi! Hey! Kohada-zushi!” …

Nigiri-zushi was also sold by “Atakematsu” of Atakegura in Honjo; eventually this sushi came to be known simply as “Matsu’s sushi.” … Most were mere street stalls, but true restaurants existed as well. At any rate, sushi was highly popular. From Edo the sushi fashion spread to the Kamigata area. In the late 1820s a restaurant called “Matsu no sushi” appeared south of Ebisubashi in Osaka. This was the first Osaka outlet of Edo sushi: but before long this specialty was sold at shops throughout Osaka.

Kohada (小鰭) and shinko (新子) are young and younger stages of konoshiro ‘dotted gizzard shad’, Konosirus punctatus (Temminck & Schlegel, 1846), according to Japanese Wikipedia, but a species utterly missing from English Wikipedia, where gizzard shad is summarily redirected to American gizzard shad (Dorosoma cepedianum), in a genus limited to eastern North America. The other five genera of the subfamily Dorosomatinae (gizzard shads) are not covered at all. The systematics of shads appear to be extremely complex.

I first heard of shad from my youngest uncle, who had a cabin down by the James River near the site of Virginia’s peculiar political gathering, the Shad Planking.

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Fractured Historiography of the Confederacy

In the latest issue of Civil War History (Project MUSE subscription required), University of Virginia professor Gary W. Gallagher reviews major trends in the historiography of the Confederacy. Here are a few excerpts about some of the key earlier trendsetters. Explaining defeat is always more challenging than explaining victory.

Thirty years have passed since Emory M. Thomas’s The Confederate Nation, 1861–1865 appeared on the historiographical landscape. Some of its themes had been present in his earlier The Confederacy as Revolutionary Experience, and together the two books heralded the emergence of a major figure in the field. Factors weakening the Confederacy loomed larger than evidence of Rebel persistence or strength in the scholarly literature at that time, but Thomas took seriously the idea of national sentiment in the seceding states. When defeat apparently stalked the slaveholding republic in the spring of 1862 and “their national experiment seemed almost a failure, Confederate Southerners began to respond to their circumstances by redefining themselves—or, more precisely, by defining themselves as a national people.”…

David Williams’s Bitterly Divided: The South’s Inner Civil War traverses much of the same ground as Thomas’s work, offering a convenient point of departure to consider the trajectory of recent scholarship on the Confederacy. The author or editor of four previous books dealing with various aspects of Confederate history, Williams complains that generations of historians have emphasized the war “waged with the North” rather than exploring how the “South was torn apart by a violent inner civil war, a war no less significant to the Confederacy’s fate than its more widely known struggle against the Yankees.” Resolutely focused on that “inner civil war,” Bitterly Divided creates an impression of overwhelming internal fracturing that renders the presence of U.S. armies strangely irrelevant….

Internal fissures serve as the interpretive touchstone of a rich body of older work, a brief review of which reveals that Bitterly Divided plows in deep existing furrows. As early as 1867, editor Edward A. Pollard of Richmond’s Examiner denied that northern manpower and resources had settled the issue. “The great and melancholy fact remains,” Pollard observed in The Lost Cause, “that the Confederates, with an abler Government and more resolute spirit, might have accomplished their independence.”…

In 1937, while Margaret Mitchell’s pro-Confederate epic Gone with the Wind sold in huge numbers, pioneering African American historian Charles H. Wesley challenged the Lost Cause narrative of noble Rebels struggling against impossible odds. “Historians of the Confederacy have based their works mainly upon the military subjugation of the South and the heroic actions of its defenders and have neglected the contributing social factors,” maintained Wesley in The Collapse of the Confederacy….

Twenty-eight years later, Carleton Beals reprised much of Wesley’s argument in War within a War: The Confederacy against Itself. “This book is about those people who resisted, because of their love for the Union, or civil rights, or because they believed the struggle to be a ‘rich man’s war, poor man’s fight,’” wrote Beals, who featured “mountain people,” opponents of conscription, African Americans, and others at odds with the Confederate government….

Two historiographical waves established a durable framework within which many advocates of internal failure have examined the Confederacy. Between the mid-1920s and the mid-1940s, a number of scholars joined Wesley to mount a powerful collective assault on Lost Cause mythology. Although they sometimes deployed simplistic class models to support the idea of a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight, their findings contributed importantly to topics such as conscription, state rights as a divisive ideology, desertion, persistent unionism, resistance among slaves (what W. E. B. Du Bois called “The General Strike”), class tensions, and corrosive guerrilla warfare. The fact that all major titles by these authors have been reprinted at least once suggests their continuing influence.

A flurry of studies in the 1970s and 1980s, spurred in part by the new social history’s emphasis on people outside the traditional power structure, expanded on the earlier literature. Some of this work can be read as a direct or indirect response to Thomas’s The Confederate Nation, 1861–1865. Authors and editors drove home the point that no one should think of the Confederacy as a society united across boundaries of region, class, race, and gender. In a category by itself was Why the South Lost the Civil War, by Richard E. Berenger, Herman Hattaway, Archer Jones, and William N. Still—a detailed and thoughtful, if not ultimately persuasive, brief for the centrality of internal causes of Confederate failure. This prize-winning study attributed defeat to the impact of southern religion, an absence of nationalism, and, despite a level of commitment that absorbed the deaths of approximately one-quarter of all military-age white males in the Confederacy [emphasis added], weak popular will….

Drew Gilpin Faust weighed in on the topic of Confederate nationalism at the end of the 1980s. Suggesting that the “creation of Confederate nationalism was the South’s effort to build a consensus at home, to secure a foundation of popular support for a new nation and what quickly became an enormously costly war,” she identifies religion as critical to a conception of nation predicated on defining Confederates as God’s chosen people. Faust also notes the centrality of slavery to the Confederate consciousness and warns against working backward from Appomattox to yoke discussions of nationalism to those about why the Rebels failed. Her conclusions, however, stress the ultimate weakness of nationalistic sentiment in the southern republic….

The more recent “cutting-edge” literature on internal dissent … has appeared at a steady rate over the past dozen years. A full discussion lies beyond the scope of this essay, but some trends are evident. It has long been a commonplace that the hill country and mountains of the Confederacy functioned as centers of antiwar and anti-Davis administration activity. An array of recent scholarship has examined the war in Appalachia, confirming deep divisions in mountainous regions but also finding evidence of strong support for the Confederacy. Works on North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, and Georgia create a composite picture affirming John C. Inscoe and Gordon B. McKinney’s observation that “within the southern highlands, the war played out in very different ways for western North Carolinians than it did for East Tennesseans or north Georgians or western Virginians or Eastern Kentuckians.” The authors might have added that within each of these five populations the variety of reactions to the war and its trials also defy easy characterization.

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Hogs, Ham, and (U.S.) History

Virginia hams hold a hallowed place in the culinary lore of my hard-eating heritage. During my childhood as a missionary kid in Japan, we would receive a smoked ham every Christmas from relatives back in Virginia and stretch out the eating of it as long as we could. The current issue of Common-Place now puts Virginia hams in fuller historical perspective in a fascinating article by David S. Shields entitled “The Search for the Cure: The quest for the superlative American ham“:

No food in colonial Anglo-America declared gustatory adequacy at the world table more forcefully than ham. Travelers to the English territories, such as Rev. Andrew Burnaby, declared American pork superior in flavor to any in the world. With the establishment of the republic, the ingenuity of a population of artisanal food producers fixed upon improving the most estimable of American products, ham. Eminence in the sociable world of the agricultural societies, distinction in the market place, and victory in the food contests at the burgeoning world of fairs stimulated innovation in the curing of hams. Here we will chronicle the articulation of two schools of ham production: the dry-cure sect, who would increasingly view themselves as purists and traditionalists, and the wet curists, who regarded themselves as experimentalists in taste, economy, and scientific agriculture, yet whose pork brined in a barrel was the staple of the common household.

Antiquity conveyed the ur-cure, the primordial method of preserving meat. Salting and drying meat prevented the decomposition of flesh because moisture is a requisite for most bacterial reproduction and salt (sodium chloride) draws moisture from flesh. Unfortunately, sweating meat in rock salt turned muscle tissue gray and tough. It was discovered, however, that certain types of rock salt—salt with impurities—kept meat red and somewhat moist. This impure form of salt—called saltpeter—was sought out and admixed with salt for meat preservation until the Middle Ages when smoking was added to salt and saltpeter to impart flavor and to counter insect depredations. The method practiced by Europeans at the time of the settlement of Jamestown—common to Westphalian ham and Jamon de Iberica—was the “three s method”: salt, saltpeter, smoke.

Ham modernity dates from the erection of what Wolfgang Shivelbusch has called the first global drug culture—the oceanic trading system that made the exchange of sugar, spice, tea, coffee, and chocolate the engine of the world system. Only after the explosion of the world sugar supply occasioned by the consolidation of the Brazilian cane plantations in the sixteenth century was the commodity cheap enough for trial and error in the kitchen and smokehouse. Indeed, there was decidedly a sugar moment in Western cuisine, when sucrose was added to everything as the pangustatory element. When added as the fourth s to the ancient cure, sugar mellowed the harshness of salted flesh. Sugar-cured hams became the bedrock of American porcine cuisine….

Ever since Hernando DeSoto brought his thirteen hogs into Florida, swine have flourished in North America. The earliest breeds did not resemble today’s industrial pink pig. Indeed, the first settled hogs, the Iberico Black hog, the Old English breed, do not resemble their breed descendents, the Spanish Black and the Hampshire. Of these early types there is only one extraordinarily rare example left in America: the Ossabaw Island pig, a mottled descendent of the pigs that Spaniards loosed on the islands of the Caribbean and along the southeastern coast. One population survived into the twenty-first century on Ossabaw Island off the coast of Georgia. Slow-growing, irritable, and the most efficient fat-producing mammal known to science, the breed has become the fascination of biologists working on obesity studies….

Testimonies about the quality of New World ham date from 1688 when Rev. John Clayton, reporting to the Royal Society his observations on the commodities of Virginia, declared the meat as good as any to be had in Westphalia. This is a far more informative claim than it might appear on the surface, for it reveals much about the mode of preparation. Traditional Westphalian ham is made from hogs fattened with acorns from the oak forests of western Germany and then dry cured and smoked over a cold fire of beechwood and juniper boughs. The original Virginia ham derived its flavor from an acorn mast and dry curing. It was smoked. This is worth noting because during the eighteenth century there would be disagreement about the proper feeding of pigs and a related alteration in the method of curing….

William Byrd (1674-1744), the Virginia gentleman who championed an ethic of agricultural improvement, criticized the habit among country farmers (typified, for him, by the lazy North Carolinians described in his Histories of the Dividing Line) of letting hogs roam free in the forests to graze on roots and acorns. The semi-wild hog developed stringy muscle from its robust wandering life, and the farmer lost the benefit of its manure. Byrd would keep his pigs penned and fed on dung heap scraps. But with this diet, the meat of his animals, while more tender, risked becoming less palatable. What mattered more, taste or economy?… Feeding hogs on corn was pioneered in Pennsylvania at the end of the eighteenth century. In Virginia, where the taste of the mast-fed pig haunted the gustatory imagination, traditionalists followed the old country practice of letting swine loose in the woods. The practice continued until the early twentieth century when peanut mast was found to instill in pork something like that piquant yet mellow flavor infused by acorns….

Saltpeter, while essential for the preservation of hams, proved equally if not more important as an ingredient of gunpowder. In June 1642 the General Court of Massachusetts ordered every town to erect a shed and “make saltpeter from urine of men, beastes, goates, hennes, hogs and horses dung.”…

Putting chilled, freshly butchered hams in salt was the only part of the process that did not suffer alteration in any of the schools of dry-cure preparation. European tradition usually had the slaughter of winter meat occur on St. Martinmass Day, November 11. But because of the importance of cool weather in the curing of hams, it took place substantially later in the American South: December in Virginia; January in the Carolinas. The fresh-butchered meat had to be cooled to about forty degrees Fahrenheit when salting was begun. Traditionalists would follow salting with the other two s‘s of the “dry cure”: saltpeter and smoke. The proportions varied, but J. Q. Hewlitt’s formula of one thousand pounds of meat, three pecks of Liverpool salt, and four pounds of saltpeter presented a norm. The hams were packed in tubs or casks. These were often perforated to allow liquid to drip out during the minimum of three weeks sitting. At the end of the salting period, during which fresh salt was often added to the tubs, the ham would be extracted and the salt coating washed off. Hewlitt then smoked the hams in a closed room using green hickory chips. It was important that the smoke be cool, so as not to cook the hams. Temperature in the smokehouse was not to exceed human body temperature. At the end of February the hams would be sewn up in bags for protection.

And that’s how they were shipped to us in Japan. We had to soak each ham about 24 hours before cooking and eating any of it.

via Arts & Letters Daily

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