I'm partial to pastrami and a real fan of rare roast beef. But for an everyday sandwich, gimme ham.
I like hunky ham. By that I mean the ham has to have some bod to it, and if you're lucky, it has some bone in its background.
I like ham that has some texture, that lets your teeth as well as your taste buds know it is there. And I like ham with a bone in it because my frugal grandmother, who baked a terrific ham, also made wonderful bean soup with the bone. I'll never turn down the presliced, sweet Heavenly Ham, and the Honey Baked hams, but I prefer ham in fatter slabs. I've found that a regular old Giant or Super Fresh ham, studded with cloves and bathed in orange juice, is a feast.
Another ham eater I know bathes his supermarket ham in a mixture of white wine and mustard, and drapes it with cloves, pineapples and cherries. I haven't tried this, but it sounds appealing. He groaned with pleasure as he recited the recipe.
I have found that an Esskay Silver Label ham, cooked till it drops off the bone, is the best party food you can feed a crowd of party folks who still like salt and still drink booze.
A big part of a such a sandwich is the bread. And again, a good bread has to have some substance. My favorite is a dark rye, and among the best dark ryes I've found around here is black malted rye sold by Safeway. The bread is baked in Walnut Creek, Calif. I get it in the deli section of the Mount Clare store in West Baltimore.
I also like the rye sold at Attman's Deli on Lombard Street. I goes by many names. Jewish rye. Caraway rye. "Frame" rye -- because the end piece is as square as a frame. I simply call it good bread.
Another friend of ham recommends the garlic bread which h buys as a carryout order from Sabatino's restaurant in Little Italy. On top of the the bread he puts slices of Virginia baked ham that he gets at Mary Mervis' delicatessen in the Lexington Market. Then he heats this ham-on-top sandwich in his oven. This, along with a gin and tonic, he says, is an ideal summer supper.
I'm flexible on condiments. I'll entertain mustard, mayonnaise even horseradish on the ham sandwich. And, of course, cheese and onions. Speaking of onions, a tipster told me that sweet Vidalia onions, the first of the season, have been spotted at the Cornucopia fruit and vegetable stand in the Cross Street Market.
My kids, I have learned, are not very flexible about what goes on a ham sandwich.
I was struggling with the perpetual parental problem -- making school lunches that the kids will eat -- when I hit upon the ham sandwich.
The kids liked them. That made me think that some component of the ham sandwich appeal is genetic. I come from a long line of ham sandwich eaters. My uncle, who worked nights at the Post Office, liked them so much that whenever our family had baked ham on Sunday my mom would a set some aside for him. She would make a couple of ham sandwiches for her brother, which he would pick up on his way to work. Solace for working the late shift.
So when my kids started eating ham sandwiches I was delighted that they endorsed the family tastes. The ham sandwich harmony didn't last long.
It stopped when I put the "wrong" mustard on a sandwich. I was making a ham sandwich and opened the fridge looking for mustard. We had 12 kinds of mustard, mustard from Germany, mustard with horseradish, mustard with honey. But we did not have the basic salad mustard, the kind that is the color of a traffic cone.
I tried to fake it, dabbing the bread with a bit of brown, adult mustard. I made the ham sandwich, put it in the kid's lunch box and sent him off to school.
That night I asked how he had liked his lunch. It was terrible, he said.
What was the matter, I asked.
The ham sandwich, he said, "smelled wrong."
Had he tasted it?
No, he had taken one whiff of the mustard, and tossed the sandwich in the trash.
I wanted to clobber the kid.
I mourn the lost ham sandwich, especially one I could have eaten.