Nathan Mash, 77, developer of process for producing low-salt ham in 1950s

March 30, 1998|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Nathan Mash, a Baltimore meat packer who was the first in the nation to develop a curing process that resulted in low-salt hams, died of cancer Friday at home in Pikesville. He was 77.

A modest man gifted with dogged perseverance, Mr. Mash was fond of saying, "It took me 29 years to become an overnight success."

By trial and error, he developed a curing process in the 1950s that resulted in hams with a 1.8 percent salt content that retained taste and moistness.

"He was a pioneer in the low-salt processing of hams," said Michael A. Fine, former executive vice president of Mash's Hams Inc.

"For years, he was concerned about salt and its effects on health and came up with a formula that not only cured the ham, but didn't interfere with its taste," he said.

"So, with a little knowledge and lots of thought, experimentation and hard work, the Mash's low salt ham came into being," Mr. Mash said in a 1985 interview in Food World, a trade publication.

In the interview, he stated his business philosophy:

"When I first went into producing and selling wholesale, uppermost in my thoughts was: 'Quality will keep me in business. If I sell a good product, people will remember and come back for more.' I promised myself then I would never put anything out on the market that I didn't feel proud of bearing my name."

The hams were "Packed With Pride" in yellow and red packaging.

"What's in a name?" asked radio and television advertisements. "Mash's unscrambled spells HAMS. And what do we do with the other S? That stands for salt -- we throw that S away."

Mr. Mash also introduced the first sliced, vacuum-packed ham and, according to Mr. Fine, was an industry leader in developing lean pork products.

Born in Baltimore to parents who operated a stall in the Hollins Market, and grandson of caterers to Czar Nicholas II, Mr. Mash quit school in the ninth grade and went to work in the family business.

He married Pauline Katz in 1940. She agreed to marry him only if he would open his own business so they could work together.

That year, pooling their combined income of $20 a week and $375 he had managed to save, the couple opened a 20-foot stall in Lafayette Market on Pennsylvania Avenue.

He later said that the stall was "far from plush." Each day, the couple had to feed quarters into a meter to pay for electricity for refrigeration and lighting.

The business expanded to larger facilities in Baltimore, including a plant on Brunswick Street.

Requiring more office space, Mr. Mash, a railroad fan, came up with a novel solution. He purchased two vintage railroad cars -- the Green Castle, a former Baltimore and Ohio railroad dining car, and the Schubert, a former Pullman parlor car -- and parked them on a siding near the South Baltimore plant. They were sold to a railroad museum in 1975.

The company again expanded to a South Dukeland Street facility where ham, corned beef, roast beef and pastrami were processed. After acquiring Briggs, a Washington-based division of Wilson Co., maker of hot dogs and sausage products, in 1982, Mash's moved some operations to a 98,000-square-foot plant in Landover, Prince George's County. A ham-processing plant was located in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

In the 1980s, Mash's sold 10 to 15 million pounds of ham a year.

In 1987, Mr. Mash sold the business to Landover Acquisition Inc. for $10 million. In 1990, Esskay Inc. bought the assets of Mash's Food Products Inc. of Landover.

Since 1987, Mr. Mash has owned and operated a 15,000-acre South Dakota cattle ranch and divided his time between homes in Pikesville and Boca Raton, Fla.

Interested in physical fitness, Mr. Mash had been active in many educational, cultural and philanthropic organizations.

He was a former member of the board of the University of Baltimore, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Northwest Medical Center. He established a family foundation under the auspices of Associated Jewish Charities.

He was a member of Woodholme Country Club and the Boca Raton Country Club.

Services were held yesterday.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by a son, Howard N. Mash of Monmouth, N.J.; a daughter, Ailene Mash Waranch of Pikesville; a brother, Morris Fine of Ellicott City; a sister, Elsa Friedman of Miami; and four grandchildren.

Pub Date: 3/30/98

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