Greens-packed ham popular in St. Mary's


Kale is well-known in Maryland as a key ingredient in a St. Mary's County stuffed ham.

"At Thanksgiving, our first priority, even over the turkey, is the stuffed ham," said Ray Raley of Ridge, at the southern tip of St. Mary's County.

"It is our history. And it is always on the menu at the church dinner.

"But outside of us, it is probably nonexistent. Stuffed ham ends at about Waldorf," he said.

The ham itself is a hard-to-find cut of fresh pork called sweet pickled corned ham. If you don't have a butcher who can get one for you, Raley recommends buying a fresh ham and having it boned.

"You won't get the exact flavor," he said. "But the novelty of the ham is in the spices. I can add a lot of crushed red pepper and really light you up."

The skill to make this dish may be a dying one, but the fame of the stuffed ham has extended far and wide since the Food Network first filmed Raley making one in 1999.

Every time the show is rebroadcast, Raley will get a call - from as far away as California or Hawaii - for a stuffed ham. It costs $129 for a 20-pound ham, and he will ship it frozen, in dry ice.

"I got a call once from a guy in the Denver airport," said Raley. "He said he'd just seen that show on TV and he wanted to know if I could have a ham at his mother's house in Rockville by the time he got there."

Legend has it that slaves first stuffed ham with the greens they grew in the gardens outside their cabin doors. It was a way to stretch their food.

"They'd stuff it with watercress or kale or cabbage, whatever they had," Raley said.

Today, St. Mary's cooks might as well stuff the ham with their address. "The more south you go, the more likely you are to use cabbage," said Mary Raley. "The further north, the more kale."

Mary Raley works with her husband at Raley's Town and Country Market, a business they have sold to new owners.

The Raleys can barely keep up with demand at Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. But Ray always has a stuffed ham on hand to slice for sandwiches.

"When they wanted to charge $4.50 each, I thought it was crazy," he said. "But it is the No. 1 selling sandwich in the deli.

"And I have a few wonderful customers who just want a stuffing sandwich."

Raley's Market Stuffed Ham

Serves 15 to 20

6 pounds cabbage

6 pounds kale

3 pounds onions

2 1/2 to 3 tablespoons crushed red pepper

1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons black pepper

one 20- to 22-pound fresh or corned ham, boned

1 package cheesecloth

Trim excess fat from ham. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Wash cabbage, kale and onions with cold water. Chop or shred and place in a large bowl. Add red and black pepper. Mix all ingredients thoroughly.

Prepare ham for stuffing by making 1- or 2-inch slits all over the ham, about 1 to 2 inches deep. Using your gloved hand, press stuffing into slits until full. Fill large cavity where bone was located with stuffing also.

When finished stuffing, tie ham with string. Wrap ham with cheesecloth and tie securely. Cover ham with aluminum foil and bake for 5 hours.

When ham is finished, drain and let ham cool down overnight in the refrigerator before carving. Serve cold.

Courtesy of Ray Raley

Per serving (based on 20 servings): 893 calories, 106 grams protein, 42 grams fat, 14 grams saturated fat, 18 grams carbohydrate, 6 grams fiber, 268 milligrams cholesterol, 6,830 milligrams sodium

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