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Pa. customers ham it up for Easter

March 27, 1997

By LISA GRAYBEAL

Staff Writer, Waynesboro

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - Franklin County, Pa., residents really like to ham it up on Easter.

As turkeys are to Thanksgiving, ham seems to be the mainstay for Easter Sunday dinners in the area, according to several local butchers and grocery store owners.

Although the skinless, boneless "city hams" customers find in local supermarkets are the most popular, especially among the younger generation, there's still a demand for old-fashioned country hams.

"The old timers, I call them, say, `You ain't got a ham until you've got a country ham,'" said Eugene Horst, owner of Country Corner Meat Market on Buchanan Trail East in Waynesboro.

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On Thursday morning, several people patiently stood in line at Earl's Food Market in State Line, Pa., while veteran butcher Wayne Orr expertly wielded a sharp knife to skin and bone their country hams.

"Earl's has a history of selling country hams," said store owner Joe Lesko. "People come from all over to buy country hams and we get orders from as far as Seattle, New Orleans and New Mexico."

He can't quite explain why country hams are so popular among people who live out West, but Lesko said he believes some who call in their orders may have grown up eating country ham and just get a hankering for it this time of year.

In some cases, families send a country ham to serve as Easter dinners for their children who live far away, Lesko said.

Earl's sells a few hundred country hams around Easter time, said Lesko, who would reveal only that the hams come from somewhere in Virginia.

Country hams tend to be more expensive than the city version and average about $35 to $45 a ham, Lesko said.

For those who aren't pork proficient, country hams are sugar cured - not smoked - for about three months before they're sold, and require no refrigeration. Country hams are noted for their salty taste.

Rather than bake a country ham in the oven, which tends to dry out the meat, most prepare the hams by boiling them in a large kettle on top of the stove.

Hams are sold more than any other meat during this holiday, according to Richard Rotz, owner of Rotz Meats in McConnellsburg, Pa., who sells only country hams.

Kline's Grocery in Shady Grove, Pa., sells as many as 450 hams for the holiday.

Although the store sells some country hams, partner Barry Kline said most customers look for the boneless, regular cured hams, known as city hams.

City hams are easy to prepare, there's no waste, and they have a mild, sweeter taste, Lesko said.

At Sunnyway Food Market in Greencastle, Pa., customers can choose from eight different varieties of boneless hams and four varieties of bone-in hams, said Jim Hinkle, meat department manager.

"Easter's the biggest holiday to sell hams," he said.

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