Usually I'm hauling home the turkey carcass. Or a big pile of beef bones. This time however, it's a nice big monster of a ham bone from the middle of the spiral sliced ham lovingly prepared by my son in law for Christmas Day dinner. Yep, as I have said before, I am THAT relative, the one who asks "are you gonna save those bones?" as I'm getting ready to head home.
A lot of my canning friends make and can ham stock. I don't really use all that much ham stock. Generally speaking I make one pot of stock after a holiday, which evolves into one big pot of ham and beans and then leftovers get frozen in individual portions for lunches and solo dinners. So while it's not something I make gallons of, I do like to make one big stockpot full. Making the ham stock is easy- throw the bone and any meat clinging to is in a large pot. Cover with cold water. Add seasonings- I used a chopped onion, 4 cloves chopped garlic, 3 bay leaves, a palm full of whatever herbs on my shelf looked good to me- thyme, parsley, basil, marjoram, and a couple big grinds of pepper. Lay off on the salt at this point- ham is salty and you can always add more later but you cannot remove it if you oversalt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for several hours. After a while prop the lid open a little to let the stock reduce slightly- it intensifies the flavor.
Remove the ham bone and set aside to cool. Pop that pot of stock in the fridge overnight (strain it if you like) to let the fat harden on the top. Scoop that off and discard the next day. When your ham bone is cool enough to handle, cut off any remaining meat and throw it back in the stock. I don't strain my stock. I will fish out the bay leaves if I can but I don't freak out over them. Lots of meaty bits come off that bone during simmering and I want that to stay in my soup. Add the meat you've cut off the bones back to the stock in the pot. Now you can either continue on with your soup or divide the broth into freezer containers and freeze (you CAN process in a pressure canner and jars but I never make a big enough batch to bother with that).
I am continuing on with my soup today, so I have also soaked one and a half pounds dried beans. I used a mix of navy beans and pinto beans, roughly half and half. I always prefer to soak beans overnight versus the quick soak method, I think the beans are more tender and cook without falling apart as much. Drain the beans and rinse. Add to the ham stock and bring to boil. Reduce heat and cover, simmering until the beans are tender which can be a while depending on your beans. Expect about an hour, and sometimes two.
During the last 45 minutes or so of cooking I sometimes add chopped carrots and sometimes diced potatoes. I had no carrots on hand but I did dice up a couple small potatoes and added those. They thicken up the broth and really bulk up the soup. Served with hot and buttery cornbread, crusty rolls or breadsticks this is the perfect winter meal and provides plenty of leftovers. Today I had half a round loaf of Italian bread to use up so I cut it into "pull apart" bread, sprinkled with some shredded Parmesan cheese and drizzled liberally with a mixture of melted butter, crushed garlic and herbs. Pop into the oven at 375 until browned and toasty and serve with the soup. So so good! The soup was the perfect dinner on an evening that includes a winter storm warning, with heavy snowfall, ice and howling winds in our future. Even the Chef, the self-proclaimed Soup Master, had compliments for the cook. The only person who was somewhat dissatisfied was Louie.....no ham bones for him!