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Ham it up: Sweet-tart rhubarb glaze cuts through the saltiness of Easter ham

This spiralized Easter ham features a rhubarb glaze, adapted from a recipe in the Dorothy Dean archives. Adriana Janovich/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW (Adriana Janovich / The Spokesman-Review)
This spiralized Easter ham features a rhubarb glaze, adapted from a recipe in the Dorothy Dean archives. Adriana Janovich/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW (Adriana Janovich / The Spokesman-Review)

Hamming it up for Easter is tradition.

But, how to dress it up?

Honey, mustard, honey-mustard, brown sugar, maple syrup, pineapple rings, and orange glaze – these are all as classic as the show-stopping centerpiece itself.

They’re go-to’s because they’re good, tried-and-true, time-tested.

This year, I wanted something different – something simple, but unexpected, perhaps something new – or, at least, new to me.

So, of course, I turned to Dorothy Dean and The Spokesman-Review archives.

Everything old is new again at some point. And, back in the day, Dorothy Dean was the reliable and relatable source for home cooks throughout the Inland Northwest.

The women who headed The Spokesman-Review’s popular homemakers service used the alliterative pseudonym for nearly 50 years, offering recipes that were budget-friendly and easy to prepare. Their no-nonsense, three-hole-punch approach to home cooking lasted from 1935 through the war years, past the Summer of Love until the Dorothy Dean Homemakers Service was shuttered in 1983.

Today, I keep the beloved green spiral-bound notebooks nearby, flipping through them for inspiration and ideas – and that’s just want I found in the 1950s, when Dorothy Dean paired a holiday ham with rhubarb.

It makes perfect sense. The bright, tangy, sweet-and-sour flavor of freshly cut and cooked rhubarb cuts through the salty meatiness of the ham. And, of course, there’s that color – that vivid and pleasing ruby-red, pretty-in-pink hue.

The return of rhubarb means spring. In general, the slender stalks can be harvested as early as late March through early June. This year, it’s a little late.

But I had my heart set on not only a holiday ham but also on that simple rhubarb sauce from Dorothy Dean.

In a couple – maybe three – weeks or so, gardens and grocery stores will likely be over-run with the vibrant crop. If you don’t have access now to rhubarb, you should in time for Mother’s Day, another popular time for brunch.

Now, however, it took me trips to two stores and a friend’s garden before I was finally able to get my hands on 2 cups’ worth, frozen from last season’s bounty. A friend came to my rescue via a frantic Facebook post. We chalked up the success of the mission to powers of social media and frozen food storage – or, as she called it, “hoarding.” Her thriftiness was my gain, and I was grateful.

Rhubarb is best known as a pie plant. This sauce puts the vivid, tart stalks on top of the brunch centerpiece, not tucked inside a crust. And it’s bliss.

Baked Ham with Rhubarb Glaze

From Dorothy Dean and The Spokesman-Review archives, Easter 1953

For the ham: Place ham on rack in shallow pan, fat side up. Do not add water or cover. Bake in slow oven, 325 degrees, 15 minutes per pound – 3 1/2 hours for 15-pound ham. About 45 minutes before time is up, remove from oven; pour off drippings and cut off rind, leaving most of fat. Score ham; put in cloves and cover with glaze.

For the glaze: Combine 3/4 cup sugar, 2 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca and 1/2 cup water. Cook until smooth. Add 4 cups cut-up rhubarb; cook over low heat until tender. Spread one-half of sauce over ham. Bake in 375-oven, 45 minutes, basting occasionally with remaining sauce.

Baked Ham with Rhubarb Glaze

Modern version by Spokesman-Review food editor Adriana Janovich

1 (6-pound) spiralized ham

1/2 cup sugar, plus more to taste, if desired

1 tablespoon quick-cooking tapioca

1/2 cup water

2-4 cups cut-up rhubarb

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Generous grating of nutmeg

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

1 cup pomegranate seeds (optional)

Rosemary, for garnish (optional)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place ham face down on rack in baking dish or roasting pan with 1 cup water, baking 12-15 minutes per pound. (Tent with aluminum foil, if worried about drying out.)

Meantime, in a pot on the stove top over medium heat, cook sugar, tapioca and water until dissolved. Add rhubarb, spices and vinegar and cook over low heat until tender. Add pomegranate seeds, if using.

About 20 minutes before the end of baking, spoon about half of the sauce over ham.

Carefully remove ham from oven, transfer to serving platter, drizzle with remaining glaze. Garnish platter with rosemary or other herbs, if desired.

Notes: I added pomegranate seeds for texture and for fun – and because I didn’t have 4 full cups of rhubarb. The flavor was fine, but – in the end – I didn’t love the bumpy texture.

Leftovers: Any way you dress it up, there’s plenty of leftover potential – from ham-and-cheese quiche and Denver omelets to casseroles and mini pot pies. Add extra chopped ham to scalloped potatoes, toss it with penne pasta, mix it into bean or potato soup and, of course, cover thickly cut slices of bread with grainy mustard and leftover ham for hearty sandwiches.

Need more Easter recipes? Try rhubarb upside-down cake, roast leg of lamb or hot cross buns.

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