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Harper’s Country Hams

Country hams are a signature part of Kentucky cuisine, and Harper’s Country Hams in Clinton is making some of the best. Dave met with Delores Harper and her son, Brian, to find out how this traditional item has remained popular today.

“In the old days, hams were cured to preserve them without refrigeration,” Brian explains. “That’s how the process got started. Farmers wanted to make sure that they got it preserved so they would put extra salt on it. Since our process is controlled through temperature and time, we don’t have to put extra salt. We just put enough to preserve it, and our hams aren’t going to have that salty bite like an old farm style ham would have.”

Harper’s hams are cured with salt and sugar. While some modern producers inject the cure into the ham, completing the step in less than a day, Harper’s cures its hams over the course of two weeks. The entire process is done in a way that mimics the original method of preparing a country ham, which relied on the changing seasons. Harper’s process begins in the winter room, an area kept at around 34 degrees Fahrenheit.

“In the old days, people would start the curing process in the winter,” says Brian. “The hams are salted down and brought in [the winter room] for two weeks, resalted, and then sit another two weeks in wintertime temperatures.”

The spring room is also known as the salt equalization room.

“This is where the magic of a country ham really starts to happen,” says Brian. “It starts to develop the unique flavor of a country ham.”

The hams stay in the spring room for four to six weeks before moving on to the summer room and the smokehouse.

“This is again where hams are going to age and get that natural country ham flavor,” says Brian. “We smoke with a natural hickory sawdust. They’re going to be in (the summer room) a couple of weeks, and then they smoke for two days.”

Harper’s country hams are a traditional product with real Kentucky credibility—they’ve won grand champion titles at the Kentucky State Fair. Remaining true to their community, Harper’s is one of Hickman Counties larger employers with around 70 people working for the company.

This segment is part of Kentucky Life episode #2007, which originally aired on Nov. 14, 2014. Watch the full episode.