Hamming it up
September 30, 2014 12:38 PM   Subscribe

How would a ham have been presented in a church holiday food basket in the early 1970s?

OK. This is probably one of the sillier questions I've asked here, but I have a bee in my bonnet about it and it won't go away.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is holiday gospel for my atheist family. We read it out loud every year and my spouse and I are inevitably crying by the end.

One of the funniest and most moving bits in this book is the scene where one of the "bad kids" who have taken over a church Christmas pageant decides that a ham would make a much better gift for the Wise Men to take to baby Jesus than a bunch of perfumed oil. In homage to this scene, I want to make a ham Christmas tree ornament. Me being me, I've gotten snagged on authenticity. So: what would this ham look like?

The ham is described as being "heavy--Leroy almost dropped it," and it's made clear that the ham actually came from the family's holiday food basket that they (as token poor people) had been given by the church. That's all the description we get. The book was published in 1971 and the story was contemporary; there's no location ever given that I can recall, but the author probably lived in Pennsylvania at that point. According to this website, until the 1980s, a canned ham would have been the only way to get a ham outside of a butcher shop (although the thing was still perishable and would have needed refrigeration anyway). However, the Hormel website says that shrink-wrapped ham was introduced during the 1960s.

Does anyone have any direct experience with church food collection/distribution in the 1970s who could tell me what kind of ham would have been most likely? Educated guesses? Bonus points: anyone who lived in or near PA at that time, what brands might have been most common? (Any ads/images from around that time would be welcome, although I've found a few I sort of like.) I'll most likely be sculpting the thing out of polymer clay so I can paint it or even apply a tiny little paper label, especially if it is canned.
posted by dlugoczaj to Food & Drink (9 answers total)
I grew up in the 60s and 70s but in the Long Island, NY area and I never saw a ham that wasn't canned unless it was called "fresh ham". But a fresh ham probably wouldn't have been donated since it requires refrigeration.
posted by tommasz at 1:04 PM on September 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

I grew up and Philly and I'd like to try for the bonus points. I think Hatfield would be a popular brand. Hatfield, PA is located a few miles from Philadelphia and is known as "The Home of the Smiling Porker".
posted by Rob Rockets at 1:07 PM on September 30, 2014

It would have been a canned ham. They did NOT need to be refrigerated.

Here's an IGA ham. (Independent Grocers of America--small neighborhood groceries)

DAK has been around for awhile.

Dubuque Hams were a thing. Here's a toy with the old logo on it. Those were VERY common back in the day.

If you want to go there, Treet. (Don't go there, it was beyond disgusting.)

Here's an ad from Morrel on etsy.

Armour, Plumrose, Swift were all brands at the time
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:09 PM on September 30, 2014

I grew up in Ohio (next state west of Pennsylvalnia) in that period and the blue DAK canned ham is iconic in my mind.
posted by metahawk at 2:49 PM on September 30, 2014

Honeybaked wraps theirs in colored foil.
posted by brujita at 3:37 PM on September 30, 2014

Definity canned, in the distinctively shaped can.
posted by SemiSalt at 4:16 PM on September 30, 2014

Honeybaked opened a store in Atlanta in the 1970s, so canned ham wasn't the only option.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:21 PM on September 30, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone so far. I think I'm leaning toward canned, and the IGA ham photo that Ruthless Bunny posted has such a nice clear label shot that I might actually print it out to use directly, even though it's a little older than the 1970s.

(Even though I might disagree with the "didn't need to be refrigerated" comment--the IGA label says "Perishable - Keep Refrigerated" and so does any other picture from that period that I've Googled. I wonder if it's just an advisement, rather than a mandate, so canned hams would be OK unrefrigerated for the brief period of basket (or Magi) delivery? Obviously, I think too much.)
posted by dlugoczaj at 7:49 AM on October 1, 2014

> canned hams would be OK unrefrigerated for the brief period of basket (or Magi) delivery

Yes, absolutely.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:47 PM on October 1, 2014

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