Ham loaf Christmas dinner tradition inspires that special holiday feeling

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By: Rachel Shenk

Just yesterday, I was talking with Peggy at the credit union. As small talk goes, we were doing pretty well: She asked me about my Christmas plans, and I asked her about hers.

I told her I like to prepare and serve the holiday meal for my family. It’s kind of fun.

She promptly asked me if I wanted to do hers. And that’s when I said, “I always make ham loaf. It seems to be the tradition in our family. And It’s really easy to make. And it’s so good.”

This ham loaf talk really puts me in the Christmas mood. I start to anticipate family and friends coming together for the holidays. These gatherings are one way of alleviating the winter chill. Whether spent inside or outside, we bring to each other the warmth of a fire. Sharing laughter or debate, living together in this real world, we continue to build the bonds of love. Through music, conversation and especially food, we carve out our family niche and pass on traditions that we enjoy. And that is how I found out about our ham loaf “tradition.”

One Christmas, as we were making plans to meet our daughter in Colorado, she suggested someone should get the ingredients for ham loaf in Denver because she was not able to find the necessary meats required for the recipe in her small town. I inquired about the ham loaf, wondering if that was the plan for the Christmas dinner menu. Little did I know that The Ham Loaf is “what we always have for Christmas.” In this way, I discovered that over the years, my daughters had ham loaf at Christmas and assumed that is the tradition in our family. Yes, it made me happy, and it made me feel warm in the middle of a cold day. Apparently, it takes others to point out the obvious. So I brought the ingredients for ham loaf and made it in Frisco, Colo.

Maybe that’s also part of these yearly get-togethers: new people, new faces, new locales, new traditions. And even though it’s hard to give up the old ones (like singing old French carols in four-part harmonies) I’ll join in the new ones like Christmas in Frisco. And keep the ham loaf going!

I wish you the joy of old and new traditions shared with those you love and the warmth of spirit and home around you. And in case you want to borrow our tradition, here’s the recipe for The Ham Loaf.

Ham Loaf (revised from Mennonite Community Cookbook)

  • 1 pound fresh pork, ground
  • 1 pound cured ham, ground
  • 1 cup regular oats
  • 1 egg
  • Salt and pepper to taste (I go light on the salt since ham is already salty.)
  • 1 cup milk

In a large bowl, mix oats, egg, spices and milk. Let sit for five or 10 minutes so the oats soak up the moisture some. Add in the meats, and mix well by hand. Shape into a loaf, dust with flour and place in a baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 1½ to 2 hours. After the first hour, pour over the loaf the sauce made as follows:

  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoon mustard
  • ½ cup water
  • ½ cup apple cider vinegar

Mix and bring to a boil before pouring over ham loaf. (I sometimes make the sauce times 1½ and use it to flavor a side of boiled potatoes)

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