4-H offers students chance to learn

Jodi Camp/Franklin Favorite

A country ham cured last year by a 4-H member hangs in a cold room in the Simpson County Extension Office waiting to be eaten.

The Simpson County Extension Office has been offering a program for 4-H eligible children to learn about the process of curing country ham.

"It is just a neat thing we can teach kids that is part of Kentucky's heritage," Catherine Webster, Simpson County Extension Agent for 4-H Development said. "The process for curing country hams really hasn't changed a lot, it is still the same concept I guess the quality control has probably improved over the years."

The participants meet three times a year, in March, May and either the end of July or the first week of August, she said, the specific dates are not set until January.

The participants travel to Cliffy Farms in Scottsville to the processing facility, where they learn step by step how to cure a country ham. The three visits are usually around 6 p.m. on a Tuesday or Thursday night and participants are only there for an hour.

"It is a pretty simple process with the fact that we use processors with a temperature controlled facilities," Webster said.

Those participating will do everything from picking out their ham, packing it in a salt curing mixture, washing the ham clean of the mixture, hanging it up to finish curing and determining which ham is the best to send to the Kentucky State Fair for judging.

Each member will get two hams, one for them to keep and one to enter into the state fair. Webster said the biggest factor a ham is judged on is its smell.

It is a two-fold process because participants who submit a ham to the fair must also complete a 3-5 minute presentation at the fair. The presentation topics are dependent on birth years, so anyone born from 2001-2005 will speak on dry cured hams of the world and anyone born from 2006-2010 will talk about the history of county ham.

"They assign them a different topic every year that way it forces the kids to write a new speech," Webster said. "Sixty percent of the state fair contest is based on their presentation."

She said many kids don't participate in the project because they will have to give a presentation and public speaking terrifies them.

"It is just them and the judges, that takes away a lot of the nervousness because their peers and their parents aren't listening," Webster said.

On the day of the state fair, she said there are usually 800 hams in a room broken down by birth years, whether it was smoked or not smoked and the process used to cure the ham.

Webster said another reason some chose not to do the program is because the participant will have to miss a day of school for the state fair. That day is not counted against the student since it is a 4-H activity.

The project is open to children ages 9-18 who are eligible to participate in 4-H. Every eligible member must send a ham to the state fair. Transportation to the Country Ham Project and to the state fair is up to the individual.

The deadline to register to participate in the project is Monday, Dec. 16. Anyone interested in participating can go by the Extension office to sign up. Children do not have to be in 4-H to participate in the program, Webster said they can sign the child up for 4-H specifically to do the country ham project.

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