When the Heritage party arrived in Princeton, the rain had finally stopped and blue skies ruled the day. All that was missing was a ham sandwich….
Nancy Newsom, The Ham Maid’s Tale
Rolling into Princeton, Kentucky, is like being thrown back in time.
Newsom’s Old Mill Store was opened in 1917, and although it burned down and was rebuilt next door to the original locale, it doesn’t feel like much has changed. The poplar floor creeks like an ancient symphony, even the door whistles like a bluegrass concerto when it swings shut. Outside on the sidewalk, there are a dozen varieties of tomato plants for sale, and pretty much everything you might want for your garden. Inside, are every manner of beans and corn, and jars of country condiments, from Hot Chow Chow to Appalachian Piccallili. In the back corner, past the buckets of penny candy, is where they slice the ham.
But perhaps nothing more important to the topic at hand — the raison d’être for a Heritage Pilgrimage that has flown all the way from New York and driven across two states in a torrential downpour —is Princeton’s fortuitous location on top of a watershed, where springs often pop up like wild weeds. Out behind the store, just behind the Newsom curing facility, is a running creek, which comes down from Big Spring as part of the Eddy Creek system, and eventually runs into Lake Barclay.
If the mold is the fairy dust that makes for the world’s best hams, the water and the moisture in the air plays as big a part in curing these hams as any human hand.
Unlike Benton’s, Nancy uses no climate control – her process is driven by the weather and the water in the air. She describes her hams as “ambient cured” — it is a seasonal experience, managed by God as much by man, and not an exact science. How long will the hams cure? How long will they smoke for? The answer is always changing.
“Well,” says Nancy, “It depends on the weather, and Kentucky weather can change every day.” More than that, the global climate has become unpredictable at best. “I have to rethink what I do every year.”