Local sourcing adds a Granite State flavor to traditional Easter favorites

Special to the Sunday News
March 16. 2018 6:20PM
Owner Chris George weighs smoked maple cured hams for Easter at Mr. Steer Meats in Londonderry on Friday. George buys his store's hams from North Country Smokehouse in Claremont. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

In the early 1900s, when New Englanders wanted lamb for Easter dinner, many shopped at Chris George's grandfather's meat shop in Massachusetts.

Today, they still depend on the George family - they come to his shop in Londonderry, where it's been for over 47 years.

"My grandfather was the largest lamb distributor in New England," claims Chris George, owner of Mr. Steer Meats in Londonderry. "People came from all over, and back then, they took the back roads."

George is gearing up for a brisk Easter season. He says lamb outsells ham by 3 to 1, primarily because of the variety of cuts.

"The cut changes the flavor, and the way you cook it totally changes the flavor. A leg of lamb doesn't taste like a lamb kebab and that doesn't taste like a lamb shoulder."

"One of the first meats available for Easter was lamb because sheep, with their thick wool coats, are able to survive the severe winter weather," George says. "It gave people something to eat."
Chris George holds a pair of fresh spring lamb legs, one of the most popular items for Easter, at Mr. Steer Meats. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

The same availability can apply to ham.

"Pigs were slaughtered in the fall before winter and smoked and cured over the winter months, ready in time for Easter," he says.

When is a ham not a ham? George says customers often get confused.

"A lot of people ask for 'fresh ham,' and when I bring it to them, they say, 'That's not what I wanted.' People don't know. 

"A 'fresh ham' is a ham before it's smoked," he explains. "When it's cooked it's a pork roast, not a ham."

The ham most people request for Easter is smoked, and has pink meat. Mr. Steer gets its hams from North Country Smokehouse in Claremont.
Owner Chris George holds a bone in smoked maple cured ham for at Mr. Steer Meats in Londonderry on Friday. The hams are local-sourced from North Country Smokehouse in Claremont. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

On the farms

When it comes to ham suppliers in New Hampshire, there are dozens of farmers who raise pigs for their meat. Carole Soule at Miles Smith Farm and her husband Bruce Dawson are among them.

Soule says the flavor of a ham isn't only about the smoke.

"Our pigs need good quality food to flavor the meat," says Soule. "We are feeding them good quality brewer's grain and water, and that translates to a good ham."

The treatment of the animal is also a priority. 

"We raise our animals respectfully and as humanely as possible. The less stressed an animal the better the meat."

The same can be said at Riverslea Farm in Epping, known regionally as a source not only for lamb, but goat. Owner Liz Conrad says goat meat is moving up the ladder in popularity, especially in New Hampshire.

"A couple of things have happened," she says. "First we have had a shift in cultural diversity with new Americans coming to southern New Hampshire, we've had the 'eat local' movement, the cooking channel where they cook just about everything and the new 'farm to restaurant' trend."

Conrad also gives credit to Oprah Winfrey.

Bruce Dawson and Carol Soule are the owners of Miles Smith Farm in Loudon, where they raise pork, lamb and beef. (GEOFF FORESTER)

"I remember the day the demand for goat went up. (Oprah) said that 80 percent of people in the world eat goat meat. From that day forward, we saw a spike in sales."

In addition to goat, Conrad raises sheep, but not pigs. "Those of the Muslim and Jewish faiths do not eat pork."

Both Riverslea and Miles Smith farms have been busy with people picking up their favorite traditional meats.

The same can be said at Mr. Steer Meats in Londonderry, where the cooking tips are free.

When cooking a smoked ham, have a little soda on hand, George says.

"It's a little secret," he says. "The best thing on it? Plain old Schweppes ginger ale. I pour the ginger ale over the top of the ham as if basting it. It gives the ham a hint of ginger and takes some of the salty out of it."

But it will be a true "fresh ham" - a pork roast - that will be on the platter at the Georges' home this Easter. Again, George has a tip. 

"The best is what I call the crackle," he says. "The skin. It's the rind, and cook it so it's crisp. When you eat it it's like a potato chip.

"It's not good for you but it tastes good."

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