Ham it up for the holidays

December 15, 2004|EMILY TOADVINE

BURGIN - Lisa Hisle says she didn't know she was going to be the cook when she was hired at the Trading Post Shell gas station in Burgin. But she has handled the situation pretty well, considering that she cooked a lot of the 180 country hams that were ordered during last year's holiday season.

"I never thought about making a living as a cook," says Hisle, who spent 10 years working in the florist business until her wrists began to hurt from all the wire twisting that work required. Before taking the job a year and a half ago, her last experience in the restaurant business was as a teenager at Harrodsburg's Dairy Freeze.

She learned a lot about the ham preparation from her boss, Ben Bradshaw, who she says serves as quality control for the hams.

"That's my weakness because I have to sample them all," says Bradshaw, who will take ham orders through Jan. 1.


Hisle must rely on Bradshaw and others to remove the hams from the stove after they cook. The country hams must be boiled 20 minutes per pound.

"Most of them come in at four hours and then they have to be deboned," Hisle says.

The treatment of the ham after the cooking makes the difference, she says.

"Evidently the most important thing is to wrap them good and tight in aluminum foil with plastic wrap and put them in a cooler for 24 hours before you slice it. Otherwise, they'll fall apart."

Hisle is in the midst of the holiday ham cooking with orders being taken every day for the hams that come from Robinson Meats in London. A country ham costs $1.79 a pound for 15- to 20-pounds. City spiral hams cost $2.39 a pound and average 5 to 8 pounds.

She will prepare some of the city hams, with a glaze, to serve to the 25 to 30 regular lunch customers.

The glaze suits her taste

With the glaze for the city hams, Hisle has played around to suit her taste, adding regular yellow mustard rather than the powder form and using cinnamon.

"I never stick to a recipe. I added the cinnamon," she says.

As someone who created artful flower arrangements, she likes this aspect of cooking.

"It's still being creative. I still do flower arranging, just a tiny bit at home."

The willingness to vary from a recipe is a great trait for cooks to have, she says.

"The most important thing is don't be afraid to try something."

The lunches vary, with some days the crowd coming for her meatloaf, other days for Salisbury steak or sloppy joes.

"Wednesday is almost always pot roast, which is excellent," Hisle says, noting that she does not make the pot roast. It comes from Fontanini, ready to heat and serve. She does make the au gratin potatoes and green beans to accompany it for the $5 lunch plate that includes a drink.

She is a firm believer in including a bread with the meal.

"I fry corn bread most days. If I don't do corn bread, I make homemade rolls if I can find the time."

When she's not preparing the lunch specials, Hisle switches gears and steps into the pizza part of the store. After setting out all the ingredients, she'll make a few pizzas to serve at lunch.

After a day of working around food, Hisle is ready to take a break and relax with her 14-year-old daughter, Sarah.

"I still cook but not like I used to. There's a few more times when we just have chicken salad sandwiches."

When not cooking, she devotes her time to making baby quilts with matching pillows. She sells the sets for $25.

Ham Glaze

5- to 8-pound ham

3 to 4 cups brown sugar, loose

1 teaspoon mustard

2 tablespoons vinegar

1 1/2 tablespoons cinnamon

Wrap ham in foil and bake at 350 degrees for one hour. Remove from oven, sprinkle glaze over ham. Wrap in foil, which allows the brown sugar to steam and glaze it. Cook for one more hour at 350 degrees.

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