There is nothing better or worse than a strong-willed Southern woman. I know what I speak of. I am the daughter of one and I am one. As strong willed as we both are, I am lucky that there have been very few times in my life that my mother and I have disagreed in a big way. We have always gotten along quite well: she is one of the most even-tempered and happy people I have ever known (but still strong-willed).
Being a mother of nine children, she would have to be that way, I guess. She used to say that when she told people she had nine children, they would look at her with pity, as if she were a simpleton. She was always amused that people did not understand how much she loved being a mother and I think she has been quite good at it. Amazingly enough, we are all fairly well-adjusted and functioning in society. I hope I can continue to say the same about my two boys.
But there is one divide for my mother and I ... it is the "holiday ham." Our disagreements are almost always centered on her "Liberty Hall" holiday traditions and my newer "Twin Oaks" traditions. I refer to this as the Ham War.
I am not alone when it comes to stories of a tug of war with holiday hams. I have many Southern girlfriends who battle their mothers over ham, especially at Easter. It was typically barbecue or ham for Easter when I was growing up, and as much as I like each of those items at certain times they never seemed special enough for a holiday meal.
I remember that when I first bought Twin Oaks and decided to host Easter several years ago, my mother inquired about the menu. When I said there would be no ham, you would have thought I had said there would be no food. My mother spent days taking every opportunity to bring it up as a hot topic. I was well over 40 and it was my house, so I dug in my heels and felt I had won the war. The day before Easter, my doorbell rang and a ham was being delivered to me by Federal Express, when my mother lived only blocks away. I guess you know now who won that war. The ham was displayed nicely along with all the other lovely things I had prepared.
Of course, it was not always easy for me to get home to Natchez when I was living in San Francisco. The restaurant business does not allow much time off. I had celebrated many holidays in San Francisco and was able to create my own traditions, minus the ham. One of my standard dishes on my restaurant menu—and it remains one of my favorites today—was lamb chops with tomato-mint marmalade. (I am a terrible editor, and realized months after the menu was printed it read "lamp chops." No one noticed, I think, not even a food critic.)
For Easter, it always seemed more appropriate to have spring lamb over ham. I would just have the butcher prepare a rack of lamb and I would bring home some of my tomato-mint marmalade from the restaurant. I love a rack of anything ... meat cooked on the bone is so much more flavorful. I have never been able to find research to verify that—it is something I just know. If you want to economize, try a rack of pork, which is less than half the price of lamb and very impressive and wonderful. The tomato mint marmalade works just as well. I have not tried it on ham—but if one shows up at my door this Easter, I will.