Today is World Radio Day. It was proclaimed on 3 November 2011 by UNESCO’s 36th General Conference after originally proposed by the Kingdom of Spain. The day is meant to celebrate radio in all its uses, so I’ll follow suit. Until recently radio was a very important part of my life. When I was an infant in England in the early 1950s the whole family used to sit around in the living room on a Sunday afternoon with the radio on. Then when we moved to Australia the radio always had a central role to play. It was on in the morning at breakfast time, partly for entertainment, and partly to keep track of the time so that we were not late. In the late afternoons there were a number of shows we listened to before dinner including my favorite, The Argonauts Club – a radio show for children featuring games and competitions, with the opportunity to send in your own contributions of poetry, essays, and plays (the best of which were read on the air). But what caught my most fervent attention for many years was amateur shortwave radio.
My scout troop (1st Gawler) had a very active senior patrol that morphed into a rover patrol and they had an interest in shortwave radio. They had built a radio shack with a tall antenna on the grounds of the scout hut, and used their old, beat up, valve operated shortwave system to contact scouts around the world, especially during Jamboree on the Air (3rd weekend in October). Every year I went all day, well into the night, to take my turn chatting with scouts all over the world. For years after I had a dream that one day I would set up my own shortwave station. These were the days before easy global communications by telephone, let alone internet, and it resonated with me, as it did with many others. Here’s the radio version of “The Radio Ham” by Tony Hancock (the television version is available if you hunt) to get the general flavor:
“Ham radio” and “radio ham” are slang terms for amateur radios and their operators whose origin is unknown, although you’ll find the usual nonsense about etymology if you poke around – all ridiculous folk legends. Hancock really does capture the feel of ham radio in the 1950s and 1960s.
Having my own shortwave transmitter remained an unrealized pipe dream, but I did have a shortwave receiver for decades in the United States. It allowed me to tune into the BBC before the days of the internet, and also to hear the news from multiple countries around the world. Back then (and still) news in the US is confined to news about US citizens (at home and abroad), or about US interests. 500 people could die in a plane crash in Africa but if there were no US citizens aboard it would go largely unreported. Shortwave was my antidote. The BBC was great because it had plays, comedies, soap operas, quizzes and whatnot that I loved, and still love.
US radio is largely for car drivers and tends to consist of music, news, or talk shows. I found it exceptionally dull on my daily commute. But when I took trips to England I would immediately explore the dial on my rental car’s radio for the wealth of programming on national and regional radio. I can count the US radio shows that I enjoyed on the fingers of one hand, and still have fingers left over. Dr Demento and Whad’ya Know? come to mind. World Radio Day is all about promoting the potential riches of radio for all people of all ages. I’m up for that.
Since amateur radio is known as ham radio let’s talk about ham as our food of the day. Many, many countries have their own special hams and I have been fortunate to live near many sources. Currently I live near Parma and have made the obligatory pilgrimage to get the local prosciutto – known locally simply as crudo. You can get ham in Argentina, but it is a rarity in the land where beef is king. China is a different story altogether. Ham is an essential ingredient in so many regional dishes. The most well known varieties are Anfu ham from Jiangxi, Jinhua ham, Rugao ham, and Xuanwei ham. All are richly flavorful, adding complexity to soups, stews, and stir fries.
How long would you like me to wax lyrical about Smithfield ham, jamón Serrano, jambon d’Ardèche, Westfälischer Schinken, etc.? I won’t. Instead I’ll talk a little about production – which you can do yourself at home if you have patience. Ham is a method of preserving and flavoring raw pork leg by salting, smoking, or wet curing. Besides salt, several ingredients may also be used to enhance flavoring and preservation.
Traditional dry cure hams may use only salt as the curative agent, such as with San Daniele or Parma hams, although this is comparatively rare. This process involves cleaning the raw meat, covering it in salt (for about one month for Parma ham) while it is gradually pressed – draining all the blood. In Tuscan Ham (Prosciutto Toscano PDO) different spices and herbs are added to the salt during this step. The hams are then washed and hung in a dark, temperature-regulated place until dry. They are then hung to air for another period of time.
The duration of the curing process varies by the type of ham, with Serrano ham curing in 9–12 months, Parma hams taking more than 12 months, and Iberian ham taking up to 2 years to reach the desired flavor characteristics. Some dry cured hams, such as the Jinhua ham, take approximately 8 to 10 months to complete.
Ham can also be preserved through the smoking method, in which the meat is placed in a smokehouse (or equivalent) to be cured by the action of smoke. The main flavor compounds of smoked ham are guaiacol, and its 4-, 5-, and 6-methyl derivatives as well as 2,6-dimethylphenol. These compounds are produced by thermal breakdown (i.e., combustion) of lignin, a major constituent of wood used in the smokehouse.
Wet curing (also known as brining) involves the immersion of the meat in a brine, sometimes with other ingredients such as sugar also added for flavor. Meat is submerged in the brine for around 3–14 days, during which time the meat needs to be kept submerged, and the brine mixture agitated periodically to prevent separation of the ingredients. Wet curing also has the effect of increasing volume and weight of the finished product, by about 4%.
I’ve smoked and wet cured hams at home. The processes are not complex, just time consuming, and require special equipment. The results have always been excellent, but I’m happy to pop down to the local market when I need ham for any reason. Brining is probably your easiest bet and you can find plenty of recipes online. Here’s one that’s OK: