Then, by chance, I learned the cheap-ham secret. At one of my first big-city parties—the hostess, the assistant to the associate editor of a fashion magazine, made up in style what she lacked in cash—what should I see center-stage on the buffet table but a giant ham, bone intact, brown as could be. And what ham! An orangey, brown-sugary, smoky taste permeated every bite. Guests hovered over it, and as the evening wore on, it became unrecognizable, thoroughly picked over. (Ham at home had always maintained its shape.)
My hostess, flush with the triumph of having entertained so well, was effervescent, and I, feeling particularly close to her that night, offered to stay behind and help clean up. "Carlotta," I begged, "please talk to me about your ham," and almost conspiratorially, she did, instructing me to buy the cheapest ham I could find, cook it for a long time, and glaze the hell out of it. "You can feed 30 people for $6.99!" she exhaled.