Cookbooks were of little help. James Beard, who was probably the most devoted ham champion this country has ever seen, acknowledges in his book American Cookery (Little, Brown, 1972) that the coveted salt-cured hams of Europe—Belgium's Ardennes ham, France's Bayonne ham, Germany's Westphalian ham, Parma's prosciutto—are traditionally served uncooked. But when it comes to American dry-aged country ham, like the ones Lindsay's relatives have made for centuries in the South, Beard told us to cook it. That's the way it's always been done. Uncle Kent agreed. "I guess you could eat it raw," he told me over the phone. "But I never do." Instead, he told me to saw off the hock and save it for seasoning soups and beans, slice off a few pieces for pan-fried ham steaks, and then soak the ham for a few days before simmering, glazing, and baking it. And so I did. (I had to borrow a handsaw from my apartment building's superintendent, Charlie.) The results were delicious, but I couldn't resist shaving off a few pieces first to eat raw; they had a gentle salinity, and they practically melted on the tongue. Dry-curing the hind legs of pigs is one of the oldest ways of preserving pork, and—with all due respect to Uncle Kent and James Beard—it does indeed render the meat ready to eat. The ancient Romans did it. The Gauls did it. And some historians believe that those Europeans learned how to do it by trading with the Chinese, who have been curing hams for millennia. Salt-cured hams are a traditional holiday food in scores of countries, from France and Germany to England and the United States, and a love of ham in those countries has traveled to the Caribbean, the Philippines, South America, and beyond. The meat and bone from hams are put to use in myriad ways—in Chinese ham broth soups and in German baked ham steaks, to name but two. Ham pairs beautifully with sweet, spicy, or creamy foods; those foods counteract the meat's saltiness, which can range from mild to emphatic (see Ham Companions).