A Story of Tradition
Hams from S. Wallace Edwards & Sons in Surry, Virginia, are prepared in the true Virginia tradition. Long before the first settlers arrived at Jamestown in 1607, the Native Americans had been curing venison and fish, plentiful in the forest and rivers. The taste of the salt-cured and smoked meat was different from the sun-dried method the settlers knew in their native England. The settlers soon brought hogs which were left to forage New World vegetation including nuts and acorns. By 1608, the colonists were keeping their hogs on an island five miles below the Jamestown Settlement. The island soon became known as Hog Island, as it is today over three centuries later. In 1652, Surry County was formed encompassing Hog Island and much other land across the James River from Jamestown. These early colonists soon developed a process of smoking pork over hickory and oak fires, after rubbing it with salt obtained from evaporating seawater, then allowing the meat to stand for a period of time. The salt preserved the meat, the smoking and aging enhanced the flavor. When other crops failed or tobacco prices fell, there were always hams to trade; thus, the Virginia hams were exported to England from Surry.
For generations, ham curing had been a seasonal event for Virginia farmers. Hogs were killed in the winter and their meat packed in salt while the weather was cool enough to keep it from spoiling. The meat then was rinsed and hung to dry and smoke during the remaining cool months. With luck, it would endure the high temperatures of summer to age. In 1926, S. Wallace Edwards, the young captain of the Jamestown-Surry ferry began selling ham sandwiches to his passengers. The ham had been cured by him as on the the family farm according to those time-tested methods. Soon demand became great enough that S. Wallace Edwards began curing hams on a full-time basis, distributing them to country stores and fine hotels, and shipping them throughout the country and overseas. S. Wallace Edwards & Sons remains a family operation in Surry County not far from Jamestown where Native Americans taught the settlers to cure meat. Today's facilities simulate the seasons without sacrificing the care and attention that result in that unique flavor of Virginia hams.
In the time-honored style of the Native Americans, settlers and farmers before them, S. Wallace Edwards & Sons processes each ham by hand as it goes through the stages of curing. The very finest hams are selected and hand-rubbed with salt. They remain in the curing room under controlled temperatures until the desired amount of salt has been absorbed. Excess salt is removed by washing and the hams are then pepper-coated and ready for hanging in the smokehouse. Many days of cool "hickory" smoke are required to give these hams their rich mahogany color. They are then allowed to hang undisturbed for "aging" until they develop that real Virginia flavor. Uncooked hams are ready to ship at this point. Others may go through a cooking process in the ham kitchen. These are submerged in water and slowly simmered until that are fully cooked and ready to be served.