Ham Salad - Gastro Obscura
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Prepared Foods

Ham Salad

This retro sandwich filling was once a convenient, comforting funeral food.

In the United States’ Upper Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, and Southeast regions, ham (and sometimes bologna) salad has played several roles: cheap, Depression-era meal, handy hack to use leftover baked ham, and comforting funeral food.

In each case, the dish’s chief selling point has been its affordability and convenience. Home cooks simply ground up ham or ring bologna (sometimes with a meat grinder, though food processors are more common today), then added mayonnaise and pickle relish. Some recipes might incorporate hard-boiled eggs, celery, onions, and Dijon mustard, but many cooks stand by the delicious simplicity of the three-ingredient version. The savory, creamy result would be slapped between white bread or spread on biscuit crackers.

In the mid-20th century, the ham salad sandwich held a prominent place on the table at post-funeral luncheons. Some Americans recall eating it only at these events. “In thinking back to any number of post-funeral lunches I’ve attended,” one woman from Pennsylvania wrote, “one constant is that there are always ham salad sandwiches.” And yet, rather than develop ominous associations with the porcine spread, those who grew up eating it even in this context seem to remember the comfort food with nostalgia.

Today, diners can easily make ham salad at home, purchase it prepackaged at local delis, or even buy sandwiches and spreads at diners and restaurants in the Midwest and South.

Need to Know

There are many variations on the simple ham salad, ranging from recipes that use ground ring bologna to those that swap in Miracle Whip for mayo.

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