Three Takeaways from “The Ham Baking Story”

By now, I’m sure you’ve all heard some iteration of what I lovingly call “the ham story” at some point. It goes like this: 

A young girl was watching her mother bake a ham for the Thanksgiving gathering and noticed her mom cutting off the ends before placing it in the oven.

“Mom, why do you cut the ends off before baking the ham?” she asked.

“I think it helps soak up the juices while it’s baking. I’m not sure, though. That’s just the way your grandma always did it, so I’ve just always cut them off. Why don’t you call grandma and ask her?”

The little girl called her grandma and asked “Grandma, mom is making a ham and cut off the ends before placing it in the oven. She said that it’s probably to help soak up the juices but wasn’t sure. She said you’d know because she learned how to cook from you.”

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“That’s true. I do cut off the ends of the ham before baking. But I’m not sure why either. I learned how to cook from my mom. You should ask her.”

So, the inquisitive little girl called her great grandmother and asked “Great grandma, mom and grandma said they learned how to cook a ham from watching you. Do you cut off the ends of the ham to help it soak up the juices?”

The great grandmother chuckled. “Oh, no sweetie. I just never had a pan big enough to hold a whole ham, so I always had to cut off the ends to make it fit.”

In other variations of the story, the story centers on a newly married couple with the husband asking his wife the same question, but the story is still of generations of people imitating those before them without really grasping the reason. 

At any rate, there’s a lot to be gleaned from this simple tale:

Critical thinking — In some ways, the story begs people to think critically, to use reasoning as they strive to understand the connection between ideas. It encourages people to be continuous, active learners who use facts to formulate their interpretation of ideas. 

Innovation — Innovation is not only creating something new, but improving existing products or ideas. Forbes contributor Michelle Greenwald described innovation, in part, as “Challenging conventional notions of how things have been done before, and bringing ideas from one industry to another, or from one geographic region to another.” The anecdote forces people to question why things are done in a certain way. What works? What doesn’t? How can each step be improved and how will that better the whole? Whether it’s in their career or personal life, people benefit from continually assessing and improving processes. 

Curiosity — Asking why the ends of the ham are cut off in the first place shows that the child (or husband) is a curious, inquisitive being. Are you allowing previous limitations like pan size constrain you as you move forward in your business or life? 

Can you think of something personally or professionally you’ve been doing forever that just doesn’t make sense now, or maybe never has made sense for you? It’s time to view your business through limitless potential and possibilities. Stop setting limits. Ardently seek opportunities for improvement and growth. 

Keep learning from those who came before you, but don’t be afraid to do something differently. After all, “If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got (Albert Einstein).”  

Karen Butterfield is an award-winning communications professional specializing in B2B and B2C content creation, copywriting, as well as internal and external correspondence. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from Webster University, St. Louis, in 2010 and then served in progressive roles at a community newspaper and publishing company. During her tenure as a reporter and editor, she earned more than a dozen state awards for writing and photography.