Christmas has arrived! I’ve opened gifts, I’m sitting by a fire, and my belly is so full from Christmas breakfast it is hard to move. I may have eaten just a little too much, but it’s hard not to overindulge. In my family, holiday meals follow strict traditions. There is always a juicy beef tenderloin for Christmas dinner and breakfast always includes my mother’s over-the-top adaptation of Moravian sugarcake. Each part of the meal is sacred and it’s not Christmas (or Thanksgiving, or Easter) without the meals that have become so much a part of that holiday’s tradition.
So what makes up a Sawyer family Christmas breakfast? There is lots of strong coffee and tart Texas ruby-red grapefruits (a wonderful gift from the in-laws!). Scrambled eggs are loaded with cheddar cheese, creamy grits with milk and butter, and there is plenty of Moravian sugarcake and country ham with red-eye gravy.
For those who aren’t from the South, country ham accompanied by red-eye gravy is a true Southern tradition. Country ham is a ham that has been cured in salt. While it comes ready to eat, a popular method of preparing country ham is to fry the ham and then make a thin gravy from the drippings. Red-eye gravy, also known as poor man’s gravy, consists of the drippings from the ham, strong black coffee, and a little sugar. So simple to make, it’s delicious with fried country ham, poured over grits, or used as a dipping sauce for biscuits.
While my mom contributes the Moravian sugarcake, my dad is the chef when it comes to Christmas breakfast. He has been the breakfast man in our family for years and growing up, it was always a treat to see what Dad had whipped up for us that morning. We always had waffles on Saturday, apple pancakes at least one day a week, and his grits with corned beef over toast is still one of my favorite things to wake up to in the morning. My father prepared breakfasts for his family growing up and the country ham he prepares on Christmas morning has been a part of his Christmas morning routine for years now. While some people fry the country ham in grease before making the gravy, my father cooks his in water . It’s a technique that leaves the ham moist and slightly more healthy.
Dad’s Country Ham with Red-Eye Gravy
My father doesn’t use a specific amount of each ingredient and for that reason I don’t include a traditional recipe here. Depending on your preference, you may want to use more or less black coffee. I can assure you that it is hard to mess it up and well worth the effort.
Country ham, cut into 2″ by 2″ pieces
Water, enough to just cover the pieces of ham in the frying pan
Black coffee, about 1 1/2 cups
Sugar, about 1 tablespoon for every 1 1/2 cups of coffee used
Place the country ham in a large frying pan over medium-low heat. Add enough water to just cover the ham and let the ham cook at a simmer until the water has almost evaporated. Remove the ham from the frying pan and place it in a serving dish. Add about 1 1/2 cups coffee (more if desired) and the sugar to the frying pan that contains any remaining water and the drippings from the ham. After adding the coffee and sugar, increase the heat to medium and use a wooden spoon to scrape up any ham drippings from the bottom of the frying pan. Reduce the gravy slightly then serve. Red-eye gravy is a thin gravy, so don’t expect it to thicken up. Enjoy!