Q&A/Town hams it up with anniversary biscuit
On Saturday, Sept. 28, Smithfield, Va., celebrated its 250th anniversary with a parade, a concert and fireworks. By all accounts, it was a typical community party except for the presence of the large ham biscuit.
The town, the self-proclaimed Ham Capital of the World, worked with Smithfield Foods, which specializes in salt-cured hams, and the Smithfield Inn to create an oversized southern-style biscuit, which weighed more than 2,000 pounds. Town officials submitted documents to the Guinness Book of World Records in the hopes of creating an entry for the World’s Largest Ham Biscuit.
Event attendees were treated to regular-sized ham biscuits from the Inn to substitute for the actual biscuit, which was later used in fertilizer. Town Manager Peter Stephenson helped plan the event and assemble the gastronomic oddity.
Q: Who had the idea of making the large ham biscuit?
Stephenson: About a year-and-a-half ago, we had several planning meetings [for the town’s anniversary events], and the downtown business association thought of doing some kind of a record breaking item. One of the things Virginia is famous for is ham, particularly the Smithfield Ham. Last year, USA Today named the signature dish for each state, and it chose specifically the Smithfield Inn Ham Biscuit as a signature for Virginia. So we played on that publicity. We talked about other things first, like a sandwich or a hotdog, and then figured the biscuit would be the most appropriate food item.
Q: What was involved in preparing the biscuit?
A: Smithfield Foods built an oven for it, a cooling rack and a case. People could watch it cook. It took 14 hours to cook, and it ended up being eight-and-a-half feet, maybe nine feet, in diameter with 500 pounds of genuine Smithfield Ham. It took about three hours to cool, and it was on display for 24 hours. The top of the biscuit, when it was cut, had to be removed with a forklift — it was that heavy.
Q: What was required to get it in the Guinness Book?
A: For the Guinness Book of World Records, three of us had to taste it. So the mayor, myself and one of the reporters from the local newspaper, as well as our local health department official, [tasted it] to ensure that it was edible. We got the paperwork sent off to London for the Guinness World Record Book, so we’ll see what happens.
Q: Did it taste like a regular biscuit?
A: It sure did. It tasted very good. The original biscuits are more of a yeast roll, and this did not have exactly the same mixture and the yeasty flavor, but it was still very good.
Q: Do you expect any competition for the title?
A: I know there was a community in Kentucky [Cadiz] that was also [making a large] biscuit, but I think it was more like a cracker. It was only about an inch thick. Ours was literally a biscuit, and we sliced it in the middle and put the ham in it and put the cap back on top. It was literally an enlargement of the famous Smithfield Ham Biscuit.
Q: Do you expect to revisit this event and bake a bigger biscuit sometime?
A: We haven’t discussed yet whether we’re going to make it an annual thing or every so many years. We may get in competition here. We may have to do bake-offs with other communities.
Q: How will you preserve the memory of the biscuit?
A: We’ve been talking about trying to start a ham museum in Smithfield, and [a replica] would be an appropriate item and a fun item to have as part of the museum.
Q: Has anyone complained about using that many pigs, or that much ham, for this large biscuit?
A: I think there was one letter to the editor in the Virginia Pilot [that expressed concern] that the meat was wasted. Smithfield Foods donated 500 pounds of ham to local charities, food kitchens and shut-ins, because there was some concern that we were being wasteful. You never know when you’ve got a group like PETA, which is just 30 minutes away; sometimes they’ll show up at different events. But they did not show up at ours that day, so there was no dark cloud on our special occasion.