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Best Ham Loaf with Cranberry Glaze

Use leftover holiday ham for this easy weeknight dinner.

ham loaf with a cranberry glaze served with small potatoes and broccoli
Best Ham Loaf with Cranberry Glaze

Here’s a recipe that will take you back. Glazed Ham Loaf, something that was part of childhood for many Midwestern kids back in the day, is a clever way to use leftover Christmas (or Easter) ham. Usually ground pork and ham are used in the traditional recipe that dates as far back as the 19th century. And like a meatloaf, milk, an egg and some type of filler (bread or cracker crumbs or oats) are mixed in with the meat.

Serve ham loaf with potatoes (roasted or mashed) and a salad or a vegetable for an easy dinner following your holiday celebration.

People younger than 50 may not have heard of ham loaf. It hasn’t been banished to the recipe graveyard like aspics have, but ham loaf probably isn’t in the arsenal of many modern cooks. However, a hallmark of any good cook is “waste not, want not,” so it’s wise to have some recipes on hand that make good use of leftovers. Don’t allow the remnant of that expensive Christmas ham go bad in the back of your refrigerator; make ham loaf!

We can thank Pennsylvania Dutch cooks for this culinary creation. Ham loaf is popular in Pennsylvania and Ohio, but is also familiar in Midwest states, including Indiana. There’s even a company in Pennsylvania’s Venago County that sells ham loaf.

Because ham loaf includes some type of sweeter glaze—often made with mustard and brown sugar—there is a salty-sweet component that many folks favor. Like meatloaf, a slice of cold ham loaf works in a sandwich, too. For breakfast or brunch, brown a slice in a skillet and serve with a fried egg. Let’s get cooking!

To make Ham Loaf with Cranberry Glaze, you’ll need:

  • 1 pound cooked ham, ground

  • 1 pound ground pork or turkey

  • 1 egg

  • 1 medium onion

  • 1 medium green pepper

  • 1 cup soft bread crumbs

  • 1 cup milk

  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds

  • 1 teaspoon ground thyme

  • 1 (16-ounce) can whole-berry cranberry sauce

  • ¼ cup water

  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup

ham, ground turkey, green pepper, egg, onion and bread on a butcher block counter
Ham loaf ingredients include ham, ground turkey (or pork), green pepper, onion, one egg and bread.

We all have preferences when it comes to ham, whether that’s cured or uncured, smoked, boneless or bone-in, and even down to favorite brands. For example, Mom almost never bought anything but a boneless Double G hams for Christmas. One year, she purchased a different brand, but lamented throughout dinner that she’d turned away from her favorite brand. Another year, I suggested a spiral ham, but that idea was quickly shot down.

Food trivia: During Missouri’s colonial period, bear hams were preferred over those made from hogs, a fun fact from my book about local food history. The colonists’ love of bear meat and bear grease (used for cooking) resulted in over harvesting, and Missouri’s black bears disappeared for about 150 years.

Thankfully, there's no bear in this recipe. I used a Frick’s ham, a family-owned company in Washington, Missouri.

To start the loaf, first cut the ham into chunks and then transfer this to a food processor to grind the ham. For this, I woke up The Beast, Mom’s now antique Magic Chef food processor. It only will take a few pulses to grind the ham for the loaf (you don’t want it to become a paste).

ground ham in food processor
Try to get a grind similar to this when making your ham loaf.

Next, finely chop the onion and green pepper.

In a large mixing bowl, add the egg and lightly beat it. Toss in the onion, green pepper, milk, bread crumbs, fennel seeds and thyme. Combine these ingredients.

I like to either lightly toast or slightly crush the fennel seeds to release more of their flavor. And instead of bread, you also could use cracker crumbs or even half a cup of quick-cooking oatmeal.

To that same bowl, add the ham and ground pork or turkey. In this recipe, I used turkey because it has a lower fat content than pork. With clean hands—your best kitchen tools—gently mix all ingredients until just combined.

Next, transfer the mixture to a 9-by-5-by-3-inch ungreased loaf pan and pat evenly to form the loaf. Place on a baking sheet and bake uncovered at 350 degrees F for one hour or until thermometer reaches 160 degrees F.

ham loaf in baking pan
Baked ham loaf that just came out of the oven.

Chances are, you may have leftover cranberries from your holiday meal. If you do, use those to make the glaze for the ham loaf. I only used half of the 16-ounce can of whole-berry cranberry sauce for the recipe, and will save the remainder for another recipe.

In a small saucepan, combine the cranberry sauce, water and corn syrup and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered for about five minutes or until you see the sauce starting to thicken. Remove the pan from the heat until you’re ready to serve the ham loaf.

Now, if anybody can tell me an easy way to turn out a meatloaf (or a ham loaf) from its pan, I’m all ears. What I usually do is run a knife around the edges of the cooled pan and sacrifice the first slice. This allows me to get my elongated spatula under the ham loaf and gently lift it from the pan.

Place the ham loaf on a platter and top with the cranberry glaze. By the way, the whole berries in the glaze can hide any “whoops” moments when serving the ham loaf. Any unused portions of the glaze can be transferred to a small bowl for extra sauce should anyone want it.

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