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Edwards Bacon


colonies of Virginia from England and Bermuda to raise for food and the sport of wild boar hunting. The climate of Virginia was so perfect for raising pigs, that they rooted, ran and rutted, feeding on acorns and hickory nuts and reproducing in such numbers that they became a nuisance. So the settlers rounded them up and transported them to an island in the James River later known as “Hog Island” in Surry County, where they became an easily caught source of protein, available all year long. Since Native Americans had been curing venison


long before the settlers arrived in Jamestown, they taught the newcomers to preserve meat with salt, smoke and time. Their methods of curing venison were adopted by the white man and used to preserve the meat of the plentiful razorback hog. Together, the natives and settlers would slaughter the animals in the fall, wash them and rub them down with salt, smoke them, then let them age through the winter and into the spring, allowing the salt and the changes in temperature to turn raw muscle into bacon and ham. The fortunes of Jamestown, and neighboring


Williamsburg, rose and faded, and rose again. In 1925, Colonial Williamsburg opened as a tourist attraction, and visitors were streaming across the James River. Local entrepreneur Captain Albert F. Jester ran the ferry that delivered the mail as well as human and automobile cargo. His pilot and son-in-law was S. Wallace Edwards Sr. Wallace, as he was known, had grown up on an Isle of Wight farm and moved to Surry, where he raised peanuts and pigs and processed the animals into bacon and ham in his backyard smokehouse. The pigs wandered the peanut fields, gorging on goobers the harvesters had left behind. The peanuts made the pigs’ meat rich and fatty, and it matured into juicy, delicious hams. One day it occurred to Wallace Sr. that perhaps he could combine his jobs and


The House & Home Magazine


make extra money selling food to the passengers. Soon, his homemaking, ham-cooking wife, Oneita, was sending him off each morning with a boxful of sandwiches wrapped in butcher paper. Word spread and soon tourists from all over the United States and the wider world were asking, “Where can I get this ham?” By 1926, Edwards was selling whole hams to restaurants and country stores, directly and through a mail-order catalog. That first year they processed 55 hams.“I won’t say we were dirt poor, but back then, hams were survival,” said Edwards Virginia Smokehouse President Sam W. Edwards III, widely recognized as one of the nation’s foremost authorities on cured ham. Over the next decade, the Edwards family built other


smokehouses, adding 1,500 square feet here and 10,000 there, as the need arose. The smokehouses had roofs shaped like teepees as an homage to the Native Americans who had kept the settlers alive. The family added a ham kitchen on the back of the house, with a concrete floor with a drain in it and a stove big enough to cook four hams at a time — two per giant pot. Christmas was (and still is) the busiest time of year for the business. For a time in the 1920s and ‘30s, Onieta would cook between 100 and 150 hams, which she boxed and decorated for the holidays. They called them Wigwam hams (still named so today), and the boxes carried an etching of a teepee with smoke drifting from its peak. Around 1940, Edwards Sr. built a slaughterhouse just


outside Surry. He used trailers with corrugated metal sides and roofs to carry racks of carcasses through town to a cutting room, where men in white aprons and street hats carved them into hams and hocks and bellies. The slaughterhouse was later converted to a facility for curing, smoking and aging hams.


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Edwards Sausage


Surryano Hams


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