My grandfather was born in 1896. Known as PopPop to me, he grew up on a farm as the oldest of seven siblings: Ryland, Phillip, Virginia, Emily, Bess, Jacquelyn and Wilhelmina. Growing up on a farm in rural Virginia, Wallace Edwards Sr. learned the necessity of curing pork so that the family would have meat to eat all year round. It’s likely they didn’t have a refrigerator either in the 1800’s. (We still have sections of the original smokehouse kept as family memories.)
In his twenties he met, fell in love, and married Oneita Mae Jester, the daughter of Capt Albert Jester. Capt Jester, my Great-grandfather, owned and operated mail boats and ferry boats up and down the James River. So his new son in law, S. Wallace Edwards Sr. (my PopPop), began work as a Captain on one of those Ferries.
By 1925 he was selling some ham sandwiches from hams he had cured to make a little extra money. This was about the same time that Colonial Williamsburg was re-constructed and tourism boomed in Virginia. Soon, tourists who used the ferry boats were asking for whole entire hams, thus PopPop and Nana entered into the mail order business in 1926.
The Edwards ham business grew into a full line of pork products including slaughter. By the 1950’s my Dad had come into the business and modernized the curing of country hams bacon and sausage to produce a more consistent product and still targeting the old style flavors of country meats that my grandfather and dad knew folks wanted . Along the way we also had Uncles and cousins that worked at the smokehouse for employment and to help out when needed. S. Wallace Edwards Jr was successful at getting our hams, bacon and sausage into some of the finest local restaurants in our area like The Williamsburg Inn and the Greenbrier as well as restaurants that the locals recognized as a great place to eat like the Old Chickahominy house, Mama Steves House of Pancakes and the Virginia Diner.
I grew up in the business (salting hams and splitting hickory wood at age 12), still committed to producing a great product to match the quality and flavor profile that our customers expect. The biggest difference today is that in the beginning it was about having food to eat to survive. Curing meat correctly in the winter meant you would have meat to eat in the summer months. Today we do it because it tastes great! Paying attention to the details of curing meat and learning the art of curing meat has kept Edwards at the forefront of something special going on in this country today. We are still learning the nuances of curing meat even after 84 years of doing this thing called artisanal curing. Currently in the U.S there is a real interest in cured bacon, artisanal cured hams and great family recipes for sausage. We are blessed that some food experts have recognized Edwards for doing what my Grandfather and Dad taught us to do…and do it right.
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