Lyla Welles had one mission in life: protect her children from the hard hand of their father. So when her youngest child, John, was born on a cold December morning in 1907, the delivery-weakened mother worried that she wouldn’t have the strength to see her goal through.
Oblivious to his wife’s concerns, John Welles the elder saw the birth of his fourth child, third son, as cause for celebration. He indulged his appetite by breakfasting on the good food prepared by the midwife, Collie Mercer.
The following recipe is the one I had in mind when I wrote the above-mentioned scene for my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles. While many people enjoy ham, redeye gravy is somewhat of an acquired taste. The salty flavor is enhanced by the strong coffee, and although redeye is thinner than other breakfast gravy, it’s quite rich.
Ham Steak and Redeye Gravy
1 bone-in, fully cooked ham steak, approximately 1 lb.
½ c strong black coffee
¼ c water
2 T unsalted butter
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat a 12-inch, cast iron skillet on high heat until it is hot. Carefully test for degree of warmth with your hand above the skillet. Place the ham steak in the skillet once it is heated all the way across. Brown the ham steak on both sides. There should be a nice quantity of drippings and ham tidbits in the bottom of the skillet. Don’t burn this or the meat.
Once the ham steak is heated through, remove it to a platter and place in a warm oven. Add the butter, coffee, and water to the skillet and gently scrape the skillet to loosen any browned pieces. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir gently until the gravy is reduced by at least one-third. A gentle boil is acceptable, but take care not to scorch the gravy, or it will taste burnt.
Pour the gravy over the ham steak on the platter and serve.