Hot ham, six free rolls. You’ll see the signs in Milwaukee shop windows, teasing a Sunday morning tradition in Brew City.
Around the time church lets out each week, locals, some coming from services and others from bed, migrate en masse to their local bakeries and delis. They snake down sidewalks waiting for their pounds of ham, each sold with a free six-pack of “hard rolls” (which aren’t actually hard, but rather crusty on the outside and delightfully soft inside). When the haul comes home, the mustard and mayo come out, and families gathers around their tables to share in the bounty of meat and bread as they have each weekend for more than half a century.
The hot-ham-and-roll tradition took hold in Milwaukee’s Catholic community just before World War Two, when Catholics were required to fast from midnight on Saturday until they received Holy Communion on Sunday. (Today, after a series of amendments to religious doctrine, Catholics are only required to fast for an hour before receiving the Eucharist.) Parishioners were famished after services let out, and one now-defunct local chain took notice. Meurer Brothers Bakery fed hungry church crowds with a quick, affordable, filling after-church meal that the competition copied—six free rolls and a pound of Badger Ham, which is to hot ham and rolls in Milwaukee what Provel is to square-cut pizza in St. Louis.