When I was a kid, back in the 1940's, out of the blue, my dad would sometimes come forth with:
"Ham, ram, lamb, sheep, mutton, bull, beef, bear, mink, moose, muskrat."
I taught that saying to my wife. We've taught it to our kids and and to their spouses, and my sister taught it to her kids and to their spouses. We said that was their initiation into our family.
But where did this come from? I can't ask dad; he's dead. But I can Google, and here's what I've found so far....
In a post on his web site, Pete Nelson says,
"When I was in high school, the father of one of my best friends was a pretty funny and strange guy. ... Well, one of the strange and funny things he'd do was that whenever anyone asked him "What's for lunch?" he would reply:
"Spam, ram, lamb, ham. Sheep, mutton. Dogs, frogs, logs, hogs. Buffalo, bear, beef, rhino-sa-horse, and bean soup on toast. Take two, 'cause they're small."
I have no idea where he came up with this, but he could rattle the whole thing off in about two seconds, and then he'd laugh like it was the first time he'd ever heard it. For some reason, this always cracked me up, and so I memorized it, too. Since high school, I've remembered this crazy rhyme. So now, whenever my son, asks, "what's for lunch?" well, you know what he hears. How could I not pass that along? My kid thinks I'm really weird. Now you probably do, too."
There's even a book with something like that saying in its title. I bought Ham, Lamb, Ram, Bull, Beef, and Bear: The Humor in a Lifetime of Medical Practice, but that added nothing to my search.
I did mention my search in my review of the book on Amazon, and Chandler Davidson in turn commented, "I am 74 years old, and remember my father occasionally saying the following when I was young: "Ham, ram, beef, bull, buffalo, caribou, venison, turkey, or bear." It was meant to be funny, and his sons thought it was. It obviously had made the rounds back in the day. But I have no idea what its origins were."
There's a post on Yahoo Answers that includes "Ham, Lamb ,Ram , sheep mutton or goat" as a humorous dietary recommendation for diabetics, but no information on where that phrase came from.
Someone else asked about a variation of this phrase on Ask Metafiler here. The variations quoted there include:
If you've ever heard anything like this phrase, let's compare notes. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.