A very good ham recipe

I cannot at all claim this recipe as my own. It comes from the wonderful book “Food in England” written in the 1950’s by Dorothy Hartley. If you are at all interested in the history of food or enjoy traditional recipes then I urge you to get this book. It is one that you will want to read whilst tucked up in bed on a winter’s night. It has many fantastic recipes and is packed full of historical facts and inspiration.

We had a party in the garden over the bank holiday weekend.  The August Bank Holiday marks the end of the British summer and as we have had a very disappointing summer this year, we thought “Hey, why not invite friends round to sit in our garden, drink , eat and be merry”.  Of course, this thought occurred to us when we were enjoying one of the rare warm days of early August. We had all our toes and fingers crossed for good weather, the Countryfile weather forecast said gales and torrential rain. But, the crossing of digits must have worked as Sunday was one of those rare fine, warm days, and, shockingly, Countryfile got it wrong.

Whenever we have friends round for a big bash I always cook ham. They must be well and truly fed up with seeing it. I usually make is to this recipe, but Dorothy had inspired me. She describes it thus, Even a “plain salted” ham comes up wonderfully in this bath, and for a rich home-cured it is the apotheosis. Who could resist?

I fiddled about with  her advice a little bit because I used what I had available in the garden. Which is, I think, what Dorothy would want. I also reduced the amount of black treacle from her advised 1lb to 3-4 tablespoons as I didn’t want the treacle to overpower with its sweetness.

You will need to ask the butcher how long your ham will need to soak for. I tend to soak my ham in cold water (enough to cover it) for at least 12 hours, changing the water twice.

This ham should be cooked the day before you need it so that it can cool in the cooking liquid overnight. So you will need to buy your ham three days before you want to serve it to allow for soaking, cooking and cooling.

You will need to find a pan that is large enough to easily take your ham with some room at the top.

You can do this recipe with any size ham. Bring the joint slowly to the boil, reduce to a simmer and use the following times as a guide:
900g – 1.5kg  simmer for 1 ½  to 2 hours
1.75kg – 2.5kg  for 2 to 2½ hours
2.75 -3kg for 2½ to 3 hours
3.5kg -4kg for 3½ to 4 hours
4.5kg – 5kg for 4½ to 5 hours
5.5kg to 6kg for 5 to 5½ hours
6.5kg – 6.75kg for 5½ to 6 hours
7kg for 6 hours

The ham will be ready when a skewer will easily go all the way through and the juices are running clear.

I made this recipe with a ham that weighed about 6kg.

Chop up an onion or two (including the skins, as Dorothy advises that they add a golden colour to the ham) and any vegetables that you may be using. I used an onion, carrot tops, a couple of carrots, three or four large parsnip leaves and two apples chopped roughly (with peel and core). Place these in the base of the pan.  Add whatever herbs and spices appeal to you. I added a couple of sprigs of fresh thyme, marjoram (oregano), sage and dill. I also added 3 cloves, 4 juniper berries, 1 teaspoon of szechuan peppercorns, 1 teaspoon black peppercorns (feel free to use whatever herbs and spices you prefer or have to hand). Pour in a can of cider (500ml), add 4 tablespoons of soft brown sugar and 4 tablespoons of black treacle. Place ham on top of the vegetables and add enough cold water to cover the ham. Cover with the pan lid or tented foil (try to avoid the foil touching the ham as the salt will eat through the foil).

Bring slowly to the boil and then reduce to a simmer and simmer for the time sufficient to cook you ham, based on the times above. If you are cooking on an Aga then place the pan into the simmering oven after bringing to the boil. Remove from the  heat and allow the ham to cool in the cooking liquid. This will keep the ham really moist and make sure that all the flavours permeate the meat. I left mine to cool overnight.

Take the ham out of the cooking liquid and cut off the rind, leaving behind plenty of fat if you can. Score the fat and cover with an equal mixture of dry mustard powder and demerara sugar, patting it well to make it stick. Place in a baking tray and bake in a preheated oven at 180°c, gas mark 4 or in the baking oven of the Aga for 20-30 minutes until the crust is golden and the ham is hot. Serve it hot, with lashings of parsley sauce (bechamel sauce with lots of fresh parsley added) or leave to cool to room temperature.

This joint was plenty for friends to enjoy and we have been enjoying sandwiches and I made a fidget pie. I will be making ham this way again.  Thank you Dorothy.



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Shropshire Fidget Pie

Shropshire Fidget Pie is, I have to admit, something I became aware of only a few years ago.  It seems it went out of fashion for some time.  The interest in eating local food has revived its fortunes and I finally got to taste a fidget pie a couple of months ago at our local National Trust property.  The National Trust cafes tend to serve superb local food and this one serves food that is harvested on site from the walled garden and the farm.  Fortunately for me one of the cooks at this property is also a family friend so when I saw her just before Christmas I grilled her for the recipe.  She told me what made up the filling.

Anyway,  as a true Salopian I thought it was about time I made a Fidget Pie.  (For those unaware, a Salopian is someone born in Shropshire.  The county was previously known as Salop, goodness knows why they felt the need to change the name).  Some of you might be aware that I am very proud to be a Salopian and a Midlander so to cook something that hails from the county makes me very pleased.

Our friend’s advice and a search around the internet has led to this version.  It is a combination of several recipes.  At the National Trust they make it in a pasty shape but it is also made like a pork pie in some recipes or as a topped pie as I have in this version.

It was a total success.  Mr OC was a bit dubious when he heard what was in a Fidget Pie, but he was certainly won over tonight. The combination of cider and apples really deliver a tasty punch.  This is a pie that comes highly recommended by me and Mr OC.

Serves 4

For the pastry:

8 oz plain white flour
4 oz cold butter
4 tbsp cold water

For the filling:

1 bramley apple, cored, peeled and sliced
2-3 potatoes, peeled and finely sliced
1 onion, peeled and finely sliced
250g (10oz) ham or gammon
1 tsp brown sugar
salt and pepper
1 tsp dried sage or 4-5 fresh leaves finely chopped
2 tsp cornflour
150 ml (¼ pint) double cream
300ml (½ pint) cider

Beaten egg for brushing over the top of the pie.


Start by making the pastry.  Put the flour and cold butter into a food processor and whizz until it is the consistency of breadcrumbs.  Add the water (you may need more or less) and whizz until it forms a ball.  Put the pastry into a plastic food bag or wrap in clingfilm and place in the fridge for 30 minutes.

For the filling, boil the potatoes for 3 minutes and then add the onions to the water and boil for another 2- 3 minutes.  Drain well.

Using a dish that measures 23cm x 30cm layer the apples, potato, onion and ham into the dish, season with salt and pepper and sprinkle over the brown sugar and the sage.

In a  jug stir together the cornflour and the cream until combined and then mix in the cider.  Pour this over the filling.

Roll out the pastry to the size of the dish and then cover the dish, pressing down well around the sides. Make a hole in the top of the pie. I used my blackbird as a steam vent. Brush with the beaten egg.

Place in a preheated oven at 180°c, gas mark 4 or the baking oven of the Aga for about 1 hour until the pie is golden brown.

The fidget before pastry
My eldest helping with the pastry and egg wash
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Ham and vegetable bake

It has been ages since I shared something savoury with you.  It’s not because we eat cake and nothing else in this house, it’s because my savoury food is never very photogenic.  I would like it to look like this or this but it never does.  My presentation skills are always lacking.  I never pile things into towers I just spoon it onto a warmed plate. It is especially difficult to get a good photo of an evening meal in an English winter.  With a cake I can take it outside and take a photo using the little natural light offered by our dull January days.  With an evening meal the sun was last seen a good few hours ago and the lights in our kitchen are of the spot variety which means wherever I stand I am always casting a shadow.

Anyway, I decided that last night’s meal was so good it needed to be shared with you regardless of whether it looks a bit of a mess in the photos. I had roasted a gammon joint, but I should have boiled it or soaked it the previous day because it’s just a bit too salty . So I thought if I layered it into a potatoes boulangere this might reduce the ham’s saltiness but add a good flavour to the potatoes.  Then I thought I might add carrots too to add an extra savoury element.

The end result was very comforting indeed, soft and squidgy veg and tender ham with a crispy potato topping.  I urge you to try it soon. If I had more time I would have crisped the top more, but we were both very hungry.

Serves 2 hungry people

2 large potatoes, sliced thinly
2 carrots, sliced
1 onion sliced thinly
4 ham slices
400ml vegetable or chicken stock

I use a tin measuring 26cm x 20cm and butter it generously.  Then place a layer of potato, a layer of carrot, a layer of ham, then a layer of onion in  the tin and season generously with pepper (you won’t need any salt).  Top with a layer of potato and pour over the stock.  Dot with more butter.  Cover with foil and bake in a preheated oven at 180°, gas mark 4 or the baking oven of the Aga for 1½ hours.  Remove the foil and continue to cook for another ½ hour until browned on top. Serve in a pile on a plate if you are anything like me.  A chunk of good bread is obligatory to soak up the juices.

Here it is before the final layer of potato.

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Aga baked ham

This is what I cook if I am catering for a fair few people.  So I always cook it for my daughters’ birthday parties.   It was my youngest’s 3rd birthday this weekend and we were having a family tea for her.

It’s very easy to cook this ham in a four-oven Aga as you can just leave it to cook away all night.  You could cook it in a conventional oven at a low temperature, but I guess that may use a fair amount of electricity and there are probably better ways of cooking a ham in a conventional oven.  This is a recipe from my Mum, but I have no idea where she got it from.

This ham weighed 6kg and cost in the region of £17.00 from my local butchers.  It fed 8 adults and two children at the party and has supplied us with enough ham for two ham and cheese omelettes, a spaghetti carbonara for four, about five sandwiches, and there’s a bone for the dog when it is all finished, so it is quite a bargain really.

I placed the ham in a large bowl and filled it with water and then drained this water away and refilled with fresh water.  I covered the bowl and then kept it in a cold place overnight.  Soaking a ham like this makes sure that it is not too salty and because I won’t be boiling it in water is probably wise, but ask your butcher if they think it is necessary when you buy your ham as cures can be different.

The herbs and spices faintly scent the ham and this way of cooking preserves the full flavour of the meat and retains a delicious moistness.

6kg ham
3 bay leaves
15 black peppercorns
5 juniper berries
4 whole cloves

For the glaze:

3 tsp mustard powder
3 tsp soft brown sugar
3 tsp maple syrup
15-20 whole cloves


After soaking the ham in water in a bowl for at least twelve hours place the ham in a deep sided roasting tin with the bay leaves, peppercorns, juniper berries and 4 whole cloves.  Cover loosely with foil – make a tent so that the foil does not come in contact with the top of the ham otherwise you may find that the salt in the ham attacks the foil during the long cooking. Place in the simmering oven of a four-oven Aga and leave overnight or for 10-12 hours.

Remove the roasting tin from the oven.  Remove the rind of the ham with a sharp knife but leave as much of the fat underneath as you can.  Score the fat into diamond shapes with the knife.  Mix the mustard, sugar and maple syrup in a small bowl and spread all over the fat of the ham.  Pierce the ham at the corners of each diamond with a whole clove.  Place in the baking oven of the Aga  (about 180°c) for 20-25 minutes until the glaze is bubbling and golden.

Put the ham onto a meat platter and leave to get completely cold and then slice into lovely thick slices.

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