traditional cooking

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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Shrewsbury Cakes

Don’t let these boring looking biscuits deceive you, they are actually quite exciting.

I haven’t posted a Shropshire recipe for some time. This isn’t because I have forgotten my ambition to share more Shropshire recipes with you. I have been reading quite a bit about the history of food in England recently and I have often been thumbing through my Shropshire recipe books. I just haven’t managed to blog about it.

The Shrewsbury Cake, also known as the Shrewsbury Biscuit, has many variations and a long history. Some recipes state lemon as the main flavouring, some caraway seeds. Karen Wallace, in her Shropshire Food, says that five variations of the biscuit are listed in Cassell’s Dictionary of Cooking, printed in the 19th century.

Wikipedia tells me that a recipe for it was included in The Compleat Cookery, printed in 1658, and that the playwright William Congreve, uses the Shrewsbury Cake as a simile in his play, The Way of The World in 1700. Karen Wallace refers to a pamphlet produced in 1938 (that is how important the Shrewsbury cake is, it gets its very own pamphlet, with the grand name ‘Shrewsbury Cakes – The Story of a  Famous Delicacy’) that states that the first recorded mention of said cakes was in 1561. The cakes were given to people of importance when they visited the town.

My Shropshire Cookery Book, published by Shropshire Women’s Institute has a historical recipe  from a family recipe book from 1630 to 1750 and this is the one I have used for this recipe. It includes a reference to sack, which had me scratching my head for some time. What, I wondered, is sack? Then I remembered that hiding away on one of my shelves I have the Good Housekeeping Cookery Encyclopedia, which says that sack is “an old name for various white wines, particularly those from Spain and the Canaries; sherry is the only modern representative of the family”. So, there we go, who knew?

I don’t have any sherry in the house, but I do have a bottle of Madeira, so Madeira it is then.

Here is the original recipe taken from the WI’s Shropshire Cookery Book.  This book does not have a publication date, but as the price was originally 2s.3d. it’s safe to say it was printed before the decimalisation of sterling in 1971. It’s a wonderful book full of treasures and I love the way each recipe was given by a member of one of the WI’s in Shropshire.  The historical recipe for Shrosebury Cakes was given by E.Walshe (St.Giles WI), and very grateful I am too.

To Make Shrosebury Cakes
Take one pound of flower, one pound of sugar, one pound of butter, half an ounce of carraway seed, some nutmeg, rub it well together then take three eggs, beat them well, then put to them three spoonsful of sack and as much rosewater. Mix it with your paste then role it out and cut it into what shapes you please, bake them upon tin plates, prick them with a pin let your oven be not to hott.

I love the way so many of the spellings have changed since the 17th Century and the spelling of Shrosebury is very interesting.  There is a long-standing argument locally over whether Shrewsbury is pronounced with a shrews or a shrose, and I have grown up saying it with a shrews. It seems, however, that historically it was  a shrose. Shocking (and may I add, wrong).

You can still get Shrewsbury biscuits in some of the bakeries in Shropshire. But I doubt they add a slug of Madeira to their dough. In fact no Shrewsbury biscuit I have ever tasted tastes like these.  You can detect both the Madeira and the rosewater and the dough spreads to create a delicate tuile-like biscuit rather than the shortbready type I have tried before. They would be delicious with ice cream. When I make them next though I might forgo the rosewater and stick with the madeira as I am not sure it’s not all too complicated a taste. Don’t do away with the caraway seeds though, as they are delicious.

Here is my recipe. It makes one-third of the original to make 22 biscuits.
150g plain flour
150g caster sugar
150g cold butter
¼ tsp caraway seed
pinch of grated nutmeg
1 egg
1 tsp rosewater
1 tsp Madeira or sherry


The easiest way to make these biscuits is in a food processor.  Tip in the flour and the cubed butter and pulse until breadcrumbs. Add the rest of the ingredients and pulse until it starts to come together as a dough.  Shape into a flattened disc and wrap in cling film or a food bag and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.

If you don’t have a food processor, then rub the butter into the flour using your fingertips.  Add the rest of the ingredients and mix together with your hands until it gathers into a ball.

Dust the work surface with flour as this is quite a sticky dough and roll the dough until about 5mm thick. Stamp out rounds or any shape you like and place onto lightly greased baking sheets.

Place in the centre of a preheated oven at 160°c, gas mark 3 or the lower half of the Aga Baking oven for 8-10 minutes until lightly golden.  Leave on the tray to cool for five minutes and then remove carefully onto wire racks.  These biscuits are delicate so take care.

Make a pot of tea, sit down and enjoy a little taste of history and salute to the good people of Shrosebury, or indeed Shrewsbury.



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Shropshire Mint Cakes

Well, this is my first post in what I hope will become a series of Shropshire recipes. ( I suppose Fidget Pie was the first, but hey…).  Over the summer I found three books on Amazon,

and I found another today, which is winging its way through the British postal system as we speak.  I want to share some of these recipes with you to celebrate the traditional recipes of my lovely county.

The reason I found this fourth book is because I found the recipe for these mint cakes in the red and white book by Mary de Saulles, unfortunately the list of ingredients omits the sugar. So I found myself searching for the original recipe to find out how much sugar I should be using and I think it is in this book and I found the recipe online.

Whilst searching for this though, I found that a recipe for Shropshire Mint Cakes was published in an Australian newspaper on 24th April 1935.  How fantastic is that?  A Shropshire lass in search of a local recipe is assisted by a newspaper article published on the other side of the world 76 years ago.  The internet is a marvellous tool.

I couldn’t use this recipe either though because this one doesn’t seem to specify the amount of butter that you use.  The search has also revealed that like all recipes these little cakes can be adapted, one recipe uses currants but suggests that you could also use dried figs and the other recipe suggests the use of both currant and mixed peel. One recipe suggests that you make them by spreading the mixture over a square of pastry and topping with another square, cook, then slice into squares.  The other suggests that you make individual cakes.  I thought the latter would make for a neater cake, especially if my lack of dexterity became involved.

The Shropshire Mint Cake is a bit like the Eccles Cake, but with the addition of fresh mint.  You can really taste the mint and at first you think that these might be an acquired taste, but I can assure you that they soon become just that.  I had acquired a taste well before I was eating the fourth one in a row, warm from the oven (my well-known lack of willpower again!).

I urge you to give them a try.

For the pastry:

200g plain flour
100g butter, diced
1 tbsp caster sugar
enough cold water to mix

For the filling:
2 tbsp chopped fresh mint
80g caster sugar
80g currants
50g softened butter
1 egg to glaze


First of all place the chopped mint into a bowl and add 40g of the caster sugar and mix well. Leave to sit for at least an hour until the mint juices start to run.

Make the pastry by placing the flour and the diced butter in a bowl and rubbing the butter into the flour using the tips of your fingers, lifting your hands up high over the bowl to incorporate air. (I would use my food processor, but it broke and is at my Dad’s as he valiantly tries to repair it for me – thank goodness for Dads). When it looks like fine breadcrumbs, stir in the tablespoon of sugar and add enough water to make a smooth dough. Flatten the dough slightly into a disc and  wrap in clingfilm and place in the fridge for thirty minutes.

Place the currants, mint mixture, remaining sugar and the butter into a bowl and using a fork combine well.

Roll the pastry quite thinly and cut out discs using a scone/cookie cutter.  Place half of these discs onto two baking sheets. Then place teaspoonfuls of the currant mixture in the middle of the discs. I used a scone cutter that measures 6 cm and this made 24 little cakes.

Beat the egg with a fork and then brush a little of the egg all around the edge of the discs of pastry and place another disc on top, sealing well around the edge by pressing with your finger.  Brush the egg all over the tops and then place the baking trays in a preheated oven at 200°c, gas mark 6 or the middle/bottom of the roasting oven of the Aga for 10-12 minutes until golden brown. Remove carefully onto a wire rack and leave to cool a little before you sample your first one.





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