All that Blisters . . .

Sweet glazed ham, studded with cloves

They can’t touch you for it but around this time of year I tremble my ham. It can take most of the day, a gentle experience. But the following morning things hot up: the ham gets blistered but in a good way.

You can get a joint of boiled ham from the supermarket but a home-cooked one is more fun. It’s tastier (although I am biased) and cheaper. And you’ll have so much ham it’ll be coming out of your ears.

This all started 12 years ago when I took down a paperback of Nicola Cox’s Country Cooking (Gollancz, 1990) from my bookshelves. I must have had it as a review copy. Mrs Cox, a former Sunday Times Cook of Britain, revisits a number of English (and French) dishes and introduces the recipes with often tempting preambles.

Her recipe for sweet glazed ham comes garnished with stories of country hams cooked and eaten in France and I’m a sucker for a culinary back-story. I was looking for a Christmassy second joint to the turkey and this was it. So here is my Nether Edge ham, purchased from Kempka’s on Abbeydale Road, cooked to Mrs Cox’s recipe.

Incidentally, the 1984 hardback version was reviewed by the late Rabbi Lionel Blue who praised the ‘luscious recipes.’ There are 160, one eighth of them involving bacon, pork or ham, so he might have flicked through these rather fast. Or perhaps not. There was a time when Roney’s on the corner of Sharrowvale and Hickmott Roads was the only Jewish-owned and run pork butchers in Sheffield, probably the universe.

In the book’s pages I have recorded the weights and cooking times of every ham since 2003. They have ranged between just over four pounds to around ten. You need a large pot (I have both a stock pot and a big preserving pan), a trivet, the ham and some water.

Basically what you do is cook the ham in gently boiling water for the allotted time, let it cool, strip off the skin, score the fat, apply the glaze and bake in a very hot oven until golden brown.

First weigh your ham. For joints up to 10lbs allow 20 minutes boiling for each pound, plus 20 minutes. For hams of between 10 and 15lbs it’s 15 minutes per pound plus 15. You might need to soak it for an hour or two to remove excess salt but a lot is going to come out in the boil.

The ham mustn’t touch the bottom of the pan so improvise a trivet with a small saucer (which may drive you mad with its repeated clacking during the boil!). Just cover the ham with the water. You don’t want a fast boil. Mrs Cox recommends you take an hour or two to come to boiling point. I admit I do tend to speed things up. Start timing when the water starts to tremble, with bubbles gently rising. If you’re going to glaze the ham, take it out 15 minutes before the end of cooking time.

Now this is where I part company with the recipe in the book. It advises taking the joint out of the water while still hot, slicing off the skin, scoring the fat and applying the glaze before putting it in a hot oven (200C) for 20-30 minutes until brown. Phew! Now I did this faithfully some years, risking burnt fingers in the process. The ham was rather firm, even a little hard (looking back, I’m not surprised) but mine.

Then a chance reference in other book about leaving the ham to cool in its cooking liquor to allow the meat to relax changed everything. I glaze it the following day. The ham is no longer tense.

Technically, baking off the ham used to be known as blistering because it was done in front of an open fire. In her book Food in England Dorothy Hartley, the first of the British food writers, illustrates complicated antique devices reflecting the heat onto the meat. These days we have ovens.

The glaze is up to you. I melt honey, home made marmalade and mustard in a pan and baste the ham several times. Sometimes I also stud the fat with cloves. You can devise your own glaze. Here’s a tip, line the roasting tin with foil as the glaze drips off and sticks like toffee to the metal.

I also like to use the ham stock. It will be rather salty so if there is room put a peeled potato or two in the pan while trembling, which will remove some of the salt. And you can always enjoy the cooked potato, best fried up.


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