I seem to have gone ham and pickle mad. A glut of apples coinciding with the last few runner beans, squash and edible hedgerow berries always has me reaching for the kilner jars at this time of year. Sometimes it feels like a preserving panic, at others an evening chopping fruit and vegetables at the kitchen table feels really quite calming, And the thought of pantry shelves filled with chutney,jam and jellies is very reassuring.
Runner beans have been used in a mildly spiced runner bean chutney and, trying to wean myself off my usual ‘glutney’ that makes use of any leftovers from the garden, I’ve made the Apple, Fig & Pear Chutney with cardamon from Karen at Lavender and Lovage. Some of my chutneys are quite randomly labelled, you may notice the squiggles on the ‘glutney’ jar at the fromt of my shelf. Ruby is quite keen on labelling.
Something about the Autumnal weather and changing appetites is also making the cooking and curing of ham very popular in this house. Or maybe it’s something to do with the large amount of Berkshire pork in our freezer.
I cured a ham last week in a cider brine and since cooking it, we’ve enjoyed the following:
Slices of ham with scrambled eggs for brunch
Ham and cheddar toasties for Ruby after school
Ham, parsley sauce and some of the last pink fir apple potatoes
Puy lentils simmered in the ham cooking liquor (some frozen too, imagine it will make great pea/broad bean and ham risotto at a later date) and eaten with slithers of ham, crusty bread and green salad from garden.
Ham and cheese toasties for Ruby after school (simple but with great ham and cheese, I couldn’t resist either).
We’re having a ham free night tonight, then we’re going to enjoy what I reckon will be a truly tasty ham, egg and chips. The eggs very local and with rich, deep yellow yolks, the ‘chips’ thin strips of the trusty pink fir apple potatoes cooked in olive oil in the oven.
In the spirit of doing justice to our pigs, any scraps of ham will end up contributing wonderful flavour to pasta carbonara, quiche or asian noodles.
I think Ruby’s favourite of the ham meals will unsurprisingly be the ham, egg and chips. It reminds me of my favourite meal at her age – spam and chips. How strange (or maybe not too surprising when you think about it) that I went from loving a processed mass-produced meat product that I imagine tasted mainly of salt, sugar and additives, to being a non-meater for 30 years, before relishing the taste of happily home-reared, well fed, rare breed pigs.
When I cured the first ham from our pigs, I omitted saltpetre from the ingredients, deciding that it was an unnecessary chemical additive. The ham tasted excellent but was obviously a different colour to any we’d been used to, as it’s the saltpetre that keeps the flesh pink.
Ever since, Ruby has asked me for some of “that lovely pink ham”. Remembering my spam weakness at her age and knowing that any ham we buy (even organic) always seems to be pink and so must’ve had saltpetre in the cure, I relented. Searching online for saltpetre, I found that it’s also used in explosives. Having seen saltpetre in most recipes for curing meat, yet reading different opinions as to whether it’s a natural mineral that’s been used in curing for hundreds of years or a heinous chemical that’s bad for us, I’m still undecdided about actually using it. Any other ideas on the subject very much appreciated! But my Amazon recommendations may be decidedly dodgy from now on.
We now have a leg of pig covered in salt, and waiting to be wrapped in muslin and hung outside to air-dry proscuitto style too. Will report in more detail on this soon.
But with lots more ham to be cooked over the next year, I’ve just made the perfect Christmas leftovers accompaniment. My home-made piccalilli feels just retro as Spam – hopefully it’ll be as different in flavour from the shop bought pickle of my childhood as our home-reared ham is from the tinned pink meat that I used to love.
1 kg vegetables (I used cauliflower, last of the runner beans & courgettes, onions)
50g sea salt
20g mustard powder
pinch of cayenne pepper
600ml cider vinegar
Dice the vegetables, place in a large bowl and mix with the salt. Cover and keep in the fridge overnight. The next day, put the dry ingredients in a saucepan, whisk in the vinegar, then bring to the boil, stirring all the time, until it’s thickened. Rinse vegetables, getting rid of excess salt, add to the spicy paste and simmer for 5 minutes. Pour into sterilised jars (makes 2 large kilner jars) and seal immediately. Use after 4 weeks and it will keep for a year.
Very pleased with how gloriously yellow this pickle is, any excuse for colour on these drab foggy days is good! And think I may need to make a pork pie over Christmas too, now I have home-made piccalilli in the larder.