THere are three things I remember from my grandmother’s house: the smell of coal dust from the bonfires; the icy cold outside the toilet; and the slow and peaceful bubble of a ham cooking in the black lead stove. Even now, half a century later, I think of her every time I boil a piece of ham, its fat slowly turns to trembling jelly, the meat melts in an aromatic bath of water with onion and carrot, bay leaf and peppercorns (I ‘I’m pretty sure she also popped a nail or three.) It’s one of my favorite dinners that I rarely cook, even though each bite comes with deep affection and a ladle of memories.
My grandmother Lily served her thinly sliced ham with a little of her broth and always a plate of pickled beets. I offer mine in a similar way, but with a tangle of pickled cabbage whose crunchy, bittersweet addition I prefer to beets, and a bowl of fried Jerusalem artichokes, first steamed to soften, then fried with parsley and lemon to crisp up the edges. I can’t imagine my grandmother ever seen (or heard) a Jerusalem artichoke, but they have an affinity for ham.
I wouldn’t have dumped a bottle of cider in the poaching liquid either, but I do it regularly and sometimes include an apple as well. Both sweeten the cooking liquor, which fortunately is no longer as salty as in years past. I always add a ladle, scented with juniper, onion and bay leaf, to each plate.
Ham with juniper and cider, fried artichokes
I buy a piece of raw ham, about 1 kg in weight, tied up and ready for the pot. (Thank goodness, the days of soaking a piece of ham before boiling are over.) Feed four, but leave little for later, so it might be worth buying a larger piece and increasing the cook time accordingly.
For 4 people
For the ham:
onion 1, large
boiling ham 1 piece of 1 kg
apples 2 medium
carrots 4, small
celery 1 rib
parsley stems a bunch
bay leaves 3
Juniper berries 6
still cider 1 liter
For the artichokes:
Jerusalem artichokes 500g
olive oil 2 tablespoons
parsley leaves 25g (a good handful)
Peel the onion, cut it in half and place in a large deep saucepan with the ham. Cut the apples in half and add them to the pan. Trim and scrub the carrots, cut the celery stalk in half and add to the pan. Add the parsley stems, bay leaves, black peppercorns, and juniper berries to the pan, then pour in the cider and 1 liter of water. The ham may not be completely submerged in liquid, it doesn’t matter, it will partially cook in its own steam and you can flip it over during cooking.
Bring the ham to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer, cover partially with a lid and cook for 1 hour. Turn the ham over halfway through cooking. Remove from the heat and let it rest for 10-15 minutes while you fry the artichokes.
For the artichokes, peel them as best you can (they are knobby and not the easiest to peel), then place in a steamer basket or strainer over a pot of hot water, cover tightly with a lid, and steam for 10-15 minutes. until tender to the tip of a knife. Remove from heat and cut each artichoke lengthwise in half.
Heat the butter and oil in a shallow skillet over medium heat. When it starts to bubble, add the artichokes cut side down and let them brown slightly for 5 to 6 minutes. Meanwhile, chop the parsley and finely grate the lemon. Turn the artichokes face up, let them cook for a few more minutes, then add the parsley and lemon, and a little salt and black pepper.
Remove the ham from its liquor and cut into thin slices. Serve with the artichokes and red cabbage and scoops of your own apple-scented kitchen liqueur.
Pickled red cabbage and ginger
This generates more than you need for the ham, but there is no point in making a small amount when it is so handy to have it on hand. The brilliant side dish comes out in our house with everything from bread and cheese to sushi. While this recipe has the traditional mustard seed and allspice additions, I feature a heat element with sliced ginger root.
Makes 2 x 750ml storage jars
cider vinegar 480 ml
malt vinegar 180ml
Water 480 ml
black peppercorns fifteen
jaimacan pepper 12
mustard seeds 2 teaspoons
chili flakes ½ teaspoon
sugar 2 tablespoons
sea salt flakes 2 tablespoons
shallots 4 small
red cabbage 600g
Sterilize your storage jars. Bring the kettle to a boil, then pour the water into the storage jars and leave for 2 minutes before emptying.
Put the cider and malt vinegars, water, peppercorns, allspice, mustard seeds, chili flakes, sugar, and salt in a stainless steel saucepan and bring to a boil. Peel and finely chop the ginger (you should almost be able to see through it), then add it to the pan with the sliced shallots and boil for 2 minutes.
Shred the red cabbage (I like mine about the width of a pencil, but with a few thinner slices) and place in a heat resistant bowl. Pour the hot pickle liquor over the vegetables, then mix everything together. Serve in storage jars, seal, and cool. They will keep for several weeks in the fridge.
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism