Jain over at Food For Thought has a wonderful blog with three elements that I love - Food (of course), Books (nearly as good) and Great Photography (and I mean great). She reviews a book, picking out any foodie vignettes, then she cooks/bakes these dishes and photographs them (often in her magnificent Californian garden). She has asked her readers to review their favourite Christmas books, and throw a bit of cooking in there too - no better woman!
There are two reasons I am delighted to write this post, firstly just love Alice Taylor's "The Night Before Christmas" and secondly I wanted to introduce any non-Nigella disciples (?!) to her Ham in Cola, which is the nicest way to cook ham ... ever. I would even be so bold as to recommend it as a way to cook your Christmas Ham.
The Night Before Christmas is a quaint book about a child's Christmas in a backwater* in the south of Ireland in the 1940s. Alice Taylor remembers with incredible clarity all the details of her childhood Christmases; heading off with her siblings to cut holly to decorate the house, helping her mother pluck the geese for Christmas dinner, hilariously helping a neighbour clean her chimney, waiting for Santy to arrive and the excitement of finding a school bag and a doll on Christmas morning.
Food (obviously) plays a huge part in Alice's Christmas memories - buying muscatel raisins for the Christmas cakes, the excitement of receiving a box of fancy chocolates from a cousin who had returned from abroad for the holidays, goose cooked on the bastable over the fire and of course the ham (which they started eating at breakfast time on Christmas morning)
"When we had the kitchen to ourselves, our first priority was to settle down to attack the big ham in the centre of the table. This was the ham that had matured up the chimney and hung off the meat hook from the ceiling; my mother had boiled and baked it in a shroud of breadcrumbs and honey, and now all her loving care paid dividends because it was beautifully moist and tender"
|Moist and tender but not huge!|
I was introduced to this book through my book-club a few years ago, and I now read it every Christmas - it is the most wonderful "get in the Christmas mood" aid ever (along with a carol service or a kiddies Nativity play, tearing up at the thought!!). When you have spent the day queueing for parking spaces, queueing at shopping tills, queueing, queueing queueing, it is wonderful to come home and escape to a Christmas filled with simple pleasures and NO shopping!!!
*My only issue with the book is that it is set in the 1940s when there was electricity here in Ireland (I have asked someone I know who was a child then about their childhood Christmases, their memories would be of a far more modern type experience, none the less magical for that though!) Alice's memories seem to be of of an older time (there were some far flung pockets around the country that took an age to get "the electric") and are (for the reader anyway) more magical and nostalgic for that.
Now onto the ham, this is a wonderful way to cook it, it has been my method of choice since I bought How To Eat 100 years ago! I have toyed with other methods over the years but like a faithful Labrador I always return!!!
Ham in Cola
2kg mild-cure gammon*
2 litre Coke (minus 2 tbsp for glaze)**
1 or 2 bayleaves (my addition)
100g fresh breadcrumbs
100g dark muscovado sugar
1 tbsp mustard powder
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp Coke
* You can alter the recipe for smaller joints, less Coke and cooking time.
**The Coke must be full sugar, but can be any cheap brand.
Place the gammon (raw ham), chopped onion, and bay leaves in an appropriately sized pot, cover with the Coke.
Bring to the boil and then reduce to a simmer. A 2kg joint needs to be simmered like this for 2 1/2 hours, smaller joints will need less time, but I would err on the side of over rather than undercooking a ham.
Before the ham is finished boiling preheat the oven to 210 C.
Prepare a roasting tin for the ham by lining it with tinfoil (very important if you don't want to spend 3 hours cleaning it afterwards!!)
When ready remove the ham from the pot to the prepared tin and allow to cool slightly (or completely if you want to preprepare the dish to this stage*)
Remove the skin, leaving a layer of fat.
Mix the breadcrumbs, sugar (I used honey this time), and the mustards to a paste, add the Coke a little at a time to bring the paste to a spreadable consistency (you don't want it runny).
Cover the fat side of the ham with the paste (and of course cook it fat side up).
Cook in the hot oven for 10-15 minutes. (I often roast mine at a slightly lower temperature for longer as we like our ham quite dry)
*If you are cooking the ham from cold it will need 30/40 minutes at 180 C.