Black Butter Ham
The history of Apple Day, held on the 21st of October, is relatively new, the first official celebration was in 1990 in Covent Garden, this event has grown and is now a fixture all over the UK. However, there have been fairs across the south-west cider growing regions for a much longer time. Apple Day is now a celebration of all the myriad varieties of apple, their cultivation, cooking with them and, of course, making cider. There is another tradition much older, as old as cider making itself invoking pagan gods in an ancient fertility ritual which is Wassailing, which takes place in the cider orchards on January 17th.
Jersey and Guernsey have a proud apple growing tradition going back many centuries and in Jersey around a fifth of the islands, fertile growing land in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was occupied by orchards. Today both islands boast fine cider makers in La Robeline in Jersey and Roquette in Guernsey. But Jersey has another old, traditional product made from sharp, cider apples, ‘ black butter ’ or ‘ Le Nierre Buerre ’. Black butter is now made on Apple Day, with a great many islanders taking part in the production at the Jersey Nation Trust.
Black butter is made from cider apples, cider and sugar which is slowly cooked and reduced over a very long time, often all night with volunteers stirring all evening, with a special wooden paddle, to prevent the mix burning due to the high sugar content. The concentrate is then flavoured with a secret blend of spices, lemon, and liquorice. During the evening there is traditional singing, dancing, story-telling and perhaps drinking of a few glasses of cider.
The finished product is a sweet, dark, sticky spread which you can eat with a salty cheese or perhaps as an alternative to jam with a scone but my favourite is as a glaze on baked ham.
Black Butter Ham
Ask your butcher to source a traditionally prepared dry cure ham and to tie it for you. For more information on curing please visit A Cooks Compendium. A dry cure ham will shrink less during cooking and produce a better quality easier to cut joint of meat. Poaching the ham before finishing the joint in the oven also improves the carving quality and produce a flavoursome stock from which you can make traditional pea and ham soup.
A piece of boned and rolled dry cured Ham, around 1.5 kg – 2 kg is a nice joint
( ask your butcher to weigh it this is important for cooking times )
1 or 2 onions, peeled
2 carrots, peeled and halved
2 sticks of celery, washed
2 bay leaves
10 – 12 whole coriander seeds
6 – 8 black peppercorns
100 gr Jersey Black Butter
a large pan sufficient to submerge the ham
Place the ham in the pan and cover with cold water. Place on the cooker and bring to the boil. Carefully take to the sink and pour out the water and wash off any scum from the ham. This initial boiling will help reduce excess salt in the finished ham. Cover again with cold water and add the carrots, celery, coriander seeds and peppercorns. Pierce the bay leaves with the cloves, pin to the onions and add to the pan. Bring back to the boil, turn down to a gentle simmer and cover with lid. Cook for twenty minutes per pound of raw weight. Once the cooking time is finished turn off the heat and leave to go cold in the cooking liquor. This can be done the night before.
Preheat your oven to 400 F /200 C / Gas mark 6. Take out your ham from the cold stock which you can strain and reserve to make an excellent soup. Place on a baking tray and with a sharp knife remove the skin leaving a nice layer of fat. Score through the fat with the tip of your knife to leave small, squares or diamonds. Spread over the Black Butter and cook in the oven for thirty to forty minutes turning the oven down if the ham starts to burn. Remove and serve hot or cold.