This traditional baked ham recipe is wonderfully simple and produces a delightfully tasty dish that our ancestors would recognise. Pork, ham and bacon are undoubtedly the most traditional of all foods in Ireland and appear, roasting on spits or boiling in huge cauldrons, in many ancient tales and sagas of Irish heroes.
Until the arrival of the Anglo-Normans in the 12th century, wild boar was native to the island. After that period, pigs were kept only in farmsteads and became an important currency for small farmers. Quality flitches (sides of pork) paid the rent.
After the arrival of the potato in the late 16th century, keeping a pig became possible for poorer labourers. After really good harvests, they might even keep two; suitably fattened up on a potato-rich diet, the first would be sold at the local pig market and the rent paid from the monies earned. The other would provide many meals for the labourer, his family and neighbours during the autumn and winter.
This honey baked ham recipe produces a dish that would not have been out of place on a celebratory home table back then.
Stage One: Tie the bacon into a neat shape and soak it overnight in a pan of cold water to extract excess salt.
When you are ready to start cooking, drain the bacon, replace it in the pan and cover it with fresh water. Bring to the boil.
Discard the water and rinse out the pan.
Put the bacon back into the pan, together with the onions, carrots, leek, celery, bay leaves and thyme. Bring to the boil, turn down the heat and simmer for 1 hour and 40 minutes (25 minutes per lb/550g).
Stage Two: At this point the bacon is cooked. Allow the joint to cool for a few minutes before carefully removing the rind and some of the thickest fat.
Mix the sugar and breadcrumbs together. Using a sharp knife, cut a one-inch (3cm) diamond pattern over the fat. Rub the honey into the fat and sprinkle the mixed sugar and breadcrumbs, making sure to give an even coating on the top and sides. Stud the centre of each diamond with a clove.
Preheat the oven to 220C/425F/gas7. Place the joint in a roasting tin and put it in the centre of the oven for 10–20 minutes until the fat is crisp and brown. Remove it from the oven and let it settle for 10 minutes before carving.
This baked ham recipe serves 6–8. Preparation 25 mins plus overnight soak. Total cooking time 2 hrs.