Christmas GREAT BRITISH FOOD HOME Main Courses Snacks



ham-fisted clumsy, heavy-handed; without dexterity. If you do something in a “ham-fisted manner” you do not do it elegantly or well. We often talk of a “ham-fisted attempt”, when someone tries to do something, but does it badly.

The Christmas ham is as much a part of the British festive period as the roast turkey and cranberry sauce.  We have it cold, with piccalilli, on Boxing Day (26th December), when we can’t be bothered1 to cook any more, have eaten more than we ought, but can just still squeeze in a plate of cold meat.

That so many of us eat ham on Boxing Day is thought to have come from the tradition of offering a roast boar to the pagan god Freyr, but then the Catholics adopted it as an offering to St Stephen, whose feast day is, yep, 26th December.

The recipe, as you will see, is ridiculously simple. And so, it seems, is my husband². I cooked a ham today, and left the large metal stockpot cooling on the side. My husband, who was hungry, asked me if we should drain the cooking liquid from it, and I asked him if the water was cool.

Rather than touching his hand against the side of the cooking pot, he lifted the lid, and stuck his great big fist in. The same fist that had just been cleaning our dog’s gammy³ eye.

Ham-fisted, indeed.




Serves 10-12 (but keeps, covered, in the fridge for about a week. Not in our house, though)




4kg pork ham/leg, preferably with the bone left in, trimmed, skin left on

3 bay leaves

fresh or dried thyme

15g peppercorns (white or pink are nicest, but black are fine)

3 star anise

Peel of a large orange

100g demerara sugar

1 tsbp ground mace or English mustard

100g honey




  1. Put the ham into a large pan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil for a few minutes and skim any bits off the surface.
  2. Add the bay leaves, thyme, peppercorns, anise, and orange peel. You can mix and match as much as you like; bay leaves and peppercorns on their own is rather lovely too.
  3. Simmer for 3 hours, then turn off the heat and allow to cool in the water. Do not, at this point, insert big, dirty fist!
  4. Heat the oven to 200C/gas 6. Once cool. cut through the skin, leaving a layer of fat on the ham. Peel the skin off, and score the fat all over.
  5. Put the ham in a roasting tin. Mix the sugar, mace or mustard and honey into a paste and rub into the fat. Roast for 30 minutes, basting regularly.
  6. Allow to cool, then cut into thick slices and on you go.




  1. can’t be bothered; can’t be arsed. When you don’t hav the energy to do something, or you don’t have the will to make an effort. “I can’t be arsed” is very popular in the UK, though not very polite, and comes from the idea that you ‘can’t be bothered to get up off your arse to do something’. A friend’s mother (who doesn’t have English as her first language) had misunderstood it to be ‘can’t be asked’ and thought that it meant ‘can’t be asked’. If people asked her to do things at work, and she was busy, she would reply ‘No, sorry, I can’t be arsed”. People, understandably, thought her terribly bold (and rude) and so she developed quite the reputation for being quite fearsome, and they stopped asking her to do silly jobs for them. 
  2. simple – you can describe someone as ‘simple’ – i.e. lacking in brainpower, not very clever
  3. gammy – injured and infected, often involving a bit of pus and discharge. Delightful.


(c) 2016 Kayte and Nicer Kate. Authors assert moral rights


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