Pity the British food writer. A lovely last week of May, and all those pieces you’ve planned, on podding peas in the evening sun, the joys of stone fruit and cucumber and gin – the rich larder of an imagined English summer – are looking great. You can almost smell the lemonade. Then June hits, and it’s all autumnal gusts of sideways rain. Such is the problem of seasonality in a country where the weather barely pays lip service to the time of year.
Ah well. The whole point of summer produce is that you barely need to cook it anyway. You weren’t actually going to follow that clafoutis recipe, were you? Just eat the cherries out of the bag on the way home, like a normal person. When the late summer courgette glut hits, you might be glad of a few extra ideas (make chutney, leave it to ‘mature’ in the cupboard/shelf/oubliette) but for now (the imagined now, that is, where the weather’s really nice) it’s best to enjoy things as fresh as can be.
None if this helps with the need for early-summer warmers, though. Here, as so often, I suggest ham is the answer. Some conjunction of pea and pig is always appropriate, from London Particular to lovely little-gem-and-herb heavy salads, and this is a great way of hedging your bets. So.
BASIC HAM ADVICE
Ham hocks (gammon hock, bacon knuckle – same thing) are a perfect marriage of hard-working, pullable meat with gelatin-heavy bone and wibbly bits. Butchers usually have them. Get 1 or more if you’ve got a big enough pot.
Garlic, juniper, thyme, whatever
Put everything in a pot, cover with water, and bring to a lively simmer. Keep there for a good two hours, until you can easily pull out the main bone of the hock.
Fish out the ham(s) and leave to cool a bit before shredding, discarding bone, skin, and any wibbly bits that haven’t broken down.
Strain the stock, which is now worth its weight in gold. The carrots will be deliciously hammy, the rest of the vegetables pretty insipid. Discard those too.
There you are! If the weather’s gone crap, you can cook split peas in the stock, add some shredded ham (maybe fried crispy) and eat with rye bread; glorious sunshine might warrant the aforementioned salad, scattered with freshly prodded peas, chervil and chives, and maybe a fresh curd cheese; somewhere in the middle (most likely, I suppose) and you could braise the lettuce and peas in your ham stock, enriching the broth with a good dollop of aïoli. If you want to just eat the warm ham with your fingers, slurping down jugfuls of broth, though, that’s fine by me.