The online magazine
dedicated to the
discussion & revival
of British foodways.

NO.52
SPRING2017

A Yorkshire ‘ham cake’ that is actually a simple pie.

Peter Brears includes the model for this recipe in Traditional Foods of Yorkshire, a modest masterpiece just out from Prospect Books. In common with many of its recipes, the ham cake, which traditionally is filled with what the English call gammon, appears laughably simple but tastes uncommonly good. The pie is ideal with some piccalilli and a bittergreen salad for a weeknight supper when time is short but solace is required. You obviously benefit from good ham for the recipe, from a liquid rather than dry cure.

 

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  • 4 oz flour
  • 2oz lard
  • pinch of salt
  • 4 Teaspoons water
  • a big ¾ inch thick slice of ham a bit less than half the size of the rolled out pastry (see Step 2) 

 

Preheat the oven to 425°.

  1. Blast the flour, lard, salt and water in a food processer just until the ingredients adhere.
  2. Just roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface to a thickness a little less than ½ inch, moisten the edges and enfold the ham in the dough.
  3. Bake the ‘cake’ on a cookie sheet lined with parchment or silicone paper for 15 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 325° and bake until the crust turns light gold, usually in 20 to 30 minutes.
  4. The ham cake traditionally is cut into servings across the narrow sides of its rectangle into 3 inch slices.

 

Notes:

-Resist temptation to embellish the cake in any way. As Brears notes, ham cakes “are delicious, as all the juices from the gammon are absorbed into the pastry.” (Yorkshire 166)

-The doughty nineteenth century Yorkshirewomen who baked these pies had no access to frozen puff pastry. The lard in their short pastry adds a second level of pork flavor, takes more time and builds a better pie. If, however, you are stretched for time, or just intimidated by the prospect of making pastry, make similar pies with storebought puff.

-To make speedy individual ham cakes, divide a thawed sheet of Pepperidge Farm puff pastry or something similar into four sheets, cut four slices of ham to a size a bit less than half the size of each sheet, moisten the edges of the pastry and enfold the ham as before, and bake at 425° until the puff pastry turns gold, usually in only 15-20 minutes.

-Unlike so many food writers, Brears proceeds with historiographical rigor. For one thing, he includes extensive citations for everything, including his recipes. This one comes from the early twentieth century Armley woman whose daughter discussed it with Brears. The recipe also apparently appears in Granny’s Yorkshire Recipes, an undated publication without an identified compiler published in Leeds.