Monthly Archives: December 2012

Christmas Ham

I love my family tradition of a sugared ham on Christmas Eve followed by mince pies and mulled wine and accompanied by the King College choir singing Carols. It all gets me in the mood to brave the cold and the wet, not to mention the scrum to get a seat at midnight mass.

This year a ham seemed out of our budget but thanks to a little internet research and a life saving recipe from Nigel Slater, our first Christmas just the two of us was really quite like Mum used to make (and still does).

I discovered and really should have known that there is no difference between ham and bacon, though bacon can be a lot saltier. So instead of a £10 kilo of ham, I bought a £4 kilo of bacon, unsmoked. It was very salty and had no rind and very little fat on the outside to sugar.  Nigel saved the day on both fronts: his recipe calls for boiling the meat for an hour and a half in apple juice and for adding a crust of sugared bacon for the final blast in the oven.  Thereby giving us a reduced salt ‘ham’ with sugary crust and with lovely ‘appley’ gravy to boot.

Nigel Slater’s Ham (Thank you, Nigel)

Temp fig. Closest image I can find of what it looked like – wasn’t quite as hammy but almost – I will take a photograph next time I cook it

3tblsp Maple syrup
3tblsp Black treacle
Bacon rashers (I used about 6-8 rashers fine cut. I was also a bit meaner on the syrup & treacle)

Bottle of Apple Juice
Ham joint (or bacon joint – Mine was 1kg)
Whole onion pierced with few cloves (I cut my onion in half to fit in the saucepan)
Handful of whole black peppercorns
a Bay leaf
2 Star anise (I didn’t have any so added a heaped teaspoon of 5 spice that has star anise in)

1. Marinate rashers of bacon in Maple syrup & black treacle
2. Add apple juice to a pan. Put in the ham, spice, bayleaf & onion.
3. Bring to the boil and simmer for an hour & half
4. Cover joint with the marinated bacon, spoon over a bit of the marinade
5. Put in the oven at 225deg.C for 15minutes
6. Use the apple juice liquor for the gravy.

Mum’s Mince Pies
(The secret to Mum’s mince pies is to be Scottish. Don’t make the pastry fancy or sweet and roll it thin.  The mincemeat is sweet enough to make anyone have a diabetic hypo.)


Temp fig. Closest image I can find of what mine looked like – these are right shape but pastry slightly too thick, no steam hole so mincemeat bubbling out the sides, no egg glaze & could do with a minute or 2 longer in the oven.
– I will take a photograph next time I cook them.

The Pastry:
200g plain flour
100g butter , diced
pinch salt
2-3 tblsp Water

Prep time: 5-10mins + chilling
(Tip: You can make the pastry the day before)
1. Sift the flour into a large bowl, add the butter and rub in with your fingertips until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
2. Stir in the salt, then add 2-3 tbsp water and mix to a firm dough. Knead the dough briefly and gently on a floured surface. Wrap in cling film and chill while preparing the filling.

Proportions Top Tip:
To make more or less, remember the proportions – half fat to flour – and don’t add too much water or the pastry will be hard. For best results, make sure the butter is cold. If other dry ingredients are included in the recipe, add them at the same time as the salt.

The Mince meat:
(You can make your own but good bought mincemeat is fine – especially if you doctor and feed it for a month or two before the Christmas pie season.)

1 Jar of mincemeat (makes about 36-48 pies)
For feeding: Brandy, sherry
For adding: Nuts, dried fruit, compotted fruit, citrus zest
(You can add any combination of the above or anything similar you can think of. My sister adds dried figs. I like to add extra roughly chopped nuts, orange & lemon zest & juice of half a tart orange. I feed with brandy – best quality I can afford.)

1. I add the dried ingredients straight away and the fresh, up to a week before. Usually the day before when I make the pastry as I forget.
2. I buy the mincemeat at least a month before and try to get about 4-5 capfuls of brandy into the jar before my first batch of pies.  (I don’t know what the health and safety rules are on open mincemeat jars.  Use your own judgement or ask a professional. I leave it out of the fridge so that the brandy infuses the ingredients better, in the hope that my cleanliness and the excessive sugar in the jar will keep everything safe to eat. So take your own line any users of this recipe.)

To make mince pies:

Chilled Pastry
Flour for rolling out
Beaten Egg to glaze the top of the pies

1. Butter the indents of a tart tray (Could use a muffin tray at a pinch but the sides are too steep really). Turn on the oven to preheat to about 220deg.C
2. Flour surface & rolling pin & roll out pastry as thin as you can.
3. Use a bigger round cutter (frilly edged for choice) for the bottom than the top and cut out one of each for each indent on your tart tray.
4. Push the bottoms gently into the indents, add a small dollop of mincemeat. (Half a heap teaspoon is plenty.  A small amount goes a surprisingly long way. If the pies leak they stick to the tin, making them hard to remove.) Cover with the small cut-outs and press down around the mincemeat, like putting a blanket on a baby.
5. Make a small hole in the centre of the lids to let the steam come out and give each pie an egg-wash to make it shine. Then pop straight in the oven.  They take about 10 minutes to cook.  They are cooked when the pie tops are a nice golden brown and there is no soggy pastry on the bottoms.
6. Take the pies out of the tin as soon as you can without burning yourself and leave to cool on a rack.

You can dust with icing sugar if you want.  Serve with double cream or brandy butter or both!


Formatting Dialogue in Fiction

I realise as I write more of my book that I have never actually written dialogue on a page.  Does it need new lines?… Indents?…How is it punctuated?

Well it seems I am not the only one who has these questions.  I trawled the internet and found lots of other people asking just the same things.  I have been looking at how good writers do it too.

I apologise in advance that WordPress html doesn’t allow me to format exactly as I would like. It puts in a space between each new line and doesn’t allow me to indent properly left or right.  Also note that I am British and therefore champion where I can the British rather than the American way of doing things.

So what are my ‘Rules’ after all this research:

  • Punctuation and formatting are there to make our texts easy to read and understand. Use the minimum amount of both to make yourself understood. Also be conventional where possible so your readers know what to do.
  • Start a new line for each speaker – this lets the reader know the speaker has changed.

From Stephen Fry’s The Hippopotamus (p256-8):

‘Well, Tedward,’ said Michael to his friend Wallace, ‘God bless Mr. Maugham.’

‘Don’t you think,’ said Wallace, ‘that others might have tried it first?’

‘What you have to understand, Tedward, is that “others” don’t try anything.  They leave it to people like us.’

New Insights is older than God and just as dead.’

‘So tell me, who should I employ to nurse it back to life? They say Mark Onions is a coming talent.’

He has uses a new line for each speaker.  Once the speakers are identified, he even leaves out the tags (eg. said Wallace). The new line identifying the swapping from one speaker to another.

  • Obviously – Put what is spoken in quotation marks.

Fry uses a single quotation mark for speech in the above quotation and double quotation marks for emphasis.  This is the opposite to my natural inclinations but apparently is the British rather than American English way of doing things (I needed to check that – its a surprise – I do it the other way round. Not that I am a grammar queen. Sure enough, it is done in exactly the same way in Pride and Prejudice and Animal Farm.)  He also puts book titles in Italics, not in quotes.

  • Punctuation – If the tag is related to the speech, use a comma, if not a full stop or other appropriate ending punctuation. Let the reader know what goes with what.

From Jane Austin’s Pride & Prejudice:

…Putting away the letter immediately and forcing a smile, she said,

‘I did not know before that you ever walked this way.’

‘I have been making a tour of the Park,’ he replied, ‘as I generally do every year, and intend to close it with a call at the Parsonage. Are you going much farther?’

It seems Austin agrees with Fry on the single quotation mark front; at least her publisher does.  She even starts a new line for Elizabeth’s dialogue even though the whole paragraph preceding it is about her and it follows a comma. My immediate reaction is that this is an unnecessary step.  You know Elizabeth is talking without it and a new line after a comma seems just odd. Colonel Fitzwilliam’s tag (he replied) is separated by commas and the continuation of the dialogue uses a small starting letter a in “as”: no capitalizing.

From George Orwell’s Animal Farm (p70):

…Even Boxer, who seldom asked questions, was puzzled.  He lay down, tucked his forehoofs beneath him, shut his eyes, and with a hard effort managed to formulate his thoughts.

‘I do not believe that,’ he said. ‘Snowball fought bravely at the Battle of the Cowshed. I saw him myself. Did we not give him “Animal Hero, First Class”, immediately afterwards?’

‘That was our mistake, comrade. For we know now – it is all written down in secret documents that we have found – that in reality he was trying to lure us to to our doom.’

‘Our leader, Comrade Napoleon,’ announced Squealer, speaking very slowly and firmly, ‘has stated categorically…’

Having been critical of the Austin use of a new line for the dialogue after a related paragraph and a separating comma, I then found the above in Animal Farm. Boxer formulates his thoughts then his dialogue starts a new line.  There is no comma though in the Orwell quote, so I am still undecided as to correct modern usage in such a situation. I feel happy I can now make a decision in my own writing so “onwards and upwards”.

Useful links:

How to format dialogue in a novel… –

Punctuating Dialogue –

Punctuating Dialogue –

How to Use Proper Punctuation when Writing Dialogue –

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