a walk in the new forest: acorns, pigs and the perfect ham sandwich

 

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“What shall we do about poor little Tigger?

 If he never eats nothing he’ll never get bigger.

 He doesn’t like honey and haycorns and thistles

 Because of the taste and because of the bristles.”

The House at Pooh Corner

A A Milne (1928)

Hampshire is some way behind London in the spring stakes, much less pollution means cooler air and, while our parks now have snow drops and crocuses, there is still little colour in the Forest.

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However, today the air is softer and feels hopeful rather than punishingly cold and damp.  Lichen is all over the branches and  we walk between ancient oak and holly to old beech pollards.  In 1698 pollarding beeches became illegal, and, as a result, many beeches can still be seen sprouting from the same source.

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Deer are pottering around under the tress, and the ponies are chomping on the soggy grass.  In the middle of this sylvan idyll is an extraordinarily ugly structure, purportedly used for the storage of acorns. We have not eaten acorns in England for a very long time.  The oaks which grow in Northern Europe are high in tannin so, while the high fat content makes them nutritious, the disgusting flavour means they were only eaten in times of famine.   In contrast, in Southern Europe, where quercus ilex (the holly oak) abounds, the acorns are prized as much as chestnuts, and have a similar place in the cooking.

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 “They tell me there are big acorns in your village; send me a couple of dozen or so, and I shall value them greatly as coming from your hand; and write to me at length to assure me of your health and well-being; and if there be anything you stand in need of, it is but to open your mouth, and that shall be the measure; and so God keep you.”

Don Quixote of La Mancha (1615)

The unlovely structure is of corrugated iron, so clearly not from a period of famine.  Our acorns are inedible, so  it can only have been for the long-lost pigs of the New Forest.  Possibly, forgotten now, the still forest floor was rootled by jolly porcines scoffing acorns, developing into our very own jamon iberico.  But, of course, it wouldn’t have been because we don’t do raw ham in England. It would have been simmered slowly (often with hay to take away the great saltiness, and to give the meat a subtle but delicious flavour), and it would have been served hot with plain boiled potatoes and parsley sauce (we shall move swiftly, silently, with downcast eyes over the mid-20th century detour into a garnish of tinned pineapple), or in a sandwich. 

A Ham Sandwich

a slice of ham

2 slices of very good white bread

butter

Colman’s  English mustard

Assemble.

There should be enough mustard to bring a small tear to your eye, but not so much that your tongue is too anaesthetised to taste the ham.

Leftover bones and dried peas make excellent soup.

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