Well, the nicest British summer since 2004 came to a crashing halt last Friday. We had been basking in temperatures that hovered near 80 degrees and more sunny skies than not. When I woke on Friday morning conditions were nearly 20 degrees cooler and rainy. But as I’ve said before, Autumn is by far my favorite season, and after quite enough sunshine and heat for one summer, I’m ready for my sweaters and boots – eagerly anticipating my bi-annual “Great Wardrobe Switch-Over.” Along with this comes the anticipation of new ingredients, new dishes, a different focus in my kitchen.
It was in this cheerful frame of mind that I strolled over to the Queen’s Park Farmers’ Market early Sunday morning. Under perfect blue skies in crisp, cool air, I was waiting to pay for my basketfull of veggies, when the man paying in front of me began bemoaning the fact that the growing season was going to come to an end soon. “Yeah, but we’ve been out planting all of our root veg and we’re getting the poly-tunnels up and running,” the farm manager replied, handing the moaner his change. Hallelujah! I wanted to chime in, in the spirit of where one door closes a window opens. Just like the seasons and the variety they offer, would our fruits and vegetables be as special, as anticipated, as coveted if they remained available all year long?
With my mantra firmly entrenched, I picked up lots of wild mushrooms to make a tart with and some clams for my linguini vongole (although I have to say these clams weren’t nearly as delicious as the ones I ate in Greece), fennel, spring onions, sorrel, arugula, lots of blackberries, gorgeous dahlias. On one of my many turns around the market (you see, I sort of ruminate about what I’m seeing as I go around, making up dishes as I go, and deciding what to go back to), I spied ham hocks for £2.50. I have lovely stock left over from my guinea hens, a pile of yellow split peas, vegetables, and with the cool weather setting in and lots of writing to do, what could be nicer than a pot of soup bubbling away on the stove? Plus, ham hocks are not the easiest ingredient to find. What a treat!
On the walk home I started planning my attack. While I’d secured a crucial element of the split pea and ham soup, the ham hock wasn’t smoked, and it’s that smokey flavor that is crucial to the dish. And, yes, I’d had grand dreams of building a smoker in our garden and learning to cure meats given our abundance of outdoor space, but it hasn’t happened. Just when I’d settled on fashioning some kind of smoke box inside our grill and traipsing around to find the right kind of wood chips, I remembered buying a smoke bag at a butcher’s shop in Amman (of all places). Now, for you purists out there this is likely sacrilegious, but I simply created a dry rub, placed the coated ham hock in the smoke bag, sealed it tightly and popped it into a VERY hot oven for 2 hours. The foil bag has three different layers, one containing wood chips (and there are different flavors of wood, I’ve checked, because screw the smoker in the garden, this is the way forward for me).
All this said, I’ve been reading about temperatures still coming close to 90 degrees on the East Coast back home, and this recipe won’t likely sound appealing if that’s the case where you are. Just tuck this little gem away for when your Autumn closes in. Me, well, I have every intention of racing back to the market this week and picking up some more ham hocks to play with over the coming dark months. Stay tuned.
Dry Rub for Ham Hock