I had a minor tiff with Mrs Aitch the other day. As we were watching "Delia's Christmas" on television (there's been a fresh outbreak), I suggested, in my superior way, that Delia's version of Cumberland Sauce was too thin. Mrs Aitch pointed out that Cumberland Sauce should never be too thick, and should always be served cold. Well, of course, after a bit of research, I discovered that Mrs Aitch and Saint Delia were right, and The Greasy Spoon was wrong.
I love Cumberland Sauce, and think it's utterly, completely delcious. In my opinion, it's infinitely a cut above the ubiquitous Cranberry Sauce, though I think, from memory, that we're planning to offer both on Christmas Day. Cumberland Sauce works brilliantly with ham, bacon and turkey.
There's quite a bit of useful historical info in Elizabeth David's superb little book, Elizabeth David's Christmas, edited by Jill Norman. I've recommended this one before, and I'm very happy to recommend it again.
According to Mrs David, the first mention of Cumberland Sauce in any published cookery book, comes as late as 1904, in Alfred Suzanne's "La Cuisine Anglaise". The great Alexis Soyer, however, published a similar German recipe for "a sauce to go with Boar's Head" as early as 1853.
Elizabeth David reckoned it to be the best Cumberland Sauce recipe, and it's almost identical to the family recipe I'm about to give you. The only substantial difference is that Soyer added a heaped teaspoon of English Mustard (Elizabeth David uses Dijon) to the redcurrant jelly, and Mrs David specifies Medium Tawny Port.
Peel of the skin of an orange, and then cut the skin into "julienne" (very thin strips). Put the orange strips into a pan with some water and bring to the boil. This will remove any bitterness from the orange peel.
In another small pan, melt four heaped tablespoons of redcurrant jelly, with a teaspoon of ground ginger. Stir well, until the redcurrant jelly and the ginger have combined. (If you're going to add mustard, add it now).
Redcurrant jelly is best described as a smooth English sweet, fruity jam (or jelly to my American readers) which we normally eat with lamb. It's available in ready-made in jars- though I have to admit, I have no idea if it's easily obtainable in America or not; so, if you live on that side of the pond, you may well have to track the stuff down on the internet, or see if you local deli stocks it.
Redcurrant jelly will act as a thickening agent, but true Cumberland sauce should really have a thinnish consistency, so try to keep it reasonably runny- if it coats the back of a spoon, you know it's about right.
Now's the time to pour in a decent slug of port, the juice of one orange, and the juice of half a lemon. Stir well, then add the blanched orange strips (which you've previously taken out of the hot water, and drained).
You will be left with a tangy, fruity, gingery, port-infused dark red sauce- which will act as a balance to the salt in the ham. I can best describe it as the taste of Christmas. Nostalgic. Oh- and one last word of advice from Mrs Aitch: Cumberland Sauce should always be served cold, so don't try and warm it up; otherwise you're going to find yourself in trouble...