Sweet Devil

An Oxfordshire recipe from the early nineteenth century. This is a dish that a single gentleman might offer to friends, with trout to precede it, a cold pudding or cheese and fruit to follow and a bottle of good port at the end of the meal. A rather rough, dry red wine is the best drink to serve with the dish, as it is too spicy for a really good burgundy or claret, and the sweetness of the dish makes an ordinary wine taste extraordinary.


  • lb (¾ kg) gammon joint
  • ½ lb (240 g) fresh black cherries, pitted, or 3 peaches or 6 apricots, stoned and sliced
  • 6 tablespoons (90 g) castor sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ½ teaspoon paprika
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric
  • ½ teaspoon mace
  • ¼ teaspoon white pepper
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons sweet red wine
  • ½ stick (60 g) butter
  • 4 tablespoons (60 g) fresh fine white breadcrumbs
  • 4 slices white bread, crusts removed and each slice cut across in 2 triangles


Boil the gammon joint for about 1 hour or until it is cooked through.

While the gammon is boiling, arrange the fruit in an ovenproof dish and sprinkle with a third of the sugar. Put the dish in a low oven, 325°F (170°C, Gas Mark 3), for 10 minutes. Remove the dish from the oven and set aside.

Drain the gammon and cut it in 4 thick slices as neatly as possible.

Mix the remaining sugar, all the spices, the lemon juice and the wine in a frying-pan and stir well. Boil for 2 to 3 minutes, working in half the butter. As soon as it has thickened a little, put in the gammon slices. Turn them after 2 minutes and cook for a further 3 or 4 minutes. Using a fish slice, lift out the gammon on to a flat dish.

Spoon the fruit all around the gammon, with as little juice as possible. Pour the remaining juice into the frying-pan and stir well until boiling. Check to see if the sauce requires any more cayenne or other spices and add salt if the gammon has not made it salty enough. The sauce should be sweet, as hot as liked, have a reddish colour and the consistency of thin cream. Pour it all over the gammon slices and the fruit. Sprinkle the gammon with the breadcrumbs (avoiding the fruit as much as possible) and brown under a grill or in the top of a very hot oven.

Meanwhile, lightly fry the bread triangles on both sides in the remaining butter. Serve the Sweet Devil at once with the fried bread triangles standing around the edge of the dish.