Is not the pig a wonderful creature? It may not be loved for its looks, nor - unjustly - for its habits, but cooking with pork, ham and other various piggy extremities is, without doubt, one of the most pleasurable activities to the keen cook. There is just so much to use on a pig in the first place: the prime cuts, such as leg, loin and fillet (or tenderloin) for roasting, frying and grilling; shoulder and neck meat in braises, stews and chunky terrines; wonderful belly for cutting into spare ribs to marinate in a dark, viscous goo and then grill, or cook whole as a simple roast.(Belly is never considered as a roasting joint, though the crackling - as any Chinese cook will demonstrate - makes the ultimate crust.) And its hard and creamy back fat beneath the skin, essential for lubrication of chopped or ground meats, make it excellent for terrines and pates.

Pig's liver is a highly underrated cut; perhaps it is too strongly piggy and livery. The kidney, too, is delicious, as all those who like a pork chop with a morsel attached will happily testify; although sadly, that is not a combination seen much anymore, due, no doubt, to some EC ruling. Leaving the extremities till last, it only goes to say that here lie the choicest pieces. Ears are tops for me, closely followed by trotters, then the snout, and finally the tail. In its largesse, the head is the grand extremity, comprising the aforementioned snout and ears, and the tongue and cheeks. All these - along with other bits of stray morsels in the head - go together to make up the classic fromage de tete, or head cheese as the Americans say. Brawn to us Brits.

Thinking ahead to the festive season, I would far rather think about pig than turkey. There are finer quality turkeys to be found now than ever before, but I still find it a boring bird. A lovely roast leg of pork with crackling and apple sauce, sage-and-onion stuffing and all the usual turkey trimmings (sprouts, parsnips, roast potatoes, braised celery - my favourite - and even cranberry sauce) makes a spectacular alternative.

In Pembrokeshire many years ago, while working in a seaside hotel, I was in charge of the lunchtime cold buffet. Being an enthusiastic teenage cook and wanting to mess about with all sorts of ingredients (leftovers mostly), I sometimes ended up with a bewildering variety of unidentifiable dishes that looked pretty garish. I was often ticked off by Sally, the remarkably talented (and, after a couple of gins, a little terrifying) chef, from whom I learned a great deal. At Christmas time, there would always be on the buffet a baked gammon that had been skinned, crisscross hatched over the fat and studded with cloves in the proper fashion. The whole was then drenched with brown sugar and further baked to a glistening rich brown. We served it with fruity Cumberland sauce. And this particular star of the cold table was, in no uncertain terms, not to be screwed up by yours truly. It can be cooked in advance and served cold, or dished up hot, with the Cumberland sauce or a gravy enriched with a healthy dose of Madeira. Of course, one need not cook a whole gammon, a butcher can provide a smaller joint.

In the recipe for cooking the ham, I have added four split pigs' trotters. As well as enriching the cooking liquor, the meat and skin can then be chopped and mixed with a little of the stock, together with some parsley, mustard and spices, packed into a dish, allowed to set and then eaten as a coarse terrine.

Baked Gammon with Cumberland sauce serves 8

If you are going to do a whole gammon on the bone, then you will need to cook it for about five to six hours. For easy carving, use a boned and rolled joint.

1.4 kilo/3lb piece of boneless gammon

4 pigs' trotters, split in two lengthways

2 carrots, peeled and diced

2 onions, peeled and chopped

2 sticks celery, chopped

2 bay leaves

6 juniper berries

a few peppercorns

a handful of brown sugar


Put the gammon and trotters in the largest pot you have and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil and then drain off the scummy water and rinse the trotters and gammon. Return to the pot together with the vegetables and aromatics and cover with fresh water. Bring gently to a simmer and poach for about two-and-a-half hours. The gammon should give some resistance in the centre (to allow for the final baking in the oven). Carefully remove the gammon and place on a solid roasting dish. Leave to cool. Fish out the vegetables and discard, then, with a slotted spoon, remove the trotters, place on a dish and allow to cool. This would be the time to start making the pigs' trotter brawn: see below.

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4.

With a small knife, carefully remove a thin layer of skin from the gammon, leaving as much fat as possible. Discard the skin. Make a crisscross pattern all over the fat so that you end up with diamond shapes. Shove a clove into the middle of each diamond and then rub the sugar all over the surface, pressing in well as you go. Place in the oven and bake for 45 minutes, or until the surface is a rich and sticky brown. Remove from the oven and rest for 15 minutes before carving. Serve with:

Cumberland sauce

2 oranges

2 lemons

150mls/14 pint port

1 jar redcurrant jelly

1 large knob of fresh ginger, peeled and grated

2 tsp English mustard powder

1 tsp arrowroot

Thinly pare the rind of both the orange and lemon, cut into very thin strips, blanch quickly in boiling water, drain and rinse under cold running water. Dry on kitchen paper and reserve. Squeeze the juice from the orange and lemon and put in a non-reactive saucepan. Add the port, jelly and ginger, bring to a simmer and allow to cook for ten minutes. Strain through a fine sieve and then pour back into the same (cleaned) pan. Mix the mustard and arrowroot together with two tablespoons water until smooth. Add to the port/jelly liquid and whisk together thoroughly. Bring to a simmer and cook for a few minutes until shiny and thickened. Stir in the reserved orange and lemon rind and serve. The sauce is just as nice cold, eaten with any of the leftover ham.

Pigs' trotter brawn

4 cooked trotters (about 450g/1lb of meat once picked from the bones)

1 teacup of finely chopped flat parsley leaves

4 sprigs fresh tarragon, leaves only, finely chopped

1 rounded tbsp Dijon mustard

salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper

2 soup ladles of reserved cooking liquor

1 tbsp tarragon vinegar

Holding the pieces of trotter over two dishes, carefully work your fingers through the flesh, skin and scraps of fat, and as you go, filter out the bones (watch out for the tiny pieces, of which there are a lot) and discard. Tip all the flesh on to a chopping board and, with a heavy knife, chop it coarsely into small, even chunks. Put into a bowl and add the remaining ingredients. Mix thoroughly with a spatula and check for seasoning (it should be well flavoured). Pour into a suitable dish, such as a deep oval terrine, smooth the surface, cover and put in the fridge to set. Ladle over some of the cooking liquor to a depth of a fingernail. Return to the fridge to set again. Leave for a day before eating, so that the flavours mature and develop. Serve with gherkins, toasted baguette and good butter