Gammon with a Marsala Damson Sauce…. and Spinach

A frog he would a-wooing go
Heigh ho! Says Rowley
Whether his mother would let him or no
With a Rowley
Powley, gammon and spinach
Heigh ho! Says Anthony Rowley

Where on earth did this ancient ditty come from?

Well, most nursery rhymes begin with political satire and this one is no different. Some say that it originates as a song popular during the reign of Elizabeth I when she gave her potential suitors nicknames – Raleigh was a fish, Leicester a lap dog… and the Duc d’Alençon was her frog… the earliest known use of the term ‘frog’ for a Frenchman.

Whether or not that is true, the rhyme was certainly further developed during the reign of Charles II and his Suffolk friends – four distinguished Suffolk families are mentioned: the Rowleys, the Poleys (now Weller-Poley), the Bacons and the Greenes (later of Graham Greene fame). Charles could have been alluded to as a frog due to his Catholicism, the time he’d spent in France and his French mother.

Later, possibly arising out of this mystifying song, the term ‘gammon and spinach’ came to mean ‘nonsense’, with the verb ‘to gammon’ meaning to deceive or fool (as in con men).

In any case, this is an excellent way of cooking gammon… and it does go excellently with spinach. And the simplest way to cook that takes seconds – go to The Fastest Way to Cook Spinach for that method.

Serve also with new potatoes with butter and a few chopped chives (go to this post for why you should plunge new potatoes into boiling water).

I have never tried this with damson gin, but that might have spectacular results!

Recipe for gammon with a marsala and damson sauce

Serves 4 (don’t be tempted to make for more as the steaks won’t fit in the frying pan)


  • 4 gammon steaks, or 4 steaks of sweet-cure back bacon about 2cm/½” thick
  • Butter for frying
  • 120ml/½ cup marsala, or red vermouth – or, as I suggest above, you could use damson gin. 
  • 2 tbsp damson jam
  • 1 tbsp green peppercorns, ground roughly in a pestle and mortar if dry, simply drained if preserved in brine. For more on green peppercorns follow this link.


  1. Lightly coat the steaks with ground Indonesian long pepper (or any good quality black pepper) and fry, moderately hard, in the butter for a few minutes on each side.
  2. Deglaze the pan with the marsala until the gravy becomes a little thicker – slightly syrupy and caramelised.
  3. Add the damson jam and stir it in with the gravy
  4. Cook for a few more minutes, turning the steaks every now and then but be careful not to overcook – the steaks need to be juicy and tender, not dry and leather-like!
This post is dedicated to Sophie Sotiropoulos.
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