How to Make Brawn Like My Mother Used To

Dad had a butchery in a small village and as a small girl I used to watch my mother make brawn. She used to cook ox trotters for hours in a huge pot on the old wood burning stove. When so soft that the bones were quite clean, she took the soft mass of meat and sinews, chopped them up and mixed it with the clear stock left in the pot. This magically became a stiff jelly in the fridge.

As a young mother I watched her make brawn for church bazaars while trying to keep my two active youngsters out of trouble. Now, many years after her death, I cook for myself only and I try to imitate the taste of the brawn she used to make, for the exact recipe was never written down. Nor is it now as few people still make it.

Brawn is so quick and simple when prepared in a pressure cooker and I have found that it is a really nice standby to have in the house.

You will need:

  • 1kg well cleaned ox trotters. (I buy it frozen at the supermarket butcher
  • Enough water to cover the trotters in a pressure cooker
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 – 2 Tablespoons vinegar for every liter of water

I remember my mother’s brawn had a slightly sour tang and I read that vinegar leaches calcium from bones. Ma was born in 1903 and her mother 25 years before that. Now where did housewives in the 19th Century learn about this?


  • Cook the brawn in a pressure cooker for about 11/2 – 2 hours
  • Let it cool of with the lid on until the contents are just cool enough to handle
  • Strain and remove the bones
  • Chop up the very soft solids and put it back into the stocktaste
  • and add more salt if required Pour into containers of your choice.
  • Mine goes into the fridge in an oblong Pyrex dish covered with foil.

When set there is a thin layer of soft fat on top that can easily be scraped off before serving. It does not freeze well.

Seasonings can vary and nowadays I add an onion stuck with a clove, a few peppercorns, some herbs such as thyme and a sprig of rosemary for some subtle extra flavor. I use only ox trotters and not beef shin as well as my mother used to do when she made brawn for church bazaars. I prefer the clear jelly and soft textured residue that came off the bones as she used to make it in my early childhood.

Sometimes brawn that contains curried meat as well is set into loaf shapes and thinly sliced for serving. Others might prefer to add squares of sliced ham or other cold cuts, chopped hardboiled egg with finely chopped parsley, small cubes of multi colored cooked vegetables such as beet root and pickled gherkins or carrots and peas.

Personally I hanker after the taste of early childhood when I tasted what my mother must have tasted in her childhood home on the family farm, as she watched her own mother make brawn. Maybe the vinegar was also used as a preservative in those days before refrigeration hence the tangy taste of Ma’s brawn?