Death in the Afternoon
In town or country, thereís plenty of stalking and going in for the kill.
The afternoons end too soon in June. By half past three the sun is low in the sky, cold shadows sprawl across the lawn and frost lurks in the shady corners of the garden. I retreat early to my warm kitchen on June afternoons; only mad dogs and huntspeople linger in the cold for hours.
Hunting horsepersons donít return from chasing hares until three and by the time they have unsaddled and covered and fed their horses it is half past three and time for tea. They stand around the horse trucks, eating, sipping hot tea and tossing back rum. Iíve sometimes taken tea with the hunt and a miserable time Iíve had of it, with my teeth chattering and my toes turning into ice cubes while people in jodhpurs shout at each other about hares and horses and hounds.
Oscar Wilde described hunting as ďthe unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatableĒ. I quote Oscar every time Harry sets out for a day with the hunt. ďOh, I absolutely agree with you,Ē he says with a smile as he stomps into the kitchen in his jodhpurs and riding boots and I feel like throwing the teapot at him. I donít. I dutifully hand him his ďplateĒ for the shared afternoon tea. Iím not usually an obedient wife, itís just that I enjoy the challenge of inventing nibbles that can be heated in the little collapsible gas oven that Harry takes to the hunt. Mini pizzas, little pies, filo triangles, sausage rolls, Brackenfield buns and frittata Ė they all warm the unspeakablesí stomachs on a winterís afternoon.
Thatís the unspeakables dealt with; now for the uneatable. Last week I cooked jugged hare ŗ la Mrs Beeton. Mrs Beetonís famous recipe began, ďFirst catch your hareĒ. So I did. The hare meat, along with onion, gravy, seasoning and red wine, is packed into a jar that is then covered, immersed in a pot of boiling water and cooked for four hours. The jug method is the precursor to the slow cooker; the only trouble is that you cannot switch a jug in a pot on and leave it to cook all day while you are at work. Modern inventions are wonderful.
PS If you ever want a hare to jug, let me know. I could courier it to your door.
None of my friends has ever caught a hare, cooked a hare or jugged anything at all. What do we townies ever eat that we have killed ourselves? The occasional fish or shellfish, thatís all.
Most of my hunting takes place in the garden. I do some of it with a pack of trained hunting thrushes. I look under the rims of pots for snails who are trying to live there as rent-free squatters. I dispatch them by squashing them underfoot on the concrete, then I watch the thrushes rush in to clean up. I could not eat them myself, even if theyíd been through a long period of purging on bran to clean their guts of poisons and disease, followed by complicated shelling then deep-frying. Itís the idea of eating the sliminess, the grey slithery shininess, that I canít overcome. I know birds rate them highly and so do tunnel web spiders. Not me.
But I do realise that green-lipped mussels, which Iíve gathered in the Marlborough Sounds, are probably just a salt-water version of snails. And I love mussels. So I admit that what we kill and what we eat is full of irrationality.
Apart from chasing snails, I hunt in the garden for prey that wonít run away. I plunder the alpine strawberry beds for the occasional delicious white strawberry. I pounce on late feijoas and the rare late passionfruit and tamarillo. Having legs gives me an unfair advantage there.
Sometimes I hunt further afield Ė up and down the CBD, in the sales. Thereís plenty of pointing, stalking of prey, jostling for position, going in for the kill. Success is hauling home a bargain pair of jeans or a new coat.
Our hunting garb is usually jeans and jackets Ė not necessarily red ones. We never take hip flasks of rum with us. We donít take plates and we certainly donít heat food up in little stoves in the mall. Shopping malls donít like that sort of self-sufficiency. We sink into little chairs in a cafe and surround ourselves with bags of purchases. We donít hunt on horseback but we do spend long, fraught periods going around and around, looking for parking spaces for our cars. While Harry is saddling up, we are squeezing the life out of the park-and-display machine, trying to extract a ticket.
|Story: Janice Marriott & Virginia Pawsey|