“Why don’t you come up to the house for dinner? We can cook together in the afternoon? I’ll pick you up from the train.”
One week and five hours later my hands are streaked with sticky blood. So is the handsome wooden table. In front of me is pure carnage. Lady Macbeth has nothing on me.
My country crime scene came on the first day of proper sunshine in a long time.
As I headed north on the train towards Cambridge other people in my carriage were flicking newspapers and tapping away at laptops. Meanwhile I was googling hare recipes.
Rabbits are a hop in the park. They belong in a lovely pie, or perhaps a ragu with slippery pappardelle.
Partridge and pheasant. These I’ve come to know since we got here.
But hare is new territory all together.
My destination for the afternoon and evening is a lovely acre or two in Hitchin, that is now home to a dear past work colleague. She’s now holed up in English domesticity with her son, her new love, a kitchen garden to swoon over, an aga, chickens, dogs, cats, two wallabies and an owl. Away from the stress of the office in Sydney there’s a sparkle in her eyes and a spring in her step.
This morning her local poacher has dropped in some hedgerow greens for salad . The deep sink is full of crayfish.
The hare in question has been hung and is sitting waiting for us on the table. It has had its head lopped off and fur and feet removed. When we pull it out of its protective sheath it sits awkwardly, like a cursed sphinx.
An hour later the fresh crayfish are still snapping in the sink. There’s now a jointed hare in front of us.
Taking off the front and hind legs did not present too much of a challenge.
The trauma starts when we spatchcock it through the belly, so we can cleave off the saddle in one piece.
It’s while removing the innards that the blood starts to gush. It’s a little confronting. There’s a pungent smell of game, barnyards and ammonia.
Elizabeth David did not properly warn me about the amount of blood, or how tacky it would feel between my fingers.
She had plenty of other instructions. We should keep the back in one piece. We should roast the other joints with onions, garlic, bay leaf, streaky bacon and half a bottle of red wine for 45 minutes on a low oven.
Then we must pick the meat off the bones. That meat, along with the heart, kidney and liver is destined for a rustic terrine.
As for the blood, that (along with a small square of chocolate and some quince jelly) we will reserve to make up a sauce for the saddle.
Later, while nursing gin and tonics we blitzed the hind meat together with the zest and juice of an orange. We probably should have added some pork fat too. But we were too distracted talking of life and love, making mayonnaise for the crayfish and watching the sun set out the window. Luckily we did remember to swaddle the dark paste of meat in streaky bacon before baking it in the aga for an hour and a half.
Later still we smeared the dark terrine on toasts with a gilding of goat’s butter, in the English country kitchen of my dreams.
We ate them topped with a pert salad of slivered eschallots that had been soused in wine vinegar and some green leaves of wild garlic. We drank a stonkingly good 1999 Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
The saddle was carved into slivers and ate on a puddle of pureed haricot verts with a tuft of hedgerow greens. For dessert there were Earl Grey panna cottas with almonds and a sherry spiked slurry of dates.
When we drove home the smell of the hare that had given its life for our dinner was still on my skin.
Despite scrubbing my hands before dinner there was a spot of blood crusted on one of my cuticles.
But as we headed back to London in the darkness, all I thought about was how much I wished I could still see rolling green fields out of my window.